Sunday, November 28, 2010

Prose Poetry or Flash Fiction

Hey all, I hope you've had an enjoyable week and that you're currently recovering from the over-indugence which is part and parcel of this particular holiday (if you're outside of the States, then it might be helpful to know that the American Thanksgiving was two days ago). 

Our blog topic for today was brought about after reading an article on Bark about the differences between flash fiction and prose poetry: 

I'm not here to take issue with what was written there. Actually, I think a good deal of what Brett says is exactly true and a good introduction to the basic differences between flash fiction and prose poetry. The main difference to me between flash fiction and prose poetry has to do with focus. Flash fiction focuses on story (whether that be character or plot or place or time). Prose poetry focuses on image and/or emotion. This is, as with all definitions that would delineate the two, imperfect, but for my own purposes, that's what I usually go with. And of course, every rule was made to be broken, one just has to know he is breaking it when doing so. 

What I want to talk about is something a little closer to home. My own concern with the differences between short-shorts and prose poems has to do with audience. Specifically as relates to a magazine, such as the Bellingham Review.  Very short fiction acts in a publication in much the same way as poetry does; it's consumed easily and in a brief time and there are usually a couple or three pieces per author (at least this is how I prefer to consume short-shorts). 

This is something to consider as a writer, too. My own writing of late has been much more concerned with short forms than with longer narratives, and I have produced quite a few pieces of prose poetry and a few pieces of what might be better called flash fiction. Stories over, say, 500 words will rarely be confused with prose poetry, but there are masterful practitioners of very short fiction that produce works in the 100-499 word range. 

I very much doubt that there is a definitive way to identify and classify these pieces of work. A good analogy seems to me the field of taxonomy. The idea is to take extant and extinct animals and try to place them into groups, to sort the Mice from the Rats, so to speak. For the most part this works well, but every now and then a taxonomist comes along and blinks his eyes like Jeannie and the former Rat is redesignated a Mouse. I think I would feel this way, the same ambivalence, should someone tell me that what I thought was Prose Poetry was instead Flash Fiction. Yes the two are distinguishable, but at times the distinguishing characteristics seem arbitrarily selected (the shape of the ears say, or the length of the sentences) and a look at other parts of the anatomy might bring about the contrary conclusion. 

This is not to say that I don't think that discussing the differences is a waste of time. Indeed I spent time reading a blogpost about them and writing one of my own. But I think maybe the larger picture sometimes gets overlooked in the examination of minutiae.

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