Editor’s Insight Into Redivider’s Blurred Genre Contest

November 17, 2015 § 2 Comments


From the editors at Redivider:

afl03_aerofilms_c11965AO_1.jpgOn November 15, Redivider opened submissions for our first annual Redivider Blurred Genre Contest: Flash Fiction, Flash Nonfiction, and Prose Poetry, and we couldn’t be more excited. Submissions are $6 each, $11 for two, $15 for three, and the $15 submission includes a complimentary, one-year digital subscription to our magazine. Each piece, no matter the genre, must come in at 750 words or fewer, and submissions close on December 31. Entrants may submit as many times as they’d like, to as many categories as they’d like. One winner from each of the three categories will win $250.

Check out the official guidelines.

We have wonderful cast of judges, including Pamela Painter for flash fiction. Author of three story collections and winner of numerous awards, Pamela often works and teaches classes in “very short stories.” About her latest book, Wouldn’t You Like to Know, Alice Hoffman writes, “Pamela Painter has perfected the short short.”

Jerald Walker will judge flash nonfiction. A widely published and anthologized essayist, Jerald won the 2011 PEN New England Nonfiction Award for Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption.

John Skoyles, Ploughshares poetry editor and author of seven books, will field entries for prose poetry. He knows the turf, too, as his collection of prose hybrids, The Nut File, is forthcoming from Quale Press.

The purpose of this contest is to explore, nurture, and celebrate the porous genre boundaries within and between flash prose and prose poetry. These hybrid genres seem to present as many similarities as they do differences. While fiction and nonfiction are often difficult to tell apart–both leaning on reality and imagination–their flash forms also demand attention to the immediacy and lyricism so often found in poetry. Meanwhile, poetry distills reality, imagination, immediacy, lyricism, and more, but written as prose, it sidesteps many of its own formal distinctions. Still, the only definitive similarity between these three genres resides in their form: the phrase, the clause, the sentence, the paragraph. Beyond that, things get slippery.

Subverting expectations. Transgressing boundaries. Challenging norms. Works of flash prose and prose poetry flout conventions of length, line breaks, and genre. Some minimize and some undermine. Some climax and some abscond. Some ache and some reveal. Relying on the tension and elasticity of language to hold their parts together, they de-privilege the ponderous ruminations and rigid strictures of the leisure class; they start late and finish early; they force their readers to ask, what is this?

To approach an answer to what this is, let’s ask around:

Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore, in his introduction to The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction, is reticent to pin down the flash nonfiction genre. Strictly defining art forms, he writes, “is ultimately a fruitless exercise,” so he resorts to metaphor. There’s a fire in forest, Moore says, and if the traditional essayist wanders toward it from the edge of the woods, the flash writer parachutes in and “starts the reader right at that spot, at the edge of the fire, or as close as one can get without touching the actual flame.”

So flash nonfiction burns, glows, radiates heat. Do the others?

Writing about flash fiction, Redivider contributor and Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler articulates a similar burning core. In “A Short Short Theory,” appearing in Rose Metal Press’ fiction counterpart to their nonfiction guide, Butler writes, “To be brief, it is a short short story and not a prose poem because it has at its center a character who yearns.” To Butler, a character’s yearning can drive the genre distinction.

But what about prose poetry? Should we expect it to burn, to yearn?

At poets.org, our friends at the Academy of American Poets opt for simplicity in their terms. “Though the name of the form may appear to be a contradiction,” they write, “the prose poem essentially appears as prose, but reads like poetry.” So a prose poem is simply a poem in prose’s clothing, characterized by “techniques common to poetry, such as fragmentation, compression, repetition, and rhyme.” There seems here no exclusion of characters yearning or parachutes for that matter, just as neither Moore nor Butler dismiss poetic technique in the prose of their home genres.

So how can we tell what a brief, short, flashy, poetic piece of prose is?

What if a piece simply is what it says it is? What if the only true distinction between flash fiction, flash nonfiction, and prose poetry is that the pieces refer to themselves as such things? But then, each stems from its parent genre, even though flash nonfiction is as far from an essay as the spark from the fire; flash fiction from the short story as the tree from the forest; prose poetry from traditional poetry as the fire jumper from her family. These forms flicker and overlap, leaving a flash in our vision, a crackle in our ears, a whiff of toasted tree sap in the air.

But wait!, you say. We-who-read-literature inherently know the difference between poetry and prose, between fiction and non. Or do we? Can we? Should we? These are the questions we at Redivider, through our Blurred Genre Contest, seek not to answer, but to explore.

We look forward to reading your work, and to nurturing these slippery and subversive literary genres for years to come.

For questions or comments, email us at editor@redividerjournal.org.

Good luck, and happy writing!

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