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Dynamite Lines From Flash

December 14, 2013

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In “To the Women I Have Made Cry” by Ryan Mattern (Vestal Review), the speaker guiltily recounts former girlfriends he’s anguished. By the last paragraph, he’s had a few mean exchanges with an alienated wife, which lead to this  line, poignant and memorable:

I know it is only a matter of time before you are greyed-in, moving in still-frames across my mind like a strobe-lit phantom.

In a fierce short flash from Revolution House entitled “Winter is a Matryoshka Doll,” Ruth Bauman blasts off with this:

Loss is a recurrent luxury, so I build myself a treehouse & I get a shotgun & aim for every star.

When I picture the bluster of that final image, my mind keeps refilling the ammunition.

Now, flash fictions do not always lend themselves to the aesthetic of the one, compact doozie of a line. Poetry doesn’t even hew to that standard any longer. What makes a flash memorable is the situation.

In that regard, I love “The Guests” by Jessica Alexander from Monkeybicycle. It’s about a wife who must have dinner guests over at the suggestion of her fiance. The wife is weird to say the least, and less than excited about her guests, to stretch the understatement further. Here’s a great exchange between wife and fiance over the wife’s strange naming of her unwanted guests:

We are in the kitchen. The guests, Potato and Chicken, are playing Scrabble in the den.

“Their names,” Max says, “are Hilary and Nelson.”

Chicken is a journalist and Potato stays home with the kids….

I had a hearty chuckle that followed me to the end of that flash, which got even stranger at the end:

Outside some children were selling mud to an old woman. Then our husbands were on the deck shooting things and drinking scotch.

Another surreal flash that pays forward oddments of metaphor and situation is Rich Ives’ “The Formula for Rain” in apt, in which the speaker’s observations are barbed with delicious non-sequitur:

We lined up at the deposition center, nearly limpid with discrepancies. I couldn’t get ordinary enough.

But flash is a format, not a style. It’s not even a collection of styles. It can convey all the styles that ever were or will be and its generic constraints upon length should not be confused with generic constraints of approach. Sometimes I tire of it as a term. And soon, I’m just as exhausted with the meridians that cut writing into poetry and prose. There is a voice and a mind and a felt sense of the two wanting to address me that I love in all that I read.

And I feel the whole shebang at work in lines as perspicacious as this one, a seemingly simple operation of exposition from Katie Cortese’s “Before the Monsoon” from Sundog Lit: 

In the mildewed canvas chair, I tap gray snow into the wild air and watch the grapefruit tree shiver a welcome to the monsoon descending on Phoenix like a fruit bat diving for prey, its spread of dark wings turning everything to wind and shadow.

One Comment
  1. Amazing examples! Thank you.

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