Sun 8 Dec 2013
by Jim Harrington
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 (email@example.com). I’d love to read about your experiences.
Prose poem articles at FFC.
- Prose Poem–The Poetic Mutant by Constance Brewer (May 2013)
- Prose Poetry Is a Slippery Beast by Kathleen Cassen Mickelson (June 2013)
- My Dog Ate My Fleurs du Mal by Oonah V Joslin (August 2013)
- Crossing the (Invisible) Line Between Poetry and Prose Poetry by Bill West(October 2013)
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.