Thursday, 20 June 2013

A Poem or a Flash? - Suz Winspear

Poetry and Flash Fiction are fabulous forms within which to work, and I love writing and performing both. At their best, they make for concise and memorable works of convenient length for live performance, not going on for so long that the audience loses attention, and they can pack a lot of meaning into a limited space. Both are equally enjoyable to perform. Yet although they have shared features, the two forms of writing are different; they communicate in different ways. The main similarity between the two is that neither has space for extraneous words or slack verbiage. Every word has to pay its way; in crafting effective poems and Flashes, there simply isn’t time or room to ramble or digress. But the use of those carefully-chosen words, and the intended results, are not entirely the same in the two literary forms.

Poetry allows ambiguity, suggestion, and the delicate evocation of atmosphere. Serious (as opposed to comic) poetry often works by hints and implications, allowing the listener or reader to find their own meanings within the piece. It often says those things that cannot easily be spoken directly, working on the subconscious level, so that I have sometimes found that the imaginations of the audience will find meanings in a poem which the poet did not originally notice was there.

Flash Fiction is equally concise, but more direct. To communicate to an audience, the Flash Fiction has to hold together as a story; it cannot be just a beautiful invocation of ambiguous atmosphere. Of course there can be plenty of atmosphere and ambiguity in a Flash Fiction, but they have to be there in the service of the story, not as an end in themselves. A Flash Fiction is not the same thing as a poem re-written without end-stops. It’s a story; it needs narrative, structure and development, leading to a conclusion that audiences will find satisfying (if sometimes rather unsettling). Remember, a flash is something brief, bright, direct and illuminating. You can’t have a hazy or a misty flash.

Of course, this is a personal opinion, based on what I’ve found that out through trial and error, from writing and performing, and by learning from the effects that different pieces have on an audience. Still, I do think that there is a distinction between what sort of thing works best in a poem and what makes a Flash Fiction effective . . . . And when it comes to deciding whether the brilliant piece of inspiration that came to you in the shower this morning would be best turned into a poem or a Flash, well that decision is yours to make – try it out, see what works, write and enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. As a poet and flash fictioneer, I'm still confused on this, Sue. I really don't know if some things I write are flash fiction or a narrative poem. Sometimes I write it both ways, maybe just cutting a little more out of the poem version, concentrating a little more on rhythm. I've read a short story at a poetry night and it's reacted to as a poem, I've had poems (sans line breaks) published as stories. It's a thin line and I think a lot of us straddle it!