What is Prose Poetry?
The world of poetry is filled with various forms and structures, from haiku to sonnets. Today let’s take a look at an often under-recognized form of poetry: prose poetry.
Prose refers to writing that is structured in ordinary form — sentences and paragraphs, not verse and meter.
And of course, poetry is a form of writing that emphasizes the aesthetic qualities of language, often structured in verse. But poetry isn’t always structured in verse, which leads us to the question: What is prose poetry?
Prose poetry is simply poetry that is not written in line and verse. It’s written in sentences and paragraphs.
However, prose poetry retains other poetic qualities that we’re familiar with: using poetic devices, imagery, and rich language.
‘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.” — Edward Hirsch
According to Wikipedia, “a prose poem appears as prose, reads as poetry, yet lacks line breaks associated with poetry but uses…fragmentation, compression, repetition and rhyme and…poetry symbols, metaphor, and figures of speech. Prose poetry…is essentially a hybrid or fusion of [prose and poetry].”
Therefore prose poetry is difficult to classify. Some might argue that it’s not poetry at all, since it doesn’t use line and verse, which is a defining feature of poetry. Others argue that despite its structure, prose poetry reads like poetry; it doesn’t matter how it’s structured on the page.
A Little History
Prose poetry can be traced back to the haibun, a Japanese form of prose poetry seen during the 17th century. Western prose poetry emerged in the early 19th century as a rebellion against traditional poetic structures. Poets such as Aloysious Bertrand, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, and Stéphane Mallarmé used prose poetry as a way to defy the conventions of the day. Throughout the 19th century, poets continued to embrace the form.
Some of the most well-know poets to write in prose including Hans Christian Andersen, Rainer Maria Rilke, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, H.P. Lovecraft and Gertrude Stein.
The new form carried into the 20th century, with American poets writing prose poetry in the 1950s and ’60s, including Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Robert Bly, to name a few. And Charles Simic won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1989 collection, The World Doesn’t End, which included prose poems.
However, prose poetry was not embraced by all. T.S. Eliot opposed prose poetry, arguing that it lacked the rhythm and musical patterns of verse.
What Do You Think?
Today, some literary magazines and journal specialize in publishing prose poetry, and you can find plenty of poets who write poems in prose.
Have you ever read prose poetry? Have you written it? Do you think it qualifies as poetry, or should we call it something else?