A while ago, I was asked this question by Double Room, a publication that specializes in prose poetry…
“In considering similarities/differences between prose poems and flash fictions, Andrew Michael Roberts discusses James Tate’s Memoir of the Hawk: “The book’s cover advertises the contents as poems, yet the line breaks are arbitrary, and many of the pieces are so narrative that one might consider them short fictions. Who’s to say?”
Actually, Michael Roberts got it wrong. The line breaks in James Tate’s recent prose poems are not arbitrary. A little research will show that the poems appeared with the same line breaks in poetry journals as they did in his books. And in a talk at the New School in Manhattan, Tate admitted to controlling the line breaks in his prose poems because he liked the way they looked. In a review of Tate, Charles Simic said that Tate was breaking down the barriers of just what is poetry. That could be the case. But it also seems a little like Tate is having his cake and eating it too. Maybe that is the truest sign that my favorite underdog is now on top.
The lines are, in fact, getting quite blurred. I almost think that the only telling difference between prose poetry and flash fiction is who wrote the piece. If James Tate wrote it, it is poetry. If Barry Yourgrau wrote it, it’s flash fiction.