In our last spotlight on forms, we discussed a very strict form of poetry with very rigid rules, the sonnet. This week, in very distinct contrast, we will be looking at prose poetry. Prose poetry is a form of poetry with no rules or structure: it appears as prose (written language in ordinary form, without metrical structure) at first glance, but reads as poetry. Although several known Modernist poets, most notably T.S. Eliot, spoke out as being completely opposed to prose poetry as being recognized as “real poetry,” it has seen success and popularity in recent years.
Prose Poetry Techniques
So how does one differentiate prose poetry from regular prose? Prose poetry can range from a few lines or sentences to multiple pages, and can cover any topic imaginable. It often appears as prose, but on further review, you will be able to recognize literary techniques such as rhyme, repetition, fragmentation, and compression. Prose poetry dates back to the 19th century, where it began to appear in France and Germany as an act of defiance against the strict structure traditional lines of verse required. However, it died out for quite some time, and did not become popular again until the 1950s and 1960s in America, when poets like Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and Jack Kerouac began to emerge.
Prose Poetry Example
Take a look at this eerie example of prose poetry, “A Story about the Body,” a short prose poem by American poet Robert Hass written in 1997:
The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she mused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity-like music-withered quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl–she must have swept the corners of her studio–was full of dead bees.
Take a stab at writing your own prose poetry! If you like what you write, consider submitting it to our poetry contest and show your work to the world!