Prose poetry

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This article is about a poetic form. For the competitive speech event, see Prose & Poetry.

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


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. The argument for prose poetry belonging to the genre of poetry emphasizes its heightened attention to language and prominent use of metaphor. On the other hand, prose poetry can be identified primarily as prose for its reliance on prose's association with narrative and on the expectation of an objective presentation of truth.[citation needed].


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.[1] Gedichte in Prosa. Von der Romantik bis zur Moderne. Vorwort und Auswahl von Alexander Stillmark, Frankfurt a. Main (2013). 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, 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 associations.

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

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.

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 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 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 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 (translator) 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.[2]

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).[3] His somewhat longer story, "A Legend of Old Egypt" (1888), likewise shows many features of prose poetry.[4]

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".[5] Some contemporary writers who write prose poems or flash fiction include Michael Benedikt, Leigh Blackmore, Robert Bly, J. Karl Bogartte, Anne Carson, Graham Burchell, Kim Chinquee, Stephen Dunn, Russell Edson, Phillip A. Ellis, Richard Garcia, Ray Gonzalez, Kimiko Hahn, Lyn Hejinian, Mark Jarman, Louis Jenkins, Campbell McGrath, Sheila Murphy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, Alan Baker, Ian Seed, Steve Spence, Linda Black, John Olson, Marge Piercy, Bruce Holland Rogers, David Shumate, James Tate, and J. Marcus Weekley, Ron Silliman, Robin Spriggs, Thomas Wiloch, Jason Whitmarsh, W.H. Pugmire, and Gary Young.

The post-structuralist novel The Automation by B.L.A. and G.B. Gabbler calls itself a "prose epic" because of its formulaic structure and subject matter. The prose poem draws from Homeric and Miltonic traditions and experiments with style and wordplay to mimic epic poetry.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stuart Friebert and David Young (eds.) Models of the Universe: An Anthology of the Prose Poem. (1995)
  2. ^ Jayyusi, Salma Khadra (1977). Trends and Movements in Modern Arabic Poetry. Volume I. Brill. p. 23. 
  3. ^ Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa, p.99
  4. ^ Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa, pp. 149, 183, 301, 444.
  5. ^ A Curious Architecture: New British and American Prose Poetry. London: Stride Press, 1993
  6. ^ "ANONYMOUS AUTHOR USES TWO PEN NAMES FOR DEBUT NOVEL". The Strange and the Curious. Retrieved 2014-12-19. 


  • Robert Alexander, C.W. Truesdale, and Mark Vinz. "The Party Train: A Collection of North American Prose Poetry." New Rivers Press, 1996.
  • Michel Delville, "The American Prose Poem: Poetic Form and the Boundaries of Genre." Gainesville, FL: University of Florida, 1998
  • Stephen Fredman, "Poet’s Prose: The Crisis in American Verse." 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  • Ray Gonzalez, "No Boundaries: Prose Poems by 24 American Poets." Tupelo Press, 2003.
  • David Lehman, "Great American prose poems: from Poe to the present." Simon & Schuster, 2003
  • Jonathan Monroe, "A Poverty of Objects: The Prose Poem and the Politics of Genre." Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987.
  • Margueritte S. Murphy, "A Tradition of Subversion: The Prose Poem from Wilde to Ashbery." Amherst, Mass.: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.
  • Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa (The Art of Bolesław Prus), 2nd ed., Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1972.

External links[edit]