This 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.’
Tripping 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/