PP/FFedited by Peter Conners
Starcherone Books ($20)

by Nava Renek

In our age of test marketing and referential storylines, it’s sometimes hard to remember that writing is a creative act that can produce material as original and multifaceted as any other art form. PP/FF, an anthology edited by Peter Conners, serves up an exciting collection of unusual writings, not to be classified by structure or content, except that most pieces are short (one or two pages) and achieve the immediacy of storytelling.

In his introduction, Conners explains that PP/FF refers to the genres of “prose poetry” and “flash fiction”— classifications he doesn’t want us to use. “PP/FF is meant as a label that locates the territory of prose poetry and flash fiction by symbol rather than by language prejudiced by old genre baggage,” writes Conners—although such a defense actually makes the reader overly conscious of genre, when in reality, great writing supersedes genre. Fortunately, great writing is what this anthology contains.

Most of the pieces in this collection, whose contributors include Kenneth Bernard, Lydia Davis, Brian Evenson, and Eleni Sikelianos, among many others, force the reader to make connections, intuit what another believes, and let stories lie undissected. To achieve poignancy in so short a space, even words become characters that leave impressions both recognizable and undefined, like a breeze or a whisper.

What immediately becomes apparent is that so many of life’s experiences can be expressed in so few words and in so many innovative ways. “Prairie Shapes (A Flash Novel)” by Daryl Scroggins is a delicate tale spanning three generations told in 20 short segments. In “The Lightbulb,” Martha Ronk weaves language and storytelling together to create a tableau that reveals her characters, many years later, still processing the painful breakup of two marriages. Kim Addonizio’s characters in “But” and “Testimony” are injected with human frailty and enormous disappointment and wallow in the raunchy inconsistencies of life that are rarely portrayed in mainstream literature.

Humanity and humor are not sacrificed for brevity. Some of the stories are incredibly funny, ironic, and timely, as in Kent Johnson’s “Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz or: ‘Get the Hood Back On’”—comprised entirely of a series of pen pal letters from twisted American soldiers to their Arab prisoners. The letters begin casually—“What’s up, Ramal,” “Hi there, Hazaj”—but after revealing the banality of each letter writer’s background and the extreme measures of torture he/she wishes to inflict on the captive, the missives sign off with closings like, “By the time you get to MI, you’ll be softened up, and you’ll tell us where the terrorists are.” Disturbing in the utmost, Johnson’s piece deftly speculates on how events such as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal could have arisen.

Nearly every selection in this anthology seeks to respond to a timely question, reveal a painful truth, or depict a collective memory. Hopefully its cryptic title will not detract readers from seeking out its many wonders.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Summer 2006 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2006