SunWinks! Sunday Gather Writing Essential Sept. 16, 2012: Prose Poem (SunWE)

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on September 15, 2012 0 Comments

Dear Gathermates:

Today (Saturday the 15th) is my mother’s 86th birthday.  Thursday is my father’s 86th birthday.  When Mom turned 40, Dad spent the next five days saying, “I just don’t know how I’m going to get used to living with a middle-aged woman.”  Ok, everybody, all together!  “Happy Birthday, Dear Jackie…”

It’s Poetics Week at SunWinks!  I told you I had three topics which might encourage you to think about the musicality of your writing.  The first two were neologisms and tumbling verse.  Number three and today’s topic is the…


Prose Poem

Seemingly a contradiction in terms, the phrase may refer to

[1.] a passage, usually short, of non-discursive* prose, the poetic quality of which is self-evident, or to

[2.] a long work, which, although printed as prose, because of the prominence of the rhythms, the rich connotations of the language, the scope and significance of the whole, can properly be called a poem.**

Babette Deutsch, from Poetry Handbook: A Dictionary of Terms. You can get a used copy from Amazon for a mere $4.09 including shipping.  I strongly encourage you to score a copy for your reference library.

*i.e. not didactic, not arguing a point from logic and reason, as an essay

**Examples of type #2 include James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and E.A. Poe’s “Eleanora.” We are going to ignore definition #2 for obvious reasons and focus on definition #1.


Here’s another, quite beautiful, definition of prose poem:

In the first issue of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, editor Peter Johnson explained, “Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.”

While it lacks the line breaks associated with poetry, the prose poem maintains a poetic quality, often utilizing techniques common to poetry, such as fragmentation, compression, repetition, and rhyme.*

“Poetic Form: Prose Poem” from

* That is to say, internal rhyme.  I would also add:  alliteration and metaphor.


Here are some examples:

Being Beauteous (Illuminations #VI)

By Arthur Rimbaud

Against the snowfall, a tall Being of Beauty. Whistling of death and the circling of faint music make this adored body rise, expand and quiver like a spectre; wounds of scarlet and black burst from superb flesh. The colours proper to life deepen, dance and detach themselves around this Vision in the making. Shudders rise and groan and the frenetic flavour of these effects fills with that mortal whistling and raucous music that the world, far behind, hurls at our mother of beauty – she recoils, she rears. Oh, our bones are clothed with a new amorous body! Oh, the ashen face; the escutcheon of horsehair, the crystal arms! The cannon I must assault through the melee of trees and the weightless air!

Mystery and Solitude in Topeka

By Mark Strand

Afternoon darkens into evening. A man falls deeper and deeper into the slow spiral of sleep, into the drift of it, the length of it, through what feels like mist, and comes at last to an open door through which he passes without knowing why, then again without knowing why goes to a room where he sits and waits while the room seems to close around him and the dark is darker than any he has known, and he feels something forming within him without being sure what it is, its hold on him growing, as if a story were about to unfold, in which two characters, Pleasure and Pain, commit the same crime, the one that is his, that he will confess to again and again, until it means nothing.

Source: Poetry (January 2011).

This is the first of a set of five Mark Strand prose poems which appeared in Poetry Magazine, January 2011.  I urge you to follow the link and read all five.



By David Harsent

Consider the rip for a mouth, the rip in the crotch, the hank of hair,
consider the flair for ill-fortune, the empty stare, the done deal 
with sorrow, the rich and rare nest-egg of dreams, the share and share
alike in matters of loss, the payments in kind, the liking for blind
bets, for truth or dare; consider the threadbare get up, the make-up
beyond repair, the tin-tack teeth, consider the dungeon voice
wanting nothing more than bare house-room, and nothing less 
than hand-in-glove, a pigeon pair given over to make and mend, 
to touch and go, to wear and tear, and all it takes is this: forswear  
flint and fire, stay silent, be white on white, live in dead air.

Source: Poetry (January 2011).

Goodtime Jesus
By James Tate

Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. He had been dream-
ing so deep there was nothing left in his head. What was it?
A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled
back, skin falling off. But he wasn’t afraid of that. It was a beau-
tiful day. How ’bout some coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Take a little
ride on my donkey, I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody.

James Tate is a fine, Pulitzer-winning contemporary poet, my second-favorite after Mark Strand.  A further selection of James Tate (not necessarily prose-) poems may be found here.

Here is the Tate example I really wanted to show you.  I can’t find it on line, so here’s an excerpt:

from “Responsible Romance”

I stood there on the bridge and watched the moonbeams varnish the smirking crocodiles.  Now and again one of them slid from the mud and ghoulishly passed beneath me like an iceberg on the prowl.  I was a feverish swindler in edible birds’ nests with a muted interest in guano.  With my clawed valise and rugged charm I traveled the islands, stopping in dumpy hotels in search of fortune, frowning my way through monsoon or lurking in muffled teak forests.  Some day I’d end up on a slab of marble in Auckland, a mustard seed clutched in my fist, foiled at last in my own perishable rhapsody.  The damage done but no one to call it folly…


I also stumbled upon the aforementioned The Prose Poem: An International Journal on line, which will give you another rich source of examples.

The Prompt:



Read the examples–not just the ones typed here.  Follow the links to the additional examples as well.

Write a prose poem. Keep it to drabble length (~100 words.) Pay attention to the flow and the musicality of the language, using the devices of alliteration, internal rhyme, repetition, etc. Subject can be anything that strikes your fancy. Read the examples for inspiration.



Choose a poem you’ve already written.  Delete all the line breaks, so it looks like an ordinary paragraph(s).  If it isn’t already, punctuate and capitalize it as one would ordinary prose, in normal sentence (or sentence fragment) structure.  Is it still poetry?

If the answer is no, polish it into a prose poem.


See the September 9 edition of SunWinks!

Put SunWE in the title and tags.

  • Indicate in some way which devices or techniques I should be paying attention to.  (If responding to today’s, put Prose Poem in the title field.)
  • This prompt does not turn into a pumpkin a week (or even two) from today.  If your piece isn’t done in the next week or two, get it in when you can.  This is supposed to be fun.
  • I will comment on every submission and include a link to it in the next column.
  • If you would like a little more academic critique–but still very friendly and positive–include the word “rigorous” in your post (e.g. “rigorous critique wanted”).

Responses to previous prompts are linked to below.  Please check out and comment on one or more.  Let me know if I missed yours.

As ever,



Second Person POV

Massage by G.M. Jackson

Confidante by Muttering ToMyself

Second Person POV pt. 2 just for shiggles by Nyles Wood

SunWE Second Person POV by Nyles Wood

MY FIRST ELK TRAIL ~ A Short-Cut Through The Forest by Phillip DeNise


© 2012 Douglas J. Westberg. All Rights Reserved.  Please share this on, and elsewhere on the web by means of a link back to this page, but please do not copy.   Doug’s latest book is The Depressed Guy’s Book of Wisdom from Chipmunka Publishing.

Doug’s Gather Group is Depression and Creativity, devoted to creative writing about depression and related illnesses, and creative writing as therapy.  Please consider joining.  You can read more of Doug’s posts there, or here.

About the Author ()

57 year old musician, poet, father of 4 grown children, composer, recording artist, author, humorist, survivor. I'm thoughtful, introspective, introverted, open, scathingly honest about myself, creative, a Renaissance guy, willing to grow and change and

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