Notes on the Micros

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June 20, 2021 by The Citron Review

Where do inspiration and organization meet? Are they at war? Or is it more of a cooperative struggle resulting in a jaw-dropping spectacle? Perhaps literature is quite like professional wrestling, then. Micro-literature must be a really short match: A quick suplex, an atomic leg drop, a boot to the guts, then we’re flying off the top ropes. Gravity and sweat rains down. Pound the canvas. Count to three.

My skyrocket journey to literature stardom began with formal poetry at the State University of New York, Oswego. Counting syllables, arranging rhymes, listening for the volta in a sonnet, mastering repetition and variation for a perfect sestina. We did it all trying to earn our poetry spandex. My good-humored, but strict formalist teacher was Lewis Turco, who happens to be the author of The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics. In his class, your grade depended on adherence to the form. If you made an error, your grade dropped a letter. Obedience was the only way.

Eventually, it sunk in that we had to know the rules before we could break them. So, now as an editor specializing in submissions that are microcnf, micropoetry, or microfiction of 100 words or less here at The Citron Review, one might ask, What are the rules for micros? Are they different across genres? Certainly the literature must be small. But are there rules for making quality micros? Do we need microscopes?

Or at least telescopes. Certainly both wouldn’t hurt. Find that detail that no one else sees. Throughout this issue, we see too much and not quite enough, but somehow it’s just right. While the vision of our writers may be hyper-detailed, they can also play with something that’s missing. In each micro, the reader is able to do a bit of the work. A collaboration between Meg Pokrass and Rosie Garland reveals windscreen wipers swishing like eyelids; Aimee Parkison allows us to sweat elegance in strangers’ clothes; Erin Murphy highlights a cluster of birthday balloons colored by the unexpected; Janet Jiahui Wu dangles gold before crows; Jennifer A. Howard highlights the American football acrobatics of a wide receiver; Sierra Nelson examines an inheritance that includes the butter dish pig; and all the while Will Cordeiro’s luscious cloudbanks smolder in the deepest of colors.

Each of the pieces from our micro writers upended me like a piledriver and yet, there is quiet and subtlety in abundance. Somehow in these limited spaces, each writer takes us someplace new physically, emotionally, or intellectually. They defamiliarize the commonplace. They make us see differently in a way that’s effortless.

A short time ago, I had the privilege of taking a Flash Fiction class with the brilliant, inspiring, and supportive teacher Nancy Stohlman. During our class reading, we ran into an epic bit of criticism by George Orwell. Among other goals, “Politics and the English Language” attempts to establish clear and sturdy (yet completely breakable) rules for our writing in English.

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.    

  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.    

  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.    

  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.    

  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.    

  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.        

Firstly, I must say: since I’m an English as a Second Language teacher, I take outright offense to Number Five. Using the appropriate foreign word is actually more precise than choosing an English approximation. I also see that Orwell attempts to cover what might be considered all possible gaffes with Number Six. (Fun fact: this essay was written in 1946, which might give a bit of context and Orwell was by no means an aggressive monolinguist. He had learned seven languages.)

In this period of political tension and pandemic pain, when we’ve described nearly every terrible thing as Orwellian in nature, wouldn’t it be nice to use this very writer’s challenge for all literature as a guide for your next submission to The Citron Review’s micros section? Or perhaps you’ll grunt your way into Number Six. Whatever you choose, I’m excited to read it. When I’m not in wrestling boots, I am that crow seeking gold in the tree.

My best advice for any Micros submitter is to read our issues. As a writer, I constantly learn new methods from the work we are fortunate to publish quarterly. In each one of this expanded issue’s pieces there are elements of surprise that delight, charm, repel, endanger, or inoculate us from harm. And sometimes we just move on into the present. Perhaps inspiration finds its own organization whether we smash folding chairs over each others’ backs or simply embrace each other. Isn’t good literature capable of both?


JR Walsh
Online Editor
The Citron Review



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