Peter Conners’ PP/FF

In his introduction to the 2006 anthology PP/FF, Editor Peter Conners sets out to explain the title. It turns out that the letters are more than an abbreviation for the two forms that this book, at first glance, appears to contain: prose poetry and flash fiction. Conners begins his explanation by talking about these two forms. Quoting writer Michael Benedikt, he says that prose poetry is “characterized by the conscious, intense use, of virtually all of the devices of verse poetry” except for rhyme, strict meter and the line break. Conners goes on to say that prose poetry cannot offer too much plot or else “it becomes fiction.” The extremely short story, or flash fiction, runs a similar risk of turning into prose poetry if it fails to “follow a narrative arc.” For this anthology, Conners selected much work that lies near to, but outside of these parameters. He refers to this writing as “PP/FF,” and he believes that it is vital. In fact, he calls it “so contemporarily important as to define a zeitgeist.”

He does not support this statement with further explanation, which he should be able to provide. Not only is he an associate editor at BOA Editions — a publisher of poetry — he is one of the founding editors of Double Room, an online journal specializing in prose poetry and flash fiction. While his introduction is sketchy at points, the writing that follows is often alive with detail, and as Conners suggests, many of these pieces fall in between established modes of writing in exciting, creative ways. On the line that separates memoir from pure fiction, for instance, lies “Sister Francetta and the Pig Baby” by Kenneth Bernard. In it, the first-person narrator repeats a story that he first heard from his childhood teacher, a nun named Sister Francetta. She had many stories but this one was different from the others in that “it had no moral.” The tale was short: as a child, Francetta once looked into a baby carriage and saw an infant “with a pig head.” The narrator analyzes the symbolism of the baby with dry brevity and says about the story in general: “it was just there: there had once been a baby with a pig’s head.” Bernard’s story too is just there, displaying a curious blend of traits, much like the pig baby. It is both fantastic and seemingly honest.

Other pieces in PP/FF such as Joyelle McSweeney’s “Apolegit” and Arielle Greenberg’s “The Amityville Horror” explore boundaries both in and through language. McSweeney’s narrator moves through roles like an actor seen on a bright screen of words: “I practiced my Jackie Gleason in the spoiling sodium light. My gut arose. I never got home that night or any, I wore the mark of cane like a gold golf club’s shaft above the eye.” This voice sometimes asserts its legitimacy with blithe hostility, making remarks such as: “I thumbed and kicked through the flut Seminoles.” He also describes a town as being “preserved in its ruined, ha-ha, state.” It’s hard to say who is really laughing in this last line since the person speaking is playing a role and this role keeps changing. On the next page, he — or she — takes on a part much different from that of the lone traveler: “I was an ingĂ©nue again. I was folded frilled and strategically in and out of the doorjamb.” Now the joke appears to be on the speaker whose body, like everybody and every place in this piece, is foldable nonsense, existing solely as a polished style on the page.

Physical boundaries and borders have more meaning in Arielle Greenberg’s “The Amityville Horror.” They also are harder to discern, at least initially. Greenberg punctuates her writing with long lines that seem mysterious when they first appear in the opening: “Hey, Eloquence. Stardust. ______ all about the common currency.” The horizontal line appears to mark a place where words have been excised, but it’s not obvious what sort of phrase is needed to complete the sentence “______ all about the common currency.” Soon Greenberg gives us sentences that better lend themselves to this game of Mad Libs: “One night ______ walked until night was gone, a neighborhood of very new houses.” What’s missing from this sentence is its subject. All we need to know is who was walking, but while we are trying to fill in this particular blank, the prose suddenly quickens, and Greenberg draws us into these long lines so that we are the ones walking down this street; we are encountering what has been silenced in this neighborhood. Soon inflammatory phrases start to appear. Right before we hear of how “______ father drove ______ home in a scotch glass,” we read of “the abnormal smear of ______ lynched sex.” A few paragraphs later, Greenberg writes: “______ religion is a velvet cloak someone else will sew for ______ to wear to the rape fair.” The prose starts to elicit a visceral horror, recalling the movie and book that gives this piece its title.

“The Amityville Horror” is one of many effective pieces in PP/FF, a book that is an essential read for anyone interesting in cutting-edge writing. If Conners’ description of the work that he has collected is sometimes unclear, it’s because much of the book is hard to describe, a point that he himself addresses at the end of his introduction. He says that the writing in PP/FF “resists definition” and “often challenges readers’ assumptions about genre, form, style, and content.” It is a book in which lines are drawn, explored and crossed.

Originally posted on 2.24.2007