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Poetry Guide: Prose Poetry

Prose poetry is prose that breaks some of the normal rules of prose discourse for heightened imagery or emotional effect.

As a specific poetic form, prose poetry originated in the 19th century in France. French prose was governed by laws so strict that by breaking them, it was possible to create prose that was seen to be intended as poetry. Poets such as Aloysius Bertrand, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, and Stephane Mallarmé were among the founders of the form. The form continued to be practiced in France and found profound expression in the prose poems of Francis Ponge in the mid twentieth century.

It used to be said that prose poetry was impossible in English, because the English language was not so strictly governed by rules as the French was. In the twentieth century, when English prose has become more and more governed by the iron laws of Strunk and White, this may no longer be the case. Rapturous, rhythmical, and image-laden prose from previous centuries, such as is found in Jeremy Taylor or Thomas de Quincey, strikes 21st century readers as having something of a poetic quality.

Example prose poem: Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

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