Flash Fiction vs. Prose Poetry

I’m sure someone out there knows the difference, but it’s not me. For a few years now, since translating a remarkable book of prose poems, I’ve been fascinated with the genre and it’s history. The excellent White Pine anthology The House of Your Dream has kept me occupied with prose poems from around the world and I’ve even begun experimenting with my own compositions in the form. In my list-of-classes-I-someday-want-to-teach (along with a class on the defense of poetry) is a semester-long grapple with prose poetry. I’m constantly adding to my bibliography on this subject, hoping someday for the time to read everything.

Today’s new issue of Words without Borders (beautifully launching their new design!) is themed around flash fiction. I’m not a passionate reader of most fiction, but I was struck by the excerpts from “Do You Understand?” by Andrai Blatnik in translation by Tamara Soban. I suppose in a sense they are closer to fiction because they describe concise narrative arcs, but there is poetry in here too. Especially in “Marks” which wonders with poetic insight:

All my lovers give me bookmarks. They seem to think I must read a lot. I put all the marks into the same book, the one I never open. When I can’t sleep at night I think about how I should, how I ought to open it and see what I’ve marked. What would a story made up of only my marked pages be like?

Or the sequence “Poetics of Wonder: Things They Say about Mogador” by Alberto Ruy-Sánchez translatied by Rhonda Dahl Buchanan. Twenty-two begins:

In Mogador, the heart is considered the most precise clock, or at least the most respected, not just for its consistency but for its ability to distinguish the profound nuances of each instant. It is a clock that falls in love, becomes frightened and aroused. Those skipped heartbeats become milestones of life shared by more than two and at times by all.

This reads to me like poetry, and since both flash fiction and prose poetry are concerned with breaking down the boundaries of the genre and expanding them outwards in form and function, it’s difficult to delineate a clean separation between the two. In any case, I’m thrilled to have the chance to read more, and may be revising my imaginary syllabus to include these kinds of genre-bending cases.

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