Thursday, July 7, 2011

The subversive character of prose poetry

I would have placed emphasis on the subversive character of prose poetry. For me, it is a kind of writing determined to prove that there’s poetry beyond verse and its rules. Most often it has an informal, playful air, like the rapid, unfinished caricatures left behind on café napkins. Prose poetry depends on a collision of two impulses, those for poetry and those for prose, and it can either have a quiet meditative air or feel like a performance in a three-ring circus. It is savvy about the poetry of the past, but it thumbs its nose at verse that is too willed and too self-consciously significant. It mocks poetry by calling attention to the foolishness of its earnestness. Here in the United States, where poets speak with reverence of authentic experience and write poems about their dads taking them fishing when they were little, telling the reader even the name of the river and the kind of car they drove that day to make it sound more believable, one longs for poems in which imagination runs free and where tragedy and comedy can be shuffled as if they belonged in the same pack of cards.

Naturally, one of the main impulses for writing such a piece is to escape all labels.

Prose poetry is a monster-child of two incompatible impulses, one which wants to tell a story and another, equally powerful, which wants to freeze an image, or a bit of language, for our scrutiny. In prose, sentence follows sentence till they have had their say. Poetry, on the other hand, spins in place. The moment we come to the end of a poem, we want to go back to the beginning and reread it, suspecting more there than meets the eye. Prose poems call on our powers to make imaginative connections between seemingly disconnected fragments of language, as anyone who has ever read one of these little-understood, always original and often unforgettable creations knows. They look like prose and act like poems, because, despite the odds, they make themselves into fly-traps for our imagination. - Charles Simic


  1. Spot on. I would only add that prose poems rely on & celebrate a fortuitous *tension*...

  2. I found this article interesting because of my own personal experience with labeling my work as poetry. Until I changed the category from poetry to prose, all I received was bad reviews asking what 'form' I was writing to.

    I really don't like 'form' poetry personally as I feel it traps some authors into writing fluffy bunny stuff instead of focusing on serious issues that concern the human race not just the creator's amusement.

    When I changed my label for my poetry to "Epic Prose in rhyming verse", my critics actually started to read and understand the story or philosophy behind the work instead of looking for the kind of 'form' I was writing to or counting syllables, and telling me, my pen seemed to have forced rhyme in places.

    I do ensure that meter and rhyme work naturally together in my work most of the time. I never purposely write to any 'form' though it does happen accidentally, unless it is an acrostic, which I believe gives the author more license to be creative than any other 'form' poetry I have attempted to read or write.

    In conclusion, when I changed the category, I began to receive 5 star reviews ilo 1-3 star reviews for the same work.

    Also of note, I have attended several open mic and slam competitions here in the valley of the sun, and the prose you have described here is perfect for slam or performance poetry. At least, it wins most of the competitions.

    Great article; thank you for taking the time to express your opinion of the modern prose.

    Best Regards,
    Maylynn Hughes

    aka: DragonBlue