Matthew Miller

Response & Bio

Question 5. Denise Duhamel clearly states, " There may be a difference between flash fiction and prose poems, but I believe the researchers still haven't found the genes to differentiate them." In agreement, Thom Ward says that, " I have no idea what the true or sustaining definition of a prose poem or flash fiction is. Nor do I plan on ruminating over the issue." How about it? What specific genes (or, let's say, traits) have you found to differentiate between prose poetry and flash fiction? Further, Jonathan Carr says that the only restrictions writing a pp/ff entail are, "Those that the authors place on themselves." Do you believe that writing a pp/ff assumes certain accepted conventions and/or restrictions? If not, how does this idea relate to Cole Swensen's genreless writing? (see question #2). Or, like Thom Ward, do you find it useless to ruminate over the issue?

It is possible, I believe, to bridge the gap between Cole Swenson's metaphor of genre as target and Thom Ward's statement of reluctance to define genres. When in the heat of writing, are we really “aiming at a target”--that is, a genre? Most of the time I assume the answer is no, hence Ward's response. But regardless, genres have a way of finding us; that is, our relations to genre are only partially conscious. They are at once target and trap. I say “trap” and not “container” or some other less pejorative term because I think that once accepted, genres tend toward the expectations of the literary marketplace, and to the extent that they conform, they risk becoming stale, or worse, another middle-class entertainment. Prose poems, flash fictions, and all the hybrids in-between are generically radical roughly to the extent that they are popularly neglected. As attempts at essential definition continue to encroach upon prose poems, they risk losing the openness that has facilitated their vitality. At this point, the various pedagogues of poetry have only created a loose cage around the prose poem. The form is no longer intrinsically interesting, as it was when Aloysius Bertrand wrote Gaspard de la nuit or later, say, when Stein wrote her Tender Buttons. At the same time, the form's relative stability—its loose cage of expectations—has rendered the prose poem an easier target to hit. Not so easy as the blandly literal and autobiographical poems that still flood the journals of “official verse culture,” but more so than a truly unstable form, such as the prose poem in its early history or the various electronic genres that are now emerging.


Matthew Miller is a recent graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a Ph.D. candidate in American Literature at the University of Iowa. His poems and critical work can be found in recent or forthcoming issues of American Letters & Commentary, Jacket, New Letters, Verse, Volt, The Writers' Chronicle, and other publications. A recipient of the John Logan Award and the Academy of American Poets Prize, Miller currently teaches writing and literature at Mt. Mercy College.

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