Sean Thomas Dougherty

Response & Bio

Question 1. What is the difference between a prose poem and a flash fiction?

I do differentiate between Flash Fictions, Prose Poems, and a third genre that you haven't addressed: performance texts. Performance texts are either prose poems or narratives whose final reception is decidedly aural /oral as opposed to visually textual. A perfect example of a performance text is Ann Waldman's miraculous "Marriage," with its sonic repetition and performative possibilities. Anyone who has seen her read this knows that "Marriage" is not fully consummated until it echoes off her tongue.

With this in mind, I tend to approach and differentiate small prose texts based upon genre conventions, particularly for teaching. Why do this? For audience, for expectation, and for control over a text's reception. There are certain rules I begin with - obviously these are not absolutes. But I like to teach the prose poem as a series of leaps, particular a late leap such as in the work of Russell Edson or Charles Simic (who I sometimes say has an early leap, as if you leap and the prose poem catches you mid flight). Or even in the narrative prose poems of Cornelius Eady, there is an overwhelming tendency to leap or twist in the next to last or last stanza. For the Flash Fiction, I find it hard to believe - or yet to read one I find successful - that includes more than 2 or 3 characters (instead characters are introduced in linked sequences, such as in the work of Julia Alvarez), or is driven by more than one dominant voice or includes more than one or two scenes. One has simply to scan the numerous anthologies to see that the flash is historically closer to the Sketch, such as James Farrell's early work.

These are generative rules and assumptions, both for myself and my students, rules to be examined and challenged, but in the beginning are a good place to start.


A former high school dropout and factory worker, Sean Thomas Dougherty is a nationally renowned performance poet. He is the author of six books including the forthcoming book of poems Nightshift Belonging to Lorca (2003 Mammoth Books) the book length experimental prose poem The Biography of Broken Things (2002 Mitki/Mitki Press) and Except by Falling winner of 2000 Pinyon Press Poetry Prize from Mesa State College. He is the editor of the forthcoming critical collection Maria Mazziotti Gillan (2003 Guernica, Canada) and the anthology Along the Lake: Contempoary Writing from Erie, PA (2003 YeOldeFontShoppe Press). He teaches at Penn State Erie.

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