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Prose poetry, as it is usually understood, is poetry written in prose that departs from some of the usual practices associated with prose discourse, for the sake of heightened imagery or emotional effect.

Contents

Characteristics

Arguments continue about whether prose poetry is poetry or prose, or a separate genre altogether. Most critics argue that prose poetry belongs in the genre of poetry because of its heightened attention to language and prominent use of metaphor.

Other critics argue that prose poetry falls into the genre of prose because prose poetry relies on prose's association with narrative and on the expectation of an objective presentation of truth.

Yet others argue that the prose poem gains its subversiveness through its fusion of poetic and prosaic elements.

History

As a specific form, prose poetry is generally assumed to have originated in 19th-century France and in poetic forums like Poems & Prose.

At the time of the prose poem's emergence, French poetry was dominated by the Alexandrine, an extremely strict and demanding form that poets such as Aloysius Bertrand and Charles Baudelaire rebelled against. Further proponents of the prose poem included other French poets such as Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé.

The prose poem continued to be written in France and found profound expression in the 20th century, most notably in the poetry of Max Jacob and Francis Ponge.

At the end of the 19th century, British Decadent movement poets such as Oscar Wilde picked up the form because of its already subversive association. This actually hindered the dissemination of the form into English because many associated the Decadents with homosexuality, hence any form used by the Decadents was suspect.

Notable Modernist poet T. S. Eliot wrote vehemently against prose poems, though he did try his hand at one or two. He also added to the debate about what defines the genre, saying in his introduction to Djuna Barnes' highly poeticized 1936 novel Nightwood that this work may not be classed as "poetic prose" as it did not have the rhythm or "musical pattern" of verse.

In contrast, a couple of other Modernist authors wrote prose poetry consistently, including Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson. In actuality, Anderson considered his work to be short fictions—in the current term, "flash fiction." The distinction between flash fiction and prose poetry is at times very thin, almost indiscernible.

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Canadian author Elizabeth Smart, written in 1945, is a relatively isolated example of English-language poetic prose in the mid-20th century.

Then, for a while, prose poems died out, at least in English—until the early 1950s and '60s, when American poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Russell Edson, Charles Simic, Robert Bly and James Wright experimented with the form. Edson, indeed, worked principally in this form, and helped give the prose poem its current reputation for surrealist wit. Similarly, Simic won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his 1989 collection, The World Doesn't End.

At the same time, poets elsewhere were exploring the form in Spanish, Japanese and Russian. Octavio Paz worked in this form in Spanish in his Aguila o Sol? (Eagle or Sun?). Spanish poet Ángel Crespo (1926-95) did his most notable work in the genre. Giannina Braschi, postmodern Spanish-language poet, wrote a trilogy of prose poems, El imperio de los suenos (Empire of Dreams, 1988). Translator Dennis Keene presents the work of six Japanese prose poets in The Modern Japanese Prose Poem: an Anthology of Six Poets. Similarly, Adrian Wanner and Caryl Emerson describe the form's growth in Russia in their critical work, Russian Minimalism: from the Prose Poem to the Anti-story. The two best-known examples of this literary form in Russian are Gogol's Dead Souls and Venedikt Erofeev's Moscow-Petushki.

In Poland, Bolesław Prus (1847-1912), influenced by the French prose poets, had written a number of poetic micro-stories, including "Mold of the Earth" (1884), "The Living Telegraph" (1884) and "Shades" (1885). His somewhat longer story, "A Legend of Old Egypt" (1888), likewise shows many features of prose poetry.

The form has gained popularity since the late 1980s, and literary journals that previously disputed prose poetry's contributions to both poetry and prose currently display prose poems next to sonnets and short stories. Journals have even begun to specialize, publishing solely prose poems/flash fiction in their pages (see external links below). Some contemporary writers who write prose poems or flash fiction include Michael Benedikt, Robert Bly, Anne Carson, Graham Burchell, Kim Chinquee, Russell Edson, Richard Garcia, Ray Gonzalez, Lyn Hejinian, Mark Jarman, Louis Jenkins, Campbell McGrath, Sheila Murphy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, David Shumate, James Tate, and J. Marcus Weekley, Ron Silliman, J. Karl Bogartte, and John Olson.

It used to be said that prose poetry was impossible in English because the English language was not so strictly governed by rules as was the French language. This seems not to be so strictly held in the twenty-first century.

Rapturous, rhythmic, image-laden prose from previous centuries, such as that found in Jeremy Taylor and Thomas de Quincey, strikes 21st-century readers as having something of a poetic quality. Using figurative language to provoke thought, it invites a reader into unusual perspectives to question what is traditionally thought of, as in Richard Garcia's "Chickenhead."

See also

External links








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