Poem or Flash Fiction? You decide!

I’m pleased to have another small story, ‘Snowdrops’, on Paragraph Planet today.  Paragraph Planet publishes a daily story; no line breaks are allowed, all writing is presented in one small paragraph and must be of exactly 75 words, including the title.

However, when I started writing ‘Snowdrops, I wasn’t sure if it was a line poem, prose poem or short fiction.  I’m still not sure today so I’ve written it both as a piece of flash fiction (published on Paragraph Planet and here) and, slightly altered, as a line poem, included at the end of this post.

Snowdrops. In the time it takes to find my reading glasses, Enid next door has died and the garden below my bedroom window has been landscaped.  Forty years of cocoa with the evening news hide timidly in a skip, embarrassed by the nightie Enid wanted nobody to see her in.  Spring arrives and a little girl swings, back and forth, singing.  Snowdrops, crocuses, then daffodils push beneath her feet, waving up to me, calling a small "You-hoo!"

The initial idea came from one of my own workshops at Trowbridge Museum which you can read about here.  The contemplation of time passing was a central theme of the poems I’d selected for this workshop.  In particular, we’d read Robin Robertson’s ‘About Time’ (from ‘The Wrecking Light’).  The first stanza is:

In the time it took to hold my breath

and slip under the bathwater

– to hear the blood-thud in the veins,

for me to rise to the surface –

my parents had died,

the house had been sold and now

was being demolished around me,

wall by wall, with a ball and chain.

I used this poem as a prompt for participants to write their own ‘About Time’ poem.  Some ideas for first lines were “In the time it took for the bus to arrive” and “In the time it took to find my reading glasses”.  I always try to write with participants when I’m running a workshop, so I used the ‘reading glasses’ line and wrote in my notebook:

In the time it took to find my reading glasses

my neighbours had died

the duck egg blue wallpaper that Mary had told me made her feel happy

was in the skip.

Little children trampled over her lettuces

Her tomato plants had grown straggly

From these rough, first lines, I developed my poem/story.  I was trying to write about time passing, and ageing, and about the way that lives collide; how we achieve an unsatisfactory intimacy with neighbours, living so close but never fully knowing them, although we might share intimate spaces.  And I have always found something heartless and unforgiving about an industrial skip out on a street, overflowing with the previous owners’ belongings, their lives laid bare for all to see.

With the poem, I had the luxury of being able to go over the 75 word limit, so was able to include a title which aims to encompass the poignancy of a person planting bulbs whose flowers they will never see bloom.  It also acknowledges my own mortality.  Some flowering bulbs flourish year after year – they do in my garden – regardless of the incompetence, the disrespect, really, of the gardener; small reminders of gentle people who are no longer with us.

Ordering from the Flower Catalogue

In the time it takes to find my reading glasses

Enid next door has died

and the garden below my bedroom window

has been landscaped.  Forty years of cocoa

with the evening news hide

timidly in a skip, embarrassed by the nightdress

Enid wanted nobody to see her in.

Spring arrives and a little girl swings

back and forth, singing.  Snowdrops, crocuses

then daffodils push beneath her feet,

waving up to me, calling

a small “You-hoo!”

9 thoughts on “Poem or Flash Fiction? You decide!”

  1. All versions are moving. I particularly liked – if like is the right word for an image that shook me – “the duck- egg-blue wallpaper that Mary had told me made her feel happy was in the skip”. It’s interesting how the change of tense in the final version, along with the cycle of life theme introduced by the little girl takes away some of the pain of the verses that use the past simple and past perfect.


  2. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Chris. I may well go back to the original notebook and ‘grow’ a different poem, that is, an additional poem. I always struggle with which tense to use. You’re right, it is interesting how different tenses influence readings.


  3. Loved your flash/poem piece- very poignant. You’ve posed an interesting question, and one which I’m definitely not qualified to answer. I don’t write or read much poetry and I’ve always wondered what the difference is between a poem and flash fiction. Maybe some of your other followers will be able to clarify the criteria? If there is any…


  4. A sad yet hopeful story I think. Time winds down for all of us in the end, but for others their clock has just started ticking.

    Thanks for this insight into your writing process. Sometimes I think my own flash-fictions verge on poetry, but I’m not confident enough to properly plunge into that form. Perhaps, I should treat myself to one of your workshops!


  5. I’d welcome you with open arms (and a cup of tea) Natalie! I think I’ve said it before, but the way I overcame my fear of poetry (it’s a common affliction) is by reading it. Have a look through my Blogroll – not a bad place to start. Thanks for commenting 🙂


  6. Great initiative! And thought-provoking productions btw…
    I keep a blog where I post my own writing, no diary entries or any distracting stuff, simply to share with whoever may want to read.
    And,picking up the idea on the fear of writing poetry, I may add I have always been most reluctant/self-conscious to share it with friends and the like; however, posting someofit has proved liberating. On a personal note, I may add that the tone/theme varies a great deal between the stories I write and the poems, most of the latter being much more introspective, merging the lyrical I and my own self.
    Be my guest to have a browse and leave a wink of a comment, y’all!



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