A new exciting kind of poetry, a new form, flash poems are brief poems that can be read in a single glance, streaming down the page like a waterfall, like a Chinese scroll. It’s a compacted form that carries the reader quickly down the page as the poem’s glimpsed and taken in at once, in one long cascading moment, easy to read, easy on the eyes, refreshing, satisfying. While the flash is a very short form, it’s difficult to do well, very difficult — because there’s scarcely time for anything, like a senryu or haiku you only have time for a single photographic moment. But sometimes the tiniest poems pack a wallop.
How much can you do with a flash poem? Carl Sandburg’s famous poem “Fog” is just about it in effect, but not style:
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
A flash poem should be 5 lines or less, unless there’s spacing — Adelaide Crapsey’s “Triad” is getting closer:
Three silent things:
The falling snow … the hour
Before the dawn … the mouth of one
Crapsey’s poem is short but, like Sandburg’s, it isn’t a flash — both of them have too much horizontal movement going on, while for a true flash the eyes are always going vertical, scanning down. Here’s one, a true flash, “On the Piscatauqua River Bridge”:
the cool cold
air of Maine,
the open sea
with the sea
You read it and bam, that’s it, no sooner did you start the reading but then the poem ends and hits you in a single flash and there you have it: a flash poem.
Flash poetry in print
I’d like to know if anyone is currently printing, endorsing or promoting flash poetry, and I’m also interested in the historic view.
The Crab Creek Review, an independent literary journal publishing out of Seattle, appears to be close to the aesthetic (they’ve run a lot of interesting, short-short poetry, including a Western haiku by Brendan McBreen in the Spring/Summer 2008 issue).
Madalin Ciortea, a contemporary Romanian poet, has written short “flash” poems including “Flash Poem 5.”
I have a few flash poems in the 2008 issue of Crosscut (Husson College, Bangor, ME). In the 2004 issue there is a great flash poem by Silvana Costa called “Whales at south west rocks.”
I’ve been calling these fast-scrolling poems “flash poetry” for at least a decade, but in recent years the same term has been used for something else, something completely different — poems published with Macromedia Shockwave Flash software so they appear on a computer screen as moving filmlike animations. That’s something different.
And even Keats talked about flash poetry, although yet another kind — in September 1819 he was referring to “Don Juan” as “Lord Byron’s last flash poem” (see his Letters), referring to what he considered was uninformed, a kind of formal showiness that disguised actual ignorance. (See also Victorian Keats and Romantic Carlyle by C. C. Barfoot (Rodopi 1999), pg. 74.)