Written By: Madison Bigelow
When it comes to poetry, you either love it or you hate it.
I happen to love poetry. Whether I’m writing my own poems or reading someone else’s, I find poetry to be such a dynamic, inimitable tool to explore life and the human condition in ways that other ‘traditional’ forms of writing just can’t compete with.
However, I can also appreciate why poetry is so scary for many people. Between the line breaks, funky punctuation, complex rhyme schemes, and other commonly associated hallmarks of the genre, poems can be unapproachable for those who aren’t familiar with that type of writing.
This is where I introduce to you: the prose poem. According to the Poetry Foundation, a prose poem is “a prose composition that, while not broken into verse lines, demonstrates other traits such as symbols, metaphors, and other figures of speech common to poetry.” In other words, a prose poem consists of one or multiple paragraph-style stanzas that run from the left to right margins of the page, featuring no (or very few) line breaks.
Blurring the line between poetry and prose conventions, the prose poem offers an entrypoint to poetry without the pressures or expectations of the audience to respect its many formal rules. By removing some of the mechanical elements of a poem that often deter readers from fully engaging with a work, it becomes much more familiar, and subsequently accessible, to a large audience while the integrity of its metaphors, rhythm, and other poetic qualities remain intact. For writers looking to expand into poetry but feel intimidated by rigidity, the prose poem similarly allows the poet to focus on language itself in the temporary abandonment of structure.
At the moment, some of my favorite prose poems are: “Summer Vacation in the Subjunctive” by Ashley M. Jones, “Everything is Autobiography and Everything is a Portrait” by Mary Hickman, and “Memory is Blood Soluble” by Brian Sneeden. In all of these examples, the poets take advantage of the perceived lack of poetic form to hone in on the images and feelings they seek to create. As such, clarity is not sacrificed for the sake of conforming to a well-known poetic form.
Prose poetry is immensely valuable for writers and readers alike. For readers, the simple format of a prose poem may help to lessen an aversion that many people seem to hold towards the archetypal stereotype of poetry. As a result, readers can still appreciate the lyrical elements of poetry without the menacing threat of poetry’s, sometimes intense, structural components. Similarly, writers are given the opportunity to focus on the lyrical qualities of their writing. Even for a non-poet, they’re able to apply these poetic tools to their writing in other genres and strengthen their understanding of language.