Saturday, March 12, 2011

Poetry Prompt #47 – Prose Poems

"Which of us, in his ambitious moments, has not dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, 
musical, without rhyme and without rhythm, supple enough and rugged enough to 
adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of the psyche, 
the prickings of consciousness?”

(from Petits Poèmes en Prose by Charles Baudelaire)

The term prose poem seems contradictory, but the form is one that's been around for a long time and is currently enjoying a renaissance of attention. A prose poem has one foot in prose and the other in poetry, but it commits completely to neither. A prose poem is a poem that resembles prose, a type of open-form poem presented in paragraphs with lines that break with the margins. Prose poems contain both complete sentences and intentional fragments. Based in reality, they often give a nod to the surreal. 

Prose poems are usually compact; they bear a physical resemblance to prose but move away from typical prose techniques in favor of poetry-like imagery and/or emotional effect. The prose poem's allegiance to poetry is unmistakable in sonic impression, internal rhyme, assonance, alliteration, figures of speech, and imagery. Prose poems vary in length from a single paragraph to more than a page.

Louis-Jacques-Napoléon “Aloysius” Bertrand introduced prose poetry into French literature in 1842 with Gaspard de la Nuit. In 1869, Charles Baudelaire published Petits Poèmes en Prose (Little Poems in Prose) and gave prose poetry its name. The form was firmly established in France by Arthur Rimbaud (Illuminations, 1886) and Stéphane Mallarmé (Divagations, 1897), and interest spread throughout the literary world. Other prose poets include Paul Fort, Oscar Wilde, Rainer Maria Rilke, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Amy Lowell, Kenneth Patchen, Charles Simic, Robert Bly, John Ashbery, and Mark Strand.

Your prose poem:
1. For starters, think in terms of a single paragraph as your goal for this prose poem. Approach your subject knowing that you won’t be concerned with meter, stanzas, or line breaks. Your prose poem will take the shape of a paragraph (be sure to justify both the left and right margins), and it will contain complete sentences and sentence fragments.

2. For content: think about a particular image that remains clear in your memory.

3. Now think about how that image entered your memory. Where were you?  Was anyone with you? What happened? How did you feel?

4. Write a paragraph based on the image and about the experience. Bear in mind that your poem’s “muscle” will lie in the strength of your sentences. You will need to express thoughts and subtleties in ways that might be hampered by line breaks.

5. Pay particular attention to poetic devices (simile, metaphor, alliteration, assonance, internal rhyme, repetition, onomatopoeia, symbolism). Focus on describing the image and your feelings.

6. You may tell a story, but remember that the storyline is second to the language you use to tell it. There are two caveats.
     A. Your prose poem shouldn’t read like a diary entry.
     B. Be careful not to go over the top with poetic devices and poetic language.


  1. I love this prompt! Thanks, Adele!

    To read more Baudelaire, here's a link:


  2. Related quote from

    "Although dozens of French writers experimented with them in the 1700s, it was not until Baudelaire's work appeared in 1855 that prose poems gained wide recognition. Rimbaud's book of prose poetry "Illuminations", published in 1886, is one of the best examples. In the Decadent and Symbolist atmosphere of the nineteenth century fin de siècle when all things French were of interest in sophisticated circles, some English writers took up this new French form. Oscar Wilde's own "Poems in Prose" was published in 1894.

    Baudelaire predicted that it would be the dominant poetic form of the 20th century. Later, Robert Bly thought that as we complete our graduation from an aristocratic to a democratic society, the sentence will surely replace the line as poetry's primary unit. "We are all secretly longing for prose", he claimed. However, in the UK/US the form faded away. Some critics claim this was because it became associated with decadence and homosexuality. Others have suggested that free verse was so free that it made prose poetry unnecessary. Ron Silliman feels that instead of being a genre with open borders (to vispo, conceptual poetry, etc), the US prose-poem in the mid-1900s was typified by "little prose vignettes with a vaguely surreal air". Then in the 1970s Scalapino, Ashbery, Creeley, et al 'challenged the borders first with fiction & then with the journal or diary'."

  3. Thanks, Bob's Mustangs. Great info!

  4. Jamie! Thanks for your comment and for the link! Your continued "participation" is much appreciated!