Flash Fiction or Prose Poem?

lightning imageThis is what’s exercising my sluggish, rain-soaked brain at the minute: what is the difference between flash fiction and a prose poem? Narrative, you might suggest – as Nessa O’Mahony did, very helpfully, when I posted the question on Twitter (Thanks, Nessa). You might think this is stating the obvious, but in fact I’ve seen many instances of flash that could be described otherwise: as vivid impressions, or wordplay, or even a single arresting image sustained for the length of the (very short) story. And I’ve read prose poems that use brilliant language to carry a narrative thread through a closely held idea to a conclusion. I can think of many poems that answer that description – but the difference between a poem and a prose poem seems clearer, at least to me: A prose poem doesn’t use line breaks.

Surely a form that prides itself on brevity, like flash, should be easy to define. Well, okay, a very short short story: how’s that? But I want more. I think the most helpful working definition I found was by Nuala Ní Chonchúir. In her guest editor’s slot at the Stinging Fly (Issue 27 Volume 2) she says ‘A flash can be a sparkling slice of the surreal, or a language-driven poem/story hybrid, or an eccentric Cutleresque riff on something banal that turns out to be truly insightful and often funny.’
double room journal imageTripping around the internet, as you do, I stumbled on this website: The Double Room Journal, ‘a literary and arts publication founded in 2002 to explore the intersection of poetry and fiction.’ Here’s Tony Leuzi, talking about his approach to writing both: with flash fiction, he’s conscious of the traditional ‘ingredients’ that make up a story, but with a prose poem ‘I am able to violate the creative laws in any way I see fit and accept the unexpected results’ http://bit.ly/1kE9eQe

Jonathan Carr goes further: ‘Flash fiction is a compact distilled piece of writing that follows all of the dictates (or lack thereof) that one would place on a work of fiction. It is an act of distillation. Of sparseness. Minimal strokes. A prose poem is often the very opposite. Where Flash fiction is a working down of a form prose poetry is an exploding up of a form, a release from structure, a star erupting, a channel run straight from the brain stem to the pen.’ http://bit.ly/USmwMF

I think I’ll hang out on this website for a while – it’s a delight, and there are nine whole issues to look through. http://doubleroomjournal.com/

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This entry was posted in Commentary, Fiction, On Writing, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Flash Fiction or Prose Poem?

  1. Beth Bates says:

    You and Jonathan Carr just changed my life with the clearest explanation for this modern literary conundrum I’ve heard (and I’ve been in more discussions about this topic in the past 5 years–waste of my life). “Where Flash fiction is a working down of a form prose poetry is an exploding up of a form, a release from structure, a star erupting, . . .” Simply beautiful, and spot-on!

    And: thanks for following my blog. I’m honored.

  2. Sheila Barrett says:

    Sometimes flash fiction seems a bit like an elephant managing to get all four feet off the ground at once…which doesn’t last very long, either… but maybe that’s just how it feels…

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