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Prose Poems: Definition & Famous Examples

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  • 0:01 Introduction to Prose Poetry
  • 0:44 Prose Poems Defined
  • 2:18 Characteristics of…
  • 2:51 Examples of Prose Poems
  • 7:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Megan Pryor

Megan has tutored extensively and has a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Fiction.

What exactly is a prose poem? In this lesson, we will define prose poems, analyze characteristics of prose poetry, and learn about a few famous examples. We will wrap up the lesson with a short quiz to test our knowledge.

Introduction to Prose Poetry

Have you ever encountered something that claims to be a poem but looks like prose? For instance, maybe it reads like a lyrical poem, but it's written in paragraph form? If so, you might have come across a prose poem. A prose poem, also known as prose poetry, is an example of a hybrid genre of writing. Prose poems occur when someone writes prose using poetry techniques.

Prose Poems Defined

Before we can understand what prose poems are, it's important to understand the genres of prose and poetry independently. Prose is anything written down that does not possess any poetic meter. Well, that's an easy enough definition, but what is meter exactly?

Poetic meter is the rhythm of a poem. Whether you've heard any of Shakespeare's famous sonnets or the latest hip-hop song burning up the charts, chances are that you've noticed that many poems or songs have a certain rhythm to them. This rhythm is based on different factors, including the syllables per line and what syllables are naturally emphasized or stressed if someone were to read the poem out loud.

There is more to poetry than poetic meter, of course. Poems are often image-driven and emphasize visual descriptions, including metaphors, while prose tends to focus on aspects such as narrative, characters, and plot arc. In addition, poems also play with the sound of language using repetition and rhyming.

To rephrase that: prose contains narrative and does not follow any set rhythm, while poetry is rhythmic and image-based. So, what is prose poetry then? It's quite simple. Prose poetry is anything that combines these elements into a single piece of writing! If you want a stricter definition, prose poetry is poetry that is not written in verse and contains other poetic attributes, such as rhythm and metaphors.

Characteristics of Prose, Poetry & Prose Poetry

Prose:

  • Written in paragraphs
  • Tells a story rather than describes an image or metaphor
  • Generally has characters and a plot

Poetry:

  • Written in verse
  • Written in poetic meter
  • Focuses on image-driven metaphors
  • Might have a narrative, but it might not or it might be harder to understand

Prose poetry:

  • Looks like prose (written in paragraphs)
  • Focuses on images
  • Includes instances of poetic meter
  • Contains language play, such as repetition

Examples of Prose Poems

Gary Young

An example of a prose poem written by Gary Young, Poet Laureate of Santa Cruz county, is called 'I discovered a journal'.

'I discovered a journal in the children's ward, and read, I'm a mother, my little boy has cancer. Further on, a girl has written, this is my nineteenth operation. She says, sometimes it's easier to write than to talk, and I'm so afraid. She's offered me a page in the book. My son is sleeping in the room next door. This afternoon, I held my whole weight to his body while a doctor drove needles deep into his leg. My son screamed, Daddy, they're hurting me, don't let them hurt me, make them stop. I want to write, how brave you are, but I need a little courage of my own, so I write, forgive me, I know I let them hurt you, please don't worry. If I have to, I can do it again.'

The prose poem looks, at first glance, like prose. But unlike prose, it resists conventional narrative or character. The voice of the speaker is never elaborated on (except that he is a father). The poem defies easy interpretation, due to multiple pronouns that are not clarified, in addition to raising the question of whose journal it is. If you read the prose poem out loud, you can hear the rhythm that the prose poem contains. It's not as clear-cut as a traditional poem, since it is a prose poem, but there is clearly a consideration to each word and sentence the writer chose.

Charles Baudelaire

Another example of a prose poem is Charles Baudelaire's poem, 'Be Drunk', translated from the original French:

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