CharacteristicsProse poetry can be considered either primarily poetry or prose, or a separate genre altogether. The argument for prose poetry belonging to the genre of poetry emphasizes its heightened attention to language and prominent use of metaphor. On the other hand, prose poetry can be identified primarily as prose for its reliance on prose's association with narrative and on the expectation of an objective presentation of truth.
Critics such as Jonathan Monroe and Margueritte S. Murphy argue instead that the prose poem gains its subversiveness through its fusion of poetic and prosaic elements and, consequently, its challenge to the traditional notions of genre theory.
HistoryAs a specific form, the origins of prose poetry in the West are placed around 19th-century France as a reaction against dependence upon traditional uses of line in verse. At the time of the prose poem's emergence, French poetry was dominated by the Alexandrine, an extremely strict and demanding form that poets starting with Aloysius Bertrand and later Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé rebelled against in works such as Gaspard de la Nuit, Paris Spleen and Les Illuminations.
The prose poem continued to be written in France into the 20th century by such writers as Max Jacob, Henri Michaux, and Francis Ponge.
At the end of the 19th century, British Decadent movement poets such as Oscar Wilde picked up the form because of its already subversive association. This may have hindered the dissemination of the form into English because many associated the Decadents with homosexuality; hence any form used by the Decadents was suspect.
Other writers of prose poems outside of France include Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis, and Rainer Maria Rilke.
Notable Modernist poet T. S. Eliot wrote vehemently against prose poems, though he did try his hand at one or two. He also 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. In actuality, Anderson considered his work to be short fictions—in the current term, "flash fiction". The distinction between flash fiction and prose poetry is at times very thin, almost indiscernible.
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.
Then, for a while, prose poems died out, at least in English—until 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 and James Wright experimented with the form. Edson, indeed, worked principally in this form, and helped give the prose poem its current reputation for surrealist wit. Similarly, Simic won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his 1989 collection, The World Doesn't End.
At the same 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 (1926–95) did his most notable work in the genre. Giannina Braschi, postmodern Spanish-language poet, wrote a trilogy of prose poems, El imperio de los suenos (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 two best-known examples of this literary form in Russian are Gogol's Dead Souls and Venedikt Erofeev's Moscow-Petushki.
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). His somewhat longer story, "A Legend of Old Egypt" (1888), likewise shows many features of prose poetry.
The form has gained popularity since the late 1980s, and literary journals that previously disputed prose poetry's contributions to both poetry and prose currently display prose poems next to sonnets and short stories. Journals have even begun to specialize, publishing solely prose poems/flash fiction in their pages (see external links below). Some contemporary writers who write prose poems or flash fiction include Michael Benedikt, Robert Bly, J. Karl Bogartte, Anne Carson, Graham Burchell, Kim Chinquee, Stephen Dunn, Russell Edson, Richard Garcia, Ray Gonzalez, Kimiko Hahn, Lyn Hejinian, Mark Jarman, Louis Jenkins, Campbell McGrath, Sheila Murphy, Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, John Olson, Marge Piercy, Bruce Holland Rogers, David Shumate, James Tate, and J. Marcus Weekley, Ron Silliman, Robin Spriggs, Thomas Wiloch, and Gary Young.
Rapturous, rhythmic, image-laden prose from previous centuries, such as that found in Jeremy Taylor and Thomas de Quincey, strikes 21st-century readers as having something of a poetic quality. Using figurative language to provoke thoug