Prose poetry  

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"Who of us has not dreamed, on ambitious days, of the miracle of a poetic prose: musical, without rhythm or rhyme; adaptable enough and discordant enough to conform to the lyrical movements of the soul, the waves of revery, the jolts of consciousness?" --À Arsène Houssaye" (1869) by Charles Baudelaire

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Prose poetry is usually considered a form of poetry written in prose that breaks some of the normal rules associated with prose discourse, for heightened imagery or emotional effect, among other purposes. One of the first examples of prose poetry is Gaspard de la Nuit (1842). Contrary to its title Eureka: A Prose Poem (1848) by Edgar Allan Poe is not really a prose poem; the archetypal work of prose poetry is Le Spleen de Paris (1869) by French poet Charles Baudelaire. Les Chants de Maldoror (1874) by Comte de Lautréamont is both considered a poetic novel, or a long prose poem.


Arguments continue about whether prose poetry is actually a form of poetry or a form of prose (or a separate genre altogether). Most critics argue that prose poetry belongs in the genre of poetry because of its use of metaphorical language and attention to language. Other critics argue that prose poetry falls into the genre of prose because prose poetry relies on prose's association with narrative, its consistent divergence of discourse, and its reliance on readers' expectation of an objective presentation of truth in prose. Yet others argue that the prose poem gains its subversiveness through its fusion of both poetic and prosaic elements.


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

In the West, prose poetry originated in early-19th-century France and Germany as a reaction against the traditional verse line. The German Romantics Jean Paul, Novalis, Friedrich Hölderlin, and Heinrich Heine may be seen as precursors of the prose poem. Earlier, 18th-century European forerunners of prose poetry had included James Macpherson's "translation" of Ossian and Évariste de Parny's "Chansons madécasses".

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 arguably the most powerful 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 Illuminations. 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.

The writings of Syrian poet and writer Francis Marrash (1836–73) featured the first examples of prose poetry in modern Arabic literature. 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.

The Modernist poet T. S. Eliot wrote vehemently against prose poems. He added to the debate about what defines the genre, writing in his introduction to Djuna Barnes' highly poeticized 1936 novel Nightwood that it could not be classed as "poetic prose" as it did not show the rhythm or "musical pattern" of verse. By contrast, other Modernist authors, including Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson, consistently wrote prose poetry. Canadian author Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945) is a relatively isolated example of mid-20th-century English-language poetic prose.

Prose poems made a resurgence in the early 1950s and in the 1960s with American poets Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Russell Edson, Charles Simic, Robert Bly, John Ashbery, and James Wright. Edson worked principally in this form, and helped give the prose poem a reputation for surrealist wit. Simic won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 1989 collection, The World Doesn't End.

Since the late 1980s, prose poetry has gained in popularity. Journals have begun specializing in prose poems or microfiction. In the United Kingdom, Stride Books published a 1993 anthology of prose poetry, A Curious Architecture.

See also

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