Overheard at a creative writing conference:
Writer 1 said, “He was looking for flash fiction. Flash fiction.”
Writer 2 said, “Don’t you write poetry?”
“Yeah,” said Writer 1. “So I just like sent him some prose poems and stuff.”
Writer 2 said, “And?”

 

Overheard in graduate school:
Student A said, “Great, so what the hell’s the difference?”
“What you call it,” said Student B.
Student C said, “Line breaks. Are they there or aren’t they.”
Student B said, “Wait, prose poetry has line breaks?”
Student D looked up from his phone and said, “Dude. They’re at the bar.”

 

Overheard elsewhere:
Prose, standing up, said, “A prose is a prose is a prose.”
Poetry said, “Okay.”
They were inside, in a house. Neither owned the house.
“No,” said Prose, sitting down, “because a prose is a prose, is a prose.”
“Poetry,” said Poetry, standing up.
“Hold on,” said Prose, waving a hand, “just—wait.”
Poetry waited. Then said, “Prose.”
Poetry didn’t seem to be listening to Prose. This upset Prose until Prose realized that Prose wasn’t listening to Poetry either.
Poetry, who also realized this, said that it was either that, or they were listening to each other so completely at all times that they didn’t notice it, as if they were one another’s blood, or breathing.

 

Gertrude Stein wrote, “A rose is a rose is a rose,” in “Sacred Emily,” a poem.
Poetry, reading this while strolling, stopped. “Is this what you mean?”
They were outside, in a park. No one owned the park.
Prose, lounging on a bench, thought about it. The more Prose thought about it the less sure Prose was about what Prose meant, but the more this feeling, of being less sure, began to seem not so bad. Prose tried to remember when this feeling seemed so bad, and why.
Poetry resumed strolling. Poetry didn’t remember this feeling ever seeming so bad. Maybe once, and only for a moment, before it was put to use.
Gertrude Stein wrote, “Compose compose beds.”

 

Robert Olen Butler wrote in Rose Metal Press’s A Field Guide to Flash Fiction, “To be brief, it is a short short story and not a prose poem because it has at its center a character who yearns.”
“Yes,” said Prose, reading this, pointing at this.
They were in a diner. The owner, who they’d heard about but never met, wasn’t there.
Robert Olen Butler wrote, “It has been traditional to think that a story has to have a ‘plot’ while a poem does not. Plot, in fact, is yearning challenged and thwarted. A short short story, in its brevity, may not have a fully developed plot, but it must have the essence of a plot, yearning.”
Poetry said, “I yearn like a motherfucker.”
Prose said, “Well yeah, but . . . if you . . . because what it—okay.”
Their food arrived: four orders for two.

Kim Chinquee wrote in Rose Metal Press’s A Field Guide to Flash Fiction, “In these shorter pieces, in flash, one element can monopolize, yet generally, elements may become more blurred than in a traditional short story.”
Poetry and Prose said, “Yes.” They said this at the same time and in the same way, so much so that they didn’t notice they’d both said it.
They were at a bar, buying each other a drink. They didn’t know a thing about the owner and neither did anyone else. The bartender suggested that the owner was imaginary.
Kim Chinquee wrote, “If this becomes the case, if a flash can become a piece that focuses on language, setting, or character, for instance, why not call these pieces prose poems?”
Poetry and Prose said, “Yes.” They said this at different times with different intonations. They looked at each other.
Kim Chinquee wrote, “However, I will say this: prose poems can be flashes and flashes can be prose poems. They are interchangeable. They are more inclusive than exclusive—each, of the other. Quite simply, the more the elements of these genres become blurred, the harder it is to distinguish whether the piece is more prose poem than flash.”
Poetry and Prose, looking at each other, saw that they were holding hands. They didn’t know why or for how long. They blushed.

 

Juliet said, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? / Deny thy father and refuse thy name; / Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, / And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”
Poetry whispered to Prose, “Shall I hear more?”
Prose whispered to Poetry, “Or shall I speak at this?”
Juliet said, “Tis but thy name that is my enemy; / Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, / Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part / Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! / What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

 

Kevin McIlvoy said in an interview with Todd McKinney’s creative writing class at Ball State University, “The temptation may be to say, ‘Which mode am I in?’ I would suggest that as much as possible in your own writing, hold that off; hold off categorizing; simply say, ‘This feels like this.’ Hold off knowing so that there can be greater fullness in your feeling about what is before you.”
Poetry and Prose, holding hands, tried to remember if they’d ever not been holding hands.
Kevin McIlvoy, still speaking, said, “—how there are forms of writing that do not head in some direction, they do not add up, they do not easily define their own meaning, they are the equivalent of the experiences you have in your own life in which instead of heading in a direction, instead of being on a path that is taking you from here to there, something has happened that has actually grounded you so thoroughly in the moment before you that all that can happen, second by second, is you feel more intimately present to what you are experiencing, second by second.”
If they’d ever not been holding hands, what had that been like?
Poetry had the feeling that they’d always been holding hands, that they sometimes forgot.
Prose had the feeling that when they forgot they forgot on purpose.
These feelings they had, they had them, then they had some others.
Who was holding and who was being held, and when, and for how long?
Kevin McIlvoy said, “—not to carry the reader in some direction where they could say, ‘Here’s the theme of this work, here’s what is actually developing, here is what is happening,’ so that they could learn habits of presence in which you say, ‘Here is what it feels like to be present to the arising and dissolving beauty before me, always in my life,’ and to simply be more present and more present and more present without some sense of asking those questions, ‘What is this adding up to? Where is this going? How do I tell someone what this means?’”
They waited.

 

Poetry and Prose, wherever they were and weren’t, whatever they did and didn’t, whenever, however. They waited. Who knew?
One said, “Not so bad.”
One said, “So.”

 

They waited.
One said, “Do you hear that?”

Joseph Scapellato

JOSEPH SCAPELLATO was born in the suburbs of Chicago and earned his MFA in Fiction at New Mexico State University. His work appears in Kenyon Review Online, Third Coast, Unsaid, Harper Perennial’s anthology Forty Stories, and other places.