Bio & Response

Lynn Kilpatrick

Lynn Kilpatrick's work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Salt Hill, and is forthcoming in Tin House. She is the Vice-President of Writers at Work and she teaches writing at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Question #1: In DR #2 Johannes Göransson makes the observation regarding Russell Edson that, “Sometimes, when I’ve read his poems I start to write like him too. It’s infectious.” Whose poems get under your skin in this way? Whose poems should get under more people’s skin? Also, how does the pp/ff form contribute to or enable what Göransson calls ‘infectious’?

Question #5: Matt Miller feels that, “ As attempts at essential definition continue to encroach upon prose poems, they risk losing the openness that has facilitated their vitality.” And, when Albert Mobilio writes, “ Flash fiction” They’ve got pep! Plot! Flash! Very saleable” he seems to share Miller’s wariness for categorization. Morgan Schuldt states, “ To my mind, this attempt to distinguish prose poetry from flash fiction from short shorts is nothing more than an exercise in tautology.” Yet Anthony Tognazzini believes, “There are certain characteristics that, even if in the most general way, seem to govern prose poems and flash fictions. These are, obviously: brevity, heightened attention to language, the use of surprise, humor, a circular, irrational logic, etc.” What value is there in searching for definitions, categories, and further insight into the form and function of prose poems and flash fictions? Does this kind of exploration enhance the pp/ff form or does it diminish it in some way?

My answer bridges these two questions.

The forms of prose poetry and flash fiction are infectious precisely because they operate between the rigid genre distinctions of fiction or poetry. These forms are exciting because they compress, because they force the reader and the writer to perform linguistic and narrative acrobatics, because they suggest rather than delineate an entire world of which the pp/ff is just the slightest glimpse. I sometimes find myself wondering whether what I am reading is poetry or fiction. In many ways I am still bound by the idea that fiction has narrative, event (something happens, then something else happens) whereas in poetry anything can happen, even event, but the piece is not bound by it. (I mean all positive and negative associations of the word “bound”).

I like what Lyn Hejinian says: “prose generally has greater velocity than poetry” and “an interest in discovering and creating relationships between things is, in essence, a narrative interest” (Introduction to “A Thought is the Bride of What Thinking” in The Language of Inquiry). I take her to mean that poetry and narrative are not opposed and that all writing is narrative in the sense that once I put two words next to each other a relationship begins to rise up between them. I read Hejinian’s work as both poetry and prose in the broadest sense of each word. Things happen: events. But I read My Life free from the binds of genre distinctions: I don’t care what comes next, I just want to experience it. And this, experience, seems to be what simultaneously binds prose poetry and flash fiction to each other and sets them apart from other forms: pp/ff are primarily concerned with being experience rather than conveying experience.

I do think there can be productive discussions of the differences between prose poetry and flash fiction, but only if such discussions expand the range of each without limiting the possibilities of either.