Prose poetry

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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."[1] "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."[2]

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.[3] It shares with poetry symbols, metaphor, and figures of speech.[4]

Prose poetry should be considered as neither primarily poetry nor prose but 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.[citation needed].


In 17th-century Japan, Matsuo Bashō originated haibun, a form of prose poetry combining haiku with prose. It is best exemplified by Matsuo Bashō's book Oku no Hosomichi,[5] in which he used a literary genre of prose-and-poetry composition of multidimensional writing.[6]

In the West, prose poetry originated in early-19th-century France and Germany as a reaction against traditional line in verse.

Earlier examples can be found in Western literature, e.g., James Macpherson's "translation" of Ossian and Évariste Parny's "Chansons madécasses". 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 Maurice de Guérin (whose "Le Centaure" and "La Bacchante" remain to this day the arguably most potent prose poems ever written) and Aloysius Bertrand (in Gaspard de la Nuit) chose in almost complete isolation to cease using. Later Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé followed their example in works like Paris Spleen and Les Illuminations.[7][8] 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.[9] From the mid-20th century, the great Arab exponent of prose poetry was the Syrian poet Adunis (Ali Ahmad Said Esber, born 1930), a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in literature.[10]

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).[11] His somewhat longer story, "A Legend of Old Egypt" (1888), likewise shows many features of prose poetry.[12]

Since the late 1980s, prose poetry has gained popularity. Journals have begun specializing in the publication solely of prose poems or microfiction (external links, below). In the UK, in 1993, Stride Books published an anthology of prose poetry, A Curious Architecture.[13]

Contemporary writers[edit]

These include Cassandra Atherton, Alan Baker, Giannina Braschi, Charles Bukowski, Brendan Connell, Paul Dickey, Stephen Dunn, Russell Edson, Kimiko Hahn, Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Louis Jenkins, Tom Mandel (poet) Campbell McGrath, Sheila Murphy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, John Olson, Marge Piercy, Claudia Rankine, Maurice Riordan, Bruce Holland Rogers, Mary Ruefle, Ron Silliman, Robin Spriggs, Matthew Sweeney, James Tate, Thomas Wiloch, Cormac McCarthy, and Gary Young.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Brian Clements and Jamey Dunham (eds.) An Introduction to the Prose Poem. (2009)
  2. ^ Hirsch Robert 'A Poets Glossary' Houghton Mifflin Harcourt , New York 2014
  3. ^ 'Poetic form:Prose poem' Academy of American Poets New York
  4. ^ 'Glossary of Terms' Poetry Magazine - Poetry Foundation Chicago 2015
  5. ^ Hirsch, Robert, A Poet's Glossary, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014 ISBN 9780151011957.
  6. ^ Lowenstein, Tom, ed., Classic Haiku, London, Duncan Baird Publishers, 2007.
  7. ^ Stuart Friebert and David Young (eds.) Models of the Universe: An Anthology of the Prose Poem. (1995)
  8. ^ Gedichte in Prosa. Von der Romantik bis zur Moderne. Vorwort und Auswahl, Alexander Stillmark, Frankfurt a. Main (2013)
  9. ^ Jayyusi, Salma Khadra (1977). Trends and Movements in Modern Arabic Poetry. Volume I. Brill. p. 23.
  10. ^ Robyn Creswell, "Hearing Voices: How the doyen of Arabic poetry draws on—and explodes—its traditions", The New Yorker, 18 & 25 December 2017, pp. 106–9.
  11. ^ Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa, p.99
  12. ^ Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa, pp. 149, 183, 301, 444.
  13. ^ A Curious Architecture: New British and American Prose Poetry, London, Stride Press, 1993.


  • 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]