Flash Poetry

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:

These be
Three silent things:
The falling snow … the hour
Before the dawn … the mouth of one
Just dead.

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”:

roll down
the win­dow
breathe deep
the air,

the cool cold
air of Maine,

the open sea

fresh and
and blend­ed
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 [amazonify]9042005882::text::::Victori­an Keats and Roman­tic Car­lyle[/amazonify] by C. C. Bar­foot (Rodopi 1999), pg. 74.)

First published on February 13th, 2009 at 11:49 am (EST) and last modified on February 13th, 2009 at 1:29 pm (EST).

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