Tony Leuzzi

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?

Denise Duhamel claims that, whether or not a difference exists between prose poems and flash fictions, academics and practitioners of either form have yet to establish a satisfactory distinction between the two. I agree. Moreover, I agree with Jonathan Carr that the only restrictions one encounters when writing in either form are self-imposed. I, for instance, differentiate between prose poems and flash fictions in the following manner:

  1. When writing a flash fiction, I am primarily concerned with supplying the ingredients of any traditional story: believable character and motive, clear plot, and a vivid sense of who is doing what-when and why.
  2. When writing a prose poem I do not bind myself to these requirements. Instead, working with this form frees me considerably. I am able to violate the creative laws in any way I see fit and accept the unexpected results - which is both exhilarating and a bit frightening. When I switch into "prose poem mode" I am telling myself to lose control, to dispense with gravity, to bark at the shape of air, which is without color or shape until I've barked at it. The end result may meet some (or even all) of my requirements for a flash fiction but this is purely coincidental.

In the end, the difference (for me) between the forms is the psychological approach I adopt to the method of composition in either case. But it is precisely because of this that I must disagree with Thom Ward, who says it is useless to ruminate over the issue. I feel it is important for a writer to articulate and/or define forms - even if the end result remains inconclusive. The more we attempt to define and articulate, the more we clarify and discover our own aesthetic sensibilities and compositional practices.

With regards to READING either form, I generally determine "flash fiction" or "prose poem" through my reaction. As readers, we construct stories as we read/hear them - and this construction is an extension of composition. If the writing contains a compressed plot, with character and motive, then I am inclined to think, "flash fiction." If the reading experience forces me into unexpected directions, where a loss of control is expected, then I am probably in the realm of a prose poem.


Tony Leuzzi teaches literature and composition at Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. A two-time recipient of small grants from the New York State Council for the Arts, his poems and prose have been published or are forthcoming in Fox Cry Review, White Pelican Review, Rhino, SLANT, Poetry Motel, Half Tones to Jubilee, Desperate Act, The Harvard Educational Review, Gertrude, Bryant Literary Review, Shiny, Full Circle, HazMat, and many others. He has also published three chapbooks of poems: The Joey Poems (1986), Dream Lessons of the Mouth (1989), and Figuring (1999)..

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