Carrie Etter is an American award-winning poet, resident in the UK since 2001. She has three published collections, The Tethers (Seren 2009), Divining for Starters (Shearsman 2011) and Imagined Sons (Seren 2014) and is also a flash fiction writer. Carrie is senior lecturer in creative writing at Bath Spa University, where she has taught since 2004. Carrie Etter’s recently published flash fiction chapbook Hometown (V Press) is reviewed here by Santino Prinzi. You can hear Carrie read from the chapbook alongside Meg Pokrass, K M Elkes, Santino Prinzi, and Diane Simmons at our Evening of Flash Fiction, St James Wine Vaults, Bath on Friday 29th July.
- You write both prose poems and flash fictions. Denise Duhumal in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry (Rose Metal Press), writes “there may be a difference between flash fiction and prose poetry, but I believe the researchers still haven’t found the genes that differentiate them.” Would you agree?
I disagree! I think a successful flash fiction requires a narrative arc, with a protagonist facing a conflict and acting in response to it, even if that response is non-action. When a prose poem uses narrative, it’s to demonstrate or explore its primary idea.
- In your own writing, do you find that you’re focusing on something different from prose poetry when you write flash fiction?
As the above would suggest, I approach the genres in entirely different ways, different mindsets. I recommend reading Ron Wallace’s Writers Try Short Shorts! which usefully compares a flash fiction with a narrative prose poem to distinguish the differences between them.
For examples of Carrie’s prose poetry and her flash fiction, see ‘Eddie’s First Seven Visits to Nick in Prison as Questionnaire‘ a flash fiction from her chapbook Hometown (V Press) and download a pdf of ‘Greek Salad‘ a prose poem from her collection Imagined Sons.
- You’re reading from your chapbook Hometown at our Evening of Readings on 29th July in Bath. Can you say more about how this publication came into being?
I’ve been writing and publishing fiction as long as I’ve been writing and publishing poetry, but clearly my focus has largely been poetry. The oldest story in Hometown was published in 2004. As the stories began to accumulate, and palpable themes arose, I was keen to use the chapbook both as a work in itself and as a step toward a full-length collection – as I often do with poetry, too. The chapbook allows one to gauge reception and responses to a larger work in progress, and that’s very useful.
- The pieces in Imagined Sons, your prose poetry collection published in 2014 by Seren, and Hometown have a strong narrative feel. How did you decide the sequence? And do you think a narrative theme is important in a chapbook or collection?
I don’t think a narrative theme is important in a chapbook or collection, but it does give the work coherence to have themes or threads to bring the pieces together into a book. The prose poems in Imagined Sons employ narrative to explore the birthmother-birthchild relationship in many of its facets.
- As a lecturer at Bath Spa University Department of Creative Writing since 2004 and a teacher of poetry and flash fiction in many other places, you’ve taught hundreds of students over the years. What do you think people most need to pay attention to when writing in the short-short form? What, in your view, are the common pitfalls?
I think the most common pitfall is to leave narrative structure behind. The weakest flash fictions I see from students read as fictional prose but not complete stories, and the arc, however much reduced from a whole short story or a novel, is important if not crucial for that completeness.
- Who are your favourite prose poets and/or flash fiction writers currently? What do you find interesting about their writing?
I don’t tend to separate prose poets from poets generally, or flash fiction writers from short story writers. Of collections that include a fair amount of prose poetry, I’d recommend Hanne Bramness’s No Film in the Camera (Shearsman, 2013, translated by Frances Presley), Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, and C.D. Wright’s last book, The Poet, the Lion. For short fiction, I’d recommend Carole Burns’ The Missing Woman (Parthian, 2015) and any of Aimee Bender’s short story collections.
To answer your second question would require an essay, so I’ll let readers infer from my choices what interests me in these works.
- Can you tell us about any forth-coming books?
I have two chapbooks coming out this year: the flash fiction one you mentioned and one of lined poetry, Scar, just out from Shearsman. Scar is a long poem exploring the effects of climate change on my home state of Illinois. It’s one of my most researched pieces of creative writing.
- Finally, are you running any other courses on flash fiction or prose poetry this year?
I’m currently teaching Advanced Prose Poetry online for The Poetry School and absolutely loving it. For the last ten years I’ve run Sudden Prose: Flash Fiction and Prose Poetry as a second-year module at Bath Spa, and that will run again in 2016-17.