Lynn Kilpatrick's work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Salt
Hill, and is
forthcoming in Tin House. She is the Vice-President of Writers
at Work and she
teaches writing at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.
Question #1: In DR #2 Johannes Göransson makes the observation
regarding Russell Edson that, “Sometimes, when I’ve
read his poems I start to write like him too. It’s infectious.” Whose
poems get under your skin in this way? Whose poems should get under
more people’s skin? Also, how does the pp/ff form contribute
to or enable what Göransson calls ‘infectious’?
Question #5: Matt Miller feels that, “ As attempts at essential
definition continue to encroach upon prose poems, they risk losing
that has facilitated their vitality.” And, when Albert Mobilio
writes, “ Flash fiction” They’ve got pep! Plot!
Flash! Very saleable” he seems to share Miller’s wariness
for categorization. Morgan Schuldt states, “ To my mind,
this attempt to distinguish prose poetry from flash fiction from
short shorts is nothing more than an exercise in tautology.” Yet
Anthony Tognazzini believes, “There are certain characteristics
that, even if in the most general way, seem to govern prose poems
and flash fictions. These are, obviously: brevity, heightened attention
to language, the use of surprise, humor, a circular, irrational
logic, etc.” What value is there in searching for definitions,
categories, and further insight into the form and function of prose
poems and flash fictions? Does this kind of exploration enhance
the pp/ff form or does it diminish it in some way?
My answer bridges these two questions.
The forms of prose poetry and flash fiction are infectious precisely
because they operate between the rigid genre distinctions of fiction
or poetry. These forms are exciting because they compress, because
they force the reader and the writer to perform linguistic and
narrative acrobatics, because they suggest rather than delineate
an entire world of which the pp/ff is just the slightest glimpse.
I sometimes find myself wondering whether what I am reading is
poetry or fiction. In many ways I am still bound by the idea that
fiction has narrative, event (something happens, then something
else happens) whereas in poetry anything can happen, even event,
but the piece is not bound by it. (I mean all positive and negative
associations of the word “bound”).
I like what Lyn Hejinian says: “prose generally has greater
velocity than poetry” and “an interest in discovering
and creating relationships between things is, in essence, a narrative
interest” (Introduction to “A Thought is the Bride
of What Thinking” in The Language of Inquiry). I take her
to mean that poetry and narrative are not opposed and that all
writing is narrative in the sense that once I put two words next
to each other a relationship begins to rise up between them. I
read Hejinian’s work as both poetry and prose in the broadest
sense of each word. Things happen: events. But I read My Life free
from the binds of genre distinctions: I don’t care what comes
next, I just want to experience it. And this, experience, seems
to be what simultaneously binds prose poetry and flash fiction
to each other and sets them apart from other forms: pp/ff are primarily
concerned with being experience rather than conveying experience.
I do think there can be productive discussions of the differences
between prose poetry and flash fiction, but only if such discussions
expand the range of each without limiting the possibilities of