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Response & Bio Hoag Holmgren
Question #1) In issue #3 of Double Room, Ron Silliman suggests that it is erroneous to assume “that a signature feature of the prose poem is its brevity.” He calls this misguided assumption, Jacob’s fallacy, and he further argues that considering the differences between the prose poem and the flash fiction is “like trying to identify the border between, say, Korean & Portuguese, similar insofar as each is a language.” Do you agree with Silliman’s assessment? In contrast, Ava Chin suggests that she wrote flash fiction during a period when she was extremely overworked: “their jarring method and brevity, their element of surprise, lent themselves well to my shortened yet heightened attention span.” Chin seems to suggest that the brevity aided and enabled a new kind of invention for her. Do you think that prose poetry and flash fiction do have some kind of compression or brevity as a related characteristic? When you write in this form, the pp/ff, do you place any space or length restrictions on yourself?

While the prose poem is typically brief, Ron Silliman is nonetheless correct in his rejection of brevity as a defining element of the genre. (I would add Ashbery's Three Poems and Fabio Morabito's Toolbox to his list of longer prose poetry.) But I question any clear distinction between the prose poem and flash fiction. If we look at some of the masters of the prose poem (Bertrand, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Jacob, Michaux, Edson, Simic) we find pieces that are language-rich, metaphysically provocative, Orphic (read: poetic) and others that are character-centered, action-driven, dialogue-based (read: fictive). Some carry all or some combination of these and other elements. Typically side by side in the same collection. With this in mind it seems that whatever prompts us to dub this one flash fiction and that one prose poem is ultimately subordinate to a more profound and shared ground of being. Along the same lines, Milan Kundera argues that the short story and the novel are ontologically identical, differing only in length. Also, because the term flash fiction feels so trendy, it's difficult to grant it its own autonomous genre-status. If any distinction is needed, I'd say flash fiction is the prose poem in drag.

But are Aesop's fables or Pascal's Pensees prose poems? Could a koan be a prose poem? What about the single Associated Press paragraphs that summarize the action in each round of a prize fight? None of these were composed as prose poems. Is authorial intention necessary?

Ava Chin seems to be on to something with her notion of "jarring method" and "element of surprise." Convincing too is Michael Benedikt's "...there is a shorter distance from the unconscious to The Prose Poem, than from the unconscious to most poems in verse." I would add that because the prose poem is necessarily paragraphic, it is wedded to the visual in a way that most poetry (save the concrete poem) is not. For this reason, it's hard to imagine recognizing prose poems as prose poems with any precision using only one's ear. So for a prose poem to fully actualize in the world it must be reified by the eye (on page or screen) or by the mind (introduced to an audience as such before being recited or read aloud).

But I see prose poems finally as shirking certain certainties. They seem closer to the mysterious spherules recently discovered in the Martian topsoil. Dubbed "blueberries" we have little knowledge of what they are or how they formed. I see tattoos on the page. High-resolution hieroglyphs of mind.


Hoag Holmgren's short stories and prose poems have appeared in StoryQuarterly, Denver Quarterly, Quarter After Eight, Mid-American Review, In Posse Review, and are forthcoming in divide. His short film Route '33 was an official selection at the 2004 ROADance Film Festival and the Festival International de Biarritz. Selected stills can be viewed in DrunkenBoat # 6 ( He lives in Nederland, Colorado.