Poetry Form - The Prose poem
The Prose Poem Form
by J. Zimmerman.
Craft guideline (Gary Young).
Do you feel constrained by line breaks? Then the prose poem may be the form you need.
The King James Version of the Bible contains much that is prose poetry.
Historically, the fable and the parable are genre prose poetry.
the nineteenth century Baudelaire and Rambeau built on folk tales.
Recently in the U.S.A.,
Louis Jenkins is praised for his prose poems,
Robert Bly is often more successful in his prose poems than elsewhere,
Russell Edson is an applauded writer of odd miniature prose poems with warped family dynamics.
Prose is the ordinary language that people use in speaking or writing.
It does not treat the line as a formal unit.
It has no repetitive pattern of rhythm or meter.
In a prose poem:
- The writing is continuous and without line breaks.
- The piece may be of any length and may be divided into paragraphs.
A single sentence or sentence fragment can be a prose poem, as can
- The natural rhythm of thought can lead to rhythmical cadences in a prose poem.
- Internal rhyme and alliteration and repetition can be used.
Some such trait of poetry must be present. Otherwise it is prose, not a prose poem.
- It lies between free verse and prose.
- Usually has compressed thought and intensity.
Poet Gary Young has a very concise approach to prose poems.
In an October 2006 craft workshop, his guidelines included:
- Use the spontaneity and drive of the sentence.
Allow your writing to be subtle and subversive,
to warp and seduce, so the reader accepts something in a prose poem
that they might resist in formal poetry.
- Be concise. Ask yourself if you can justify everything that is in your poem,
each phrase, each word, each comma.
If you're unsure, remove it.
- The prose poem is a lyric. But embrace the trans-genre possibilities of the prose poem.
Commandeer the exposition, the recipe, the definition.
- Embrace the surreal, "a bit of arsenic, a bit of starlight".
- "It's the moves in the poem that excite me the most.
In a prose poem you can travel such distances."
- Like Karl Shapiro,
think of a paragraph as "a
sonnet in prose"
"begins where it ends" [though of course one also wants to go somewhere else!].
- Begin with "Because" or
"As we all know".
Complete this sentence, then another.
- Poet Gary Young suggested some writing exercises for prose poems
during his October 2006 craft workshop:
- Write two sentences to describe a house
by describing things that are missing.
[By extension, one could describe other places
(a city, a church, a table, a caravan) or things (the Mississippi River, the Gateway Arch, the bonobo).]
- Make a single fabulous proposition.
Follow it to some conclusion.
Examples adapted from Gary Young include:
people are born, age, and die in a single day (or week, like Solomon Grundy);
a cat becomes president;
only you can see; only you can hear;
only you can see in color;
street signs talk to you (more than just the 'walk now' signs);
you are married to the vegetable of your choice.
- Think of an elusive memory, one that is brief and transient
rather than one you are clear about.
Transcribe the connections induced by the memory.
Let the grammar of your prose poem show the connections.
- Describe something ordinary without using words of elaboration or excess.
e.g. peel an orange.
Use no simile.
Write a single paragraph in the simplest language,
saying what happened and how you felt.
- Observe a room. In five sentences give an inventory of the most striking features of the space.
[By extension, one could describe other places
a house, a freeway) or things (a vehicle, a hummingbird).]
- Your Composition.
Here are some steps to take in creating a Prose poem:
- Free-write for a couple of pages.
Or go for a walk and ponder some memories or experiences, perhaps
triggered by some of the suggested prose poem writing exercises.
Follow leaps that catch your attention.
- Read through what you wrote and highlight two or three phrases.
Do this mentally if you are working off the page.
Use what you select
as a basis or one of the exercises above to start writing without line breaks.
- If you want internal rhymes and slant rhymes and alliteration,
work on including those as you write, or during the early stages of revision.
- Cut out anything that is not essential. Do this increasingly strongly as your revision progresses.
- A Last Word.
Just because you start with the intention of writing a prose poem, you do not have to
keep your poem in that form if it does not work for you.
Your attempt to write in this form
may help you find words that you would not have found otherwise.
Ultimately you may decide that your poem is served better by a different form,
[Thanks for visiting.]