Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Prose poetry

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

Prose poetry is poetry written in prose instead of using verse but preserving poetic qualities such as heightened imagery, parataxis and emotional effects.



"The simplest definition is that a prose poem is a poem written in prose....But, not unlike "free verse," the oxymoronic name captures the complex nature of a beast bred to challenge conventional assumptions about what poetry is and what it can do." 'The prose poem is a composition printed out as prose that names itself as poetry, availing itself of the elements of prose, while foregrounding the devices of poetry.'

Technically a prose poem appears as prose, reads as poetry, yet lacks line breaks associated with poetry but uses the latter's fragmentation, compression, repetition and rhyme. and in common with poetry symbols, metaphor, and figures of speech.

Prose poetry should be considered as neither primarily poetry nor prose but is essentially a hybrid or fusion of the two, and accounted a separate genre altogether. On the other hand, the argument for prose poetry belonging to the genre of poetry emphasizes its heightened attention to language and prominent use of metaphor. Yet prose poetry often can be identified as prose for its reliance on prose's association with narrative and on the expectation of an objective presentation of truth..


Haibun is a Japanese form of prose poem, being a work that combines haiku and prose originated by Matsuo Basho in the 17th century and best exampled by his book thereof, Okuno Hosomichi, in which he used a literary genre of prose-and-poetry compositions of multidemensional writing. In the West, prose poetry originated in early 19th century France and Germany as a reaction against dependence upon traditional uses of line in verse.

Earlier examples can be found in Western literature, e.g. James Macpherson's 'translation' of Ossian. German Romanticism (Jean Paul, Novalis, Hoelderlin, Heine) may be seen as forerunners of the prose poem as it evolved in Europe. At the time of the prose poem's establishment as a form, French poetry was dominated by the Alexandrine, a strict and demanding form that poets starting with Aloysius Bertrand and later Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé rebelled against in works such as Gaspard de la nuit, Paris Spleen and Les Illuminations. Germany and Austria throughout the nineteenth century produced a large body of examples of prose poetry without using the designation.

The prose poem continued to be written in France into the 20th century by such writers as Max Jacob, Henri Michaux, Gertrude Stein and Francis Ponge. At the end of the 19th century, British Decadent movement poets such as Oscar Wilde picked up the form.

Writers of prose poetry outside France include Fenton Johnson, Amy Lowell, Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis, Hans Christian Andersen, Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan George, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Maeterlinck, Turgenev, Kafka, Georg Trakl, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and Clarice Lispector.

Notable Modernist poet T. S. Eliot wrote vehemently against prose poems. He 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. 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.

Prose poems gained a resurgence in 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, John Ashbery and James Wright experimented with the form. Edson worked principally in this form, and helped give the prose poem its current reputation for surrealist wit. Simic won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 1989 collection, The World Doesn't End.

At the 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 did his most notable work in the genre. Giannina Braschi, postmodern Spanish-language poet, wrote a trilogy of prose poems, El imperio de los sueños (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 writings of Syrian poet and writer Francis Marrash (1836–73) featured the first examples of prose poetry in modern Arabic literature.

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. Journals have begun to specialize, publishing solely prose poems/flash fiction in their pages (see external links below). In the UK, Stride Books published, in 1993, an anthology of prose poetry, "A Curious Architecture".

Contemporary writers

These include: Cassandra Atherton, Alan Baker, Giannina Braschi, Paul Dickey, Stephen Dunn, Russell Edson, Kimiko Hahn, Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Louis Jenkins, Campbell McGrath, Sheila Murphy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, John Olson, Marge Piercy, Claudia Rankine, Bruce Holland Rogers, Mary Ruefle, Ron Silliman, Robin Spriggs, James Tate, Thomas Wiloch, and Gary Young.


Prose poetry Wikipedia