structure


by Sarah Crysl Akhtar

“You need to suspend disbelief–”

No.  You need to make me.

Critiquing another writer’s work shouldn’t be a bloodbath but it oughtn’t feel like a tea social, either.

I seem to get in trouble a lot on comments threads for pointing out that something in a story seems completely inconsistent with the world the writer has invited me, the reader, to enter. Reactions seem to be along the line that “it’s fiction, for heck’s sake, can’t you just admire the pretty words?”

Well, no, not if those pretty words strike me as somehow untruthful in the context of the story.

So how come, as I enter the crotchety years, my favorite reading remains that writing unfairly pigeonholed as “children’s literature”?  Isn’t that full of stuff that could never really happen?

Sure.  But a great writer makes you believe in every impossible word anyway.

As long as a writer is true to the created world, it doesn’t matter how strange that world might be.  And sometimes a writer’s failures are not what you’d think.

Take the Harry Potter series.  I did–making sad deprived faces until my son resignedly let me read each new volume first.

JK Rowling was superb at making Harry’s fantastical world perfectly plausible. But what made me nuts was her protagonists’s unswallowable treatment of each other. Rowling convinced me that animagists and boggarts might be found anywhere but not that Harry, Hermione and Ron could perpetually misunderstand and misjudge one another. They were more than best friends–they’d shown loyalty and courage beyond the capacity of most–and yet they kept snapping at each other for no good reason. I just didn’t believe that for a minute.

The mood captured in a story can be as fragile as a bubble, and once you’ve burst it, you’ll have a damned hard time retrieving the reader’s faith in your creation.

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Sarah Crysl Akhtar‘s shtetl forebears gifted her with the genes that impel her to make much from little. So of course she writes flash fiction, cultivates orchards on her windowsill and bakes fabulous shortbread. Her son gives her what’s immeasurable–the best of all possible worlds. (Less miraculous fruit of her labors has appeared on Every Day Fiction, Flash Fiction Online and Perihelion SF Magazine.)

by Jim Harrington

jimharrington2

Beginning in May, FFC ran a series of posts on prose poetry (listed at the end of this article). At the same time, I purchased a copy of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice. I also monitored an online discussion attempting to define flash fiction. (I had already read The Rose Metal Press’s guide to flash fiction.) Two things stood out in these articles and discussions: 1) the difficulty the authors had in providing definitions for these forms, and 2) the reasons people offered as to why some variations of these weren’t valid forms.

Writing, like music, takes many forms and provides something for everyone, if we allow ourselves to partake.

The most often mentioned reason for disliking prose poetry was the lack of line breaks, which no longer made it a poem. On the flash side was the argument of complete story (with a beginning, middle, and end) vs a vignette or character study. The more I read, the more I realized that none of this should matter. Writing, like music, takes many forms and provides something for everyone, if we allow ourselves to partake.

I audited a jazz history course a number of years ago. One evening during a discussion about blues music, one of the students wondered why opera didn’t sound more like the blues. He might like it if it did. I didn’t think of it at the time, but later wished I’d asked if he ever was disappointed when he bit into a pear and it didn’t taste like a banana. To me, the constant “is it or isn’t it,” or “what is it exactly” discussions are frivolous. Still, the arguments will continue and most likely never be resolved.

Not that I’m free of guilt. I ignore certain forms or genres because I don’t like them, or don’t feel I understand them. Poetry is a perfect example. I’ll page through a magazine, come to a poem (I know it’s a poem because it’s lined), crinkle my nose, and keep going until I come to a piece in paragraph form. Of course, the work could turn out to be a prose poem, but I don’t know that at first sight. Likewise, I ignore a few literary journals, because they contain pieces that don’t appear to be complete stories.

After reading all these articles, both online and in print, I decided to take a more open-minded approach to my reading. For a two month period, I read a number of works that I’d avoided before, not letting my biases get in the way. Okay, I’m sure I missed a lot of symbolism in the poems I read (lined or prose poem variety), and I probably didn’t get the full meanings of some of the literary works, and I’m still not a fan of fantasy (so far), but I did take something away from what I read. It may have been a particular phrasing or rhythm, or a word usage (often a word used in a surprising way), or how the author set the scene or described a character in a minimalistic way. I have to admit by putting my prejudices aside, I learned things about writing that I may not have otherwise.

So, I challenge all of you to do what I did and, for one or two months, read styles and genres that you normally avoid. Think you don’t understand or have an interest in science fiction? Give a try anyway. You might find a new genre to read. Concerned you won’t “get it?” Who cares. No one will know but you. And you might surprise yourself. Can’t do this because you’re not familiar with the magazines in various genres? Ha! You can use the markets list at FFC to find appropriate magazines. It includes publications covering all genres and indicates if poetry is included.

When you finish, drop me a note (jpharrin@gmail.com). I’d love to read about your experiences.

 

Prose poem articles at FFC.

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Jim Harrington began writing fiction in 2007 and has agonized over the form ever since. His stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Liquid Imagination, Ink Sweat and Tears, Near to the Knuckle, Flashes in the Dark, and others. He serves as the Managing Editor for Flash Fiction Chronicles. Jim’s Six Questions For . . . blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” You can read more of his stories at http://jpharrington.blogspot.com.

by Bill West

This post first appeared at Every Day Poets.

There is a line between poetry and prose poetry and it is this; there are no line-breaks in prose poetry.

Well, there is a little more to it than that. Line-breaks control the flow,  create audible appeal and allow the poet greater control and flexibility. Prose poets must use the sentence, and the paragraph along with the many other writerly devices that prose and poetry are heir to. Flash fiction has greatly added to the options available to prose poets as many writers of short prose move away from writing interesting stories and towards writing interesting metaphors.

Short story writer Raymond Carver said it was possible ‘to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language and endow these things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power’. Reading the Object Poems by prose poet Francis Ponge, which pre-date Carver, is proof enough of this truth. You can find a short extract of “Le Savon” here. Even poets like Yeats envied the power of prosaic understatement, such as the newspaper announcement of his friend’s death, which inspired him to emulate this power in his deceptively simple poem, An Irish Airman Foresees his Death.

Prose poetry shares some of the same roots as flash fiction although the term is much older. Charles Baudelaire coined the term in the 1840s when he published his “little poems in prose.” Other writers like Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, William Carlos Williams and Gertrude Stein adapted prose poetry and developed their own sets of rules and restrictions for the form. The term flash fiction came into use relatively recently although its roots are as deep and share sources in common with prose poetry.

Line-breaks control the flow,  create audible appeal and allow the poet greater control and flexibility.

For many, prose poetry developed as a reaction against traditional poetry conventions. Baudelaire and Rimbaud amongst others rejected strict poetic forms like the Alexandrine. In England Oscar Wilde and the Symbolists used poetic prose for explorative and subversive reasons. Even William Wordsworth said, in his foreword to his Lyrical Ballads (1800):

“It was published, as an experiment, which, I hoped, might be of some use to ascertain, how far, by fitting to metrical arrangement a selection of the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation, that sort of pleasure and that quantity of pleasure may be imparted, which a Poet may rationally endeavour to impart.”

Baudelaire coined the term “modernist” for his work. In the work of many prose poets the theme of the “unconscious” is explored, often in a darkly humorous way.

In the poem “Borges and I” Jorge Luis Borges provides us with a monologue in which “he” walks through the streets of Buenos Aires and stops in an entrance hall, sees the mail box with his name on, a list of professors and in a biographical dictionary reads “I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth century typography, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stephenson”. He goes on to suggest that there are two of him, and he does not know which of him wrote this. In a humorous way, Borges is exploring what might be called a side-ways view of what identity really is.

Prose poets must use the sentence, and the paragraph along with the many other writerly devices that prose and poetry are heir to.

In 1991 Charles Simic’s book of prose poems, “The World Doesn’t End” won a Pulitzer Prize.  This publication presents a child’s view of life in war-torn Eastern Europe. It contains work of dark, surreal humour; “We were so poor I had to take the place of the bait in the mousetrap” delivered with purposeful intent and using various devices, repetition and the images of a “dream world” in collision with a dark and shocking reality. You can find an example of Simic’s prose poems here.

Some poets do not like Prose Poetry, feeling perhaps that it is neither one thing nor the other. Why would a poet want to leave out those elements of a poem that can enhance its appeal?

Many writers of flash fiction are uncomfortable with prose that breaks so many of the perceived “rules” of flash fiction, although these writers tend to belong to the “plot-focused” writers. The Object Poems of Sponge belong to a  class of “found” text which take something already existing such as an object or an extract of text and turn the object into something else. Cut-up poetry or the use of extended metaphor are also examples of the use of “found” text. Here is an example of found items that develop decidedly odd relationships in Let Us Consider by Russell Edson.

Here is a list prose poem, Girl by Jamaica Kincaid, once referred to as flash fiction but now recognised as a prose poem.

I find prose poetry endlessly fascinating. Increasingly we see flash fiction that crosses the invisible line between prose and prose poetry and our reading experience is all the richer for it.

_________________

Bill West is the Senior Editor at The Linnet’s Wings.

By J. Chris Lawrence

Getting published is a tough business that isn’t for the timid or insecure. While Every Day Fiction’s openness to a variety of genres and daily publishing schedule leave a lot of room for well written stories to have their chance, quite a few still fall short due to common and fixable issues. Like any publication, there are certain steps writers can follow to increase their odds, and one of the keys to success is simply being prepared.

Here are my 5 tips for getting published by Every Day Fiction magazine.

Tip #1. Know Your Publication

Every publication is different, but all of them expect writers to read and respect their guidelines.

Like most flash markets, EDF takes a firm position on word count and is upfront about this. Even if your story is amazing, it will have to fit this very simple rule, yet countless submissions nevertheless find rejection for this misstep.

The importance of following rules can’t be stressed enough. Attempting to sidestep them reflects poorly on writers: it shows they either don’t respect the publication’s standards or lack professionalism.

Another leading cause for swift rejections is submitting a previously published story. This does include your own blog, even if it doesn’t have many followers.

The importance of following rules can’t be stressed enough. Attempting to sidestep them reflects poorly on writers: it shows they either don’t respect the publication’s standards or lack professionalism. But many of these issues can also be accidentally overlooked as well, so before submitting, give the guidelines a second read and stick to them. It might just save your story.

Tip #2. Break from tropes

People love to hate Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga.  Many die-hards scoff at her glittery vampires, but love it or hate it, it’s undeniably original, and while classic stories of traditional vampires can thrive (see Anne Rice, for example), the odds of them finding publication are lower than something editors have never seen before.

The key isn’t to avoid common themes, it’s to try to break from the mold and look at them in a different way. EDF is always open to creative takes on classic staples. In May, 2011, Rich Matrunick’s “The Pale Farmer” (http://www.everydayfiction.com/the-pale-farmer-by-rich-matrunick/) gave a chilling tale of a Vampire struggling to overcome his addiction to blood. For religious/end of the world content, Sarah L. Byrne’s “And Though Worms Destroy” (http://www.everydayfiction.com/and-though-worms-destroy-by-sarah-l-byrne/) broke new ground by showing a different side to the story. Likewise, Brock Adams explored one man’s struggle to return to normal life after a zombie apocalypse is contained in “The Former King of Fort Wal-Mart” (http://www.everydayfiction.com/the-former-king-of-fort-wal-mart-by-brock-adams/).

The key isn’t to avoid common themes, it’s to try to break from the mold and look at them in a different way.

When submitting to EDF, ask yourself what’s fresh about your material. If the story is strong enough, overused creature features can certainly still make it, but taking it that extra step into the unknown will make it stand out in a crowd.

Tip #3. Polish Your Prose

A strong story concept isn’t always enough; sometimes stirring works get rejected simply for prose alone. The good news is writing is a craft, and like all crafts, there are tricks of the trade that can help polish your work.

First, try getting a couple of beta readers to comment on your story. This only works if they are going to be honest and constructive (no, Mom doesn’t count). Often a different set of eyes can find plot holes, typos, or other errors that we writers tend to miss.

A fresh outlook helps us view our work beyond fresh-story blinders.

You can also try reading your story aloud or have someone else read it to you. This gives you a strong sense of how it sounds outside of your head, and more importantly, inside the reader’s.

Another rule of thumb is to simply give it time. Once the story is finished, put it away for a week or so. Let it settle, then go back and read it again. A fresh outlook helps us view our work beyond fresh-story blinders.

As a flash and web publication, EDF looks for prose that reads well for the screen and is appealing to its readership. It’s always best to keep your paragraphs sparse and clean, and while stylish prose is good, never lose sight of what’s most important–the story.

Tip #4. Themes and Arcs and Growth, Oh My

A theme is the underlying meaning or abstract concept behind your plot. This is what you are trying to say, the ultimate point of the story. Knowing this can help you stay on track. Yet, a theme is nothing without an arc–the basic structure of storytelling: the beginning, middle and end.

In flash, certain parts of the plot can and should be implied, but without a complete arc, you have a vignette at best. Most arcs thrive on the growth of a certain aspect, such as a character learning something or changing in some way. But all arcs have a very clear point of climax.

Before submitting your story, give it another glance. Ask yourself, is the tension clear, and is the central conflict being resolved? Is the message being conveyed? Does anything significant happen or change in some way? These are, perhaps, the most important aspects of a story. Many submissions that are turned away from EDF lack some or all of these important building blocks of fiction, because without them, you don’t have a complete story.

Tip #5.  Watch Your Ending

Often, stories come through EDF’s slush that are very intriguing, but die quickly due to their final lines. The ending is paramount: it’s the final note where all threads converge. Still, while it’s necessary to get it right, it’s also easy to get it wrong.

A common issue I’ve seen is the rushed ending. Whether it’s because the piece simply isn’t meant for a flash venue or the writer hasn’t paced the story well enough to fit the confines, a rushed ending can kill a story. Keep in mind the cadence of your plot as you go, and make sure it comes to a smooth close.

Twist endings are always a pleasure, but they can be difficult to pull off. A good twist story should never mislead the reader or leave them feeling tricked. Instead, it should be littered with clues and foreshadowing, so after finishing the piece, the reader can look back at it and think, “How did I miss that?”

Keep in mind the cadence of your plot as you go, and make sure it comes to a smooth close.

When doing comedy, be wary of the punchline ending. These aren’t stories so much as extended jokes. Sure, good comedy can end in a punchline, but if the entire piece revolves around that single jest, it probably won’t make it into EDF, or most other publications for that matter.

Finally, never let your story cop out. Be very cautious of using deus ex machina to resolve conflicts. Ending a story as just being a dream, or bringing in outside elements with the sole value of resolving the plot will likely lead to rejection. This is also a kind of cheat and the reader will notice. Let the elements of your story resolve their own conflicts.

While nothing here can guarantee you an acceptance letter, following these basic tips can certainly improve the odds of your story finding a home in the annals of Every Day Fiction magazine.

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Born in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, J. Chris Lawrence spent much of his life traveling and exploring the various cultural facets of American life. Most recently, he’s found himself in Georgia, where he spends his days reading slush for Every Day Fiction magazine, striving to improve his craft, and wrangling his sons, Michael and Ayden. You can find more of Chris’s fiction online at www.jchrislawrence.com.

by Oonah V Joslin

[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts by the editors of Every Day Poets. In this installment, Oonah V Joslin provides an analysis of a prose poem by Charles Baudelaire. Thank you Oonah, Kathleen Cassen Mickelson, and Constance Brewer for sharing your insights into this form with us.]

I didn’t really appreciate Baudelaire’s Spleen or Rimbaud’s coloured Voyelles when I studied them as a student. Then one day much later my dog ate my copy of Les Fleurs du Mal. It was annotated and somehow I never got round to replacing it – tant pis! I shall have to rectify that one day. So I am not going to pretend to be an expert in the mutable art of Prose Poetry. Rather I am going to let you into the secret of what constitutes a good prose poem for me in the hope it may be of use to you.

I have chosen one poem by Baudelaire which I think exemplary and has been admirably translated. Why Baudleaire? He translated Edgar Allen Poe – nuff said.

Enivrez-Vous by Charles Baudelaire BE DRUNK

“You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it”

Baudelaire was never afraid to challenge thought and the first line certainly does that. The first line of any piece of work is important. It is known as the ‘hook.’ Mind you, if he had stopped at that, then that’s all there would have been to it. So my first point is

  • As with any other poem, a prose poem has to have something to say. Make the reader think right from the outset.

Baudelaire goes on to clarify his point. One must be drunk so as not to feel:

“l’horrible fardeau du temps qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans trêve.”

Note the stresses that I have emboldened for you so that even of you don’t read French you can see the rhythm. In translation this is also achieved by plosives and the beat is preserved:

“feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.”

In the original this is pithy, gutsy to pronounce. It hits like punches as if life itself is a series of hammer blows.

  • Rhythm as a poetic device can enhance the meaning.

Now Baudelaire moves the poem on by going deeper and changing the kind of drunk we were thinking of.

“Mais de quoi?”

he asks and immediately leads us further into his thinking:

“Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.”

So what he is really talking about is passion. Whatever you do, do it with all your heart – get dizzy from it – make it your drug to ease life’s pains. Drunk with virtue is an interesting idea isn’t it. It’s an unexpected juxtaposition and he carries on contrasting in the next paragraph. He makes it clear that his words are for everyone, the rich, the poor, the ordinary:

“And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room”

  • Have a sense of audience when you write.

Just look at all the v’s and d’s in the original here:

“vous vous réveillez, l’ivresse déjà diminuée ou disparue, demandez”

All that consonance brings back the hammer blows when the being drunk wears off. Like a hangover headache, the language reinforces the idea here and that is one of the hallmarks of great poetry and part of what makes for a truly great prose poem.
In English:

“you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask”

  • Make good use of metaphor.

We might be expecting to be told what to ask. Instead he suggests not who to ask and that sustains our interest. This list is not random! It is a list of intangibles.

“the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything
that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking.”

Interrogate nature he says. Interrogate time and space.

  • Consider every word you use in your poem and make sure you know why you used that word in particular. The language has to be dense with meaning.

In French this paragraph works even better, as every one of those phrases is governed by à and the ‘flow’ is distinct because of this, like the flow of time itself – another example of language used in perfect keeping with the thought being expressed.

“à la vague, à l’étoile, à l’oiseau, à l’horloge; à tout ce qui fuit, à tout ce qui gémit, à tout ce qui roule, à tout ce qui chante, à tout ce qui parle,”

Had I been translating this I would have chosen in that second half:

“all that is flies, all that groans, all that rolls, all that sings, all that speaks.”

to reflect that usage. Try reading it that way and see whether you agree.

Now Baudelaire reveals the question and once more it is not perhaps the question (or the answer) we have in mind:

“ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: It is time to be
drunk!”

The humour of this is in wonderful contrast to those hammer blows of life from before and it surprises the reader with its simplicity. It doesn’t seem like a deep philosophical question – what time is it? But then

  • Bathos is another poetic devise — make use of the tools of langauge.

Baudelaire uses the tools of poetry well here. He makes the answer repeat the statement earlier in the poem so that nature itself seems to reflect his own ideas;

“It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be
continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

The circuit of thought is complete. Be drunk, be passionate about something, anything, because that is what makes life worthwhile.

  • Your poem should feel complete too.

The use of language and the tools of poetry are what makes this a prose poem and not just a piece of prose. It is not a story. It is an impression; a thought experiment, with all the hallmarks of poetry.

Ask yourself: Could this benefit from being put into lines?

Well, take a look HERE

I think you will see that lines; actually fragment the flow, particularly in this section:

“à la vague, à l’étoile, à l’oiseau, à l’horloge; à tout ce qui fuit, à tout ce qui gémit, à tout ce qui roule, à tout ce qui chante, à tout ce qui parle,”

and make the poem lose its cohesion.

So how do you know when to write a prose poem and when to use stanzas?

It depends on what you have to say. But be sure you have a reason for your choice of form. Try writing your poem in several different forms and then choose the best. And remember a prose poem is not just any piece of prose, just as a poem is not prose chopped up into lines and writing a prose poem is certainly not an easy option.

After all this time I have forgiven Bobby for eating my book. He was just passionate about anything chewable. He was drunk on life! Baudelaire would no doubt have approved.

Bobby

Never leave a puppy alone with your books :)

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Oonah V Joslin has been Managing Editor of Every Day Poets for the past 5 years. Much of her own poetry is to be found in Bewildering Stories and elsewhere but she also writes flash fiction and horror. Links to much of her work can be found at Parallel Oonahverse — http://oovj.wordpress.com/

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