Prose poem

The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018

Prose poem

Prose poem: A brief, rhythmic composition blending prose and verse, ranging from several lines to several pages. Prose poems are written in sentences, without the line breaks characteristic of poetry, but are heavily marked by the use of poetic devices such as figurative language, imagery, repetition, and even rhyme. The genre arose in France in the nineteenth century, pioneered by Aloysius Bertrand in Gaspard de la nuit (Gaspard of the Night) (1842), and subsequently gained broad currency, influencing the Parnassians; Symbolists, including Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud; Decadents, such as Oscar Wilde; Imagists; and surrealists. Other noted practitioners of the form include German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, Mexican poet Octavio Paz, Spanish poet Ángel Crespo, and American poets Gertrude Stein and Russell Edson.

For further reading on prose poetry, see Brian Clements and Jamey Dunham’s An Introduction to the Prose Poem (2009).

EXAMPLES: Baudelaire’s Petits poèmes en prose (Little Poems in Prose) (1869); Paz’s sequence of prose poems Águila o sol? (Eagle or Sun?) (1951); Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns (1971); Dennis Keene’s The Modern Japanese Prose Poem: An Anthology of Six Poets (1980); Charles Simic’s The World Doesn’t End (1989); Crespo’s Poemas en prosa: 1965—1994 (1998). Edson’s “A Chair,” from his collection The Very Thing That Happens (1964), follows:

A chair has waited such a long time to be with its person. Through shadow and fly buzz and the floating dust it has waited such a long time to be with its person.

What it remembers of the forest it forgets, and dreams of a room where it waits — Of the cup and the ceiling — Of the Animate One.

Brooke Horvath’s “Definition” (2004) is a prose poem that describes the prose poem:

A prose poem should be square as a Picasso pear, or paragraphed like that same pear halved, then halved and halved again — free as air, palpable as an air crash and as final, yet somehow not all there.