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Response & Bio Laird Hunt

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?

Having just completed Magdalena Tulli’s Dreams and Stones (Archipelago 2004), which I read as a (gorgeous) 100 + page prose poem (or 100 + pages of carefully shaped and structured prose poetry), and having recently come out of Proust (vol. 1), long (long!) passages of which foreground language in much the way something that gets called poetry might, I find myself sympathizing with Silliman’s argument as you present it. I also think here of the Atelos project (Lyn Heijinian and Simon Ortiz), which has given us numerous not overlong but certainly not brief either examples of prose/poetry hybrids that I would argue on behalf of if they chose to call themselves prose poems (e.g. Pamela Lu’s Pamela: A Novel). I’m not quite sure then that pairing the prose poem with flash fiction makes as much sense as it could, insofar as (if you accept the argument, after having consulted the evidence), flash fiction may be short by definition, but prose poetry isn’t necessarily. It might be interesting in that context for future issues to pair longer prose poems (excerpts perhaps) with longer works of fiction.

Fiction at its best, or one of its bests, shorter or longer, has the kind of "compression or brevity" you mention. For example Lydia Davis, even when she goes long, has tremendous compression. See her notes on Proust’s concision in the introduction to her excellent translation of Swann’s Way. "I prefer concentration," she quotes him saying, "even in length." Words to live by.


Laird Hunt is the author of two novels, The Impossibly and Indiana, Indiana, both published by Coffee House Press. His writings have appeared in McSweeney’s, Conjunctions, Ploughshares, Grand Street, Fence, Brick, Mentor and Zaum Zaum. A former United Nations press officer, he is currently on the faculty of Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. In Fall 2004, he will begin teaching in Denver University’s creative writing program.