Understanding Prose Poetry: A Comprehensive Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is Prose Poetry?
  2. History of Prose Poetry
  3. Characteristics of Prose Poetry
  4. How to read Prose Poetry
  5. Notable Prose Poets and their Works
  6. Writing your own Prose Poetry
  7. Prose Poetry vs. Free Verse
  8. Why Prose Poetry matters

To the curious souls who find delight in the world of literature, welcome! We are about to explore an interesting facet of the literary world—prose poetry. This comprehensive guide will help us understand prose poetry better, including its history, characteristics, and why it matters. By the end of this guide, you'll even have a grasp on how to create your own prose poem! Ready to dive in? Let's go!

What is Prose Poetry?

The definition of prose poem can be a bit elusive, but let's break it down. Imagine a beautiful fusion of prose and poetry—this fusion is what we call a prose poem. Often, it combines the characteristics of both prose and poetry, resulting in a unique form of expression that is a joy to read and write.

Here's a more formal definition of prose poem for you: a prose poem is a piece of writing in prose that has obvious poetic qualities, including intensity, compactness, prominent rhythms, and imagery.

  • Intensity: Just like a thrilling roller coaster ride, a good prose poem keeps you on the edge of your seat. Every word matters, and the emotions run high.
  • Compactness: Prose poems are generally short and sweet. They don't ramble on but get straight to the point, packing a punch in a few paragraphs or less.
  • Prominent Rhythms: Even though it's written in prose, you can almost hear the beat in a prose poem. It has a rhythm that's undeniably poetic.
  • Imagery: Prose poetry paints a vivid picture. When you read it, you can visualize the scenes, the characters, the emotions—just like watching a movie in your mind.

In essence, the definition of prose poem is a creative blend of prose and poetry, offering readers the best of both worlds. Isn't that a fascinating concept? Next, let's dive into the history of prose poetry to see how this unique form of literature came to be.

History of Prose Poetry

Once we've got a grasp on the definition of prose poem, it's time to embark on a time-traveling journey to understand its history. Prose poetry has a rich past, which started centuries ago.

Prose poetry was born in 19th century France. It was a time when writers were seeking to break free from the rigid rules of traditional poetry. One of the earliest practitioners of this form was the French poet Charles Baudelaire. His book, "Paris Spleen", is a collection of prose poems that beautifully illustrate the life of 19th-century Paris.

The trend of prose poetry didn't stop at France's borders, but it spread worldwide. Writers in the United States, such as Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein, also incorporated prose poetry into their work, providing a fresh, new perspective to American literature.

However, despite its growing popularity, prose poetry was often met with resistance. Many traditionalists thought that it was a rebellious act against the established norms of poetry. But, the prose poets were undeterred. They continued to write, and over time, prose poetry has carved out its own niche in the literary world and continues to thrive today.

Now that we've explored the history of prose poetry, it's time to understand its characteristics. Let's delve deeper into what makes a prose poem, well, a prose poem!

Characteristics of Prose Poetry

As we continue our journey in understanding the definition of prose poem, it's valuable to identify its key characteristics. So, what makes prose poetry unique?

One of the primary features of prose poetry is its form — or rather, its lack of form. Unlike traditional poetry that often adheres to a specific structure or rhyme scheme, prose poetry takes on the appearance of prose. It's written in paragraphs, not in verse, but it maintains the freedom and creativity of poetry.

Prose poetry also utilizes poetic devices like metaphor, simile, and personification. It's like a chef using a mix of ingredients to prepare a delicious meal. Each device adds a different flavor, enhancing the overall taste of the prose poem.

Another characteristic is the use of vivid imagery. A prose poem paints a picture in the reader's mind. It's as if you're standing in an art gallery, looking at a masterpiece and feeling a rush of emotions.

Lastly, prose poetry often explores abstract concepts and ideas. It's like a deep dive into the depths of the ocean, exploring the unknown. It's a journey that can be both exciting and thought-provoking.

Now, with these characteristics in mind, reading prose poetry might seem like a daunting task. But, fear not! The next section will guide you on how to read prose poetry.

How to read Prose Poetry

Unlocking the magic of a prose poem can feel like solving a puzzle. But don't worry, with some pointers, you'll soon be navigating these literary pieces like a pro. So, how do you read a prose poem?

First, approach it like a story. Remember, prose poetry looks like a paragraph, so start by reading it from beginning to end. Try to grasp the overall narrative, but don't stress if everything doesn't make sense just yet.

Next, slow down and savor the words. Prose poetry often uses striking language and imagery. Take a moment to visualize the scenes and emotions. Imagine you're watching a movie, and each sentence is a new scene. Notice any feelings or thoughts the words stir in you.

Thirdly, focus on the poetic devices. Remember when we talked about metaphors, similes, and personification? Well, they're your tools for understanding the depth of a prose poem. They can help you uncover layers of meaning that aren't immediately obvious.

Lastly, don't rush to understand everything. Prose poetry can be complex and sometimes, a bit mysterious. And that's okay. The beauty of a prose poem often lies in its ability to make you think and feel deeply. So, let it simmer in your mind. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Now that you know how to read prose poetry, let's take a look at some notable prose poets and their works in the next section.

Notable Prose Poets and their Works

Prose poetry has been blessed with many gifted writers who have taken this form to new heights. Let's explore some of these notable prose poets and their works.

Charles Baudelaire is often hailed as the father of prose poetry. His collection— Paris Spleen— is a classic example of the form. Baudelaire's prose poems are known for their lyrical beauty and poignant exploration of urban life.

Next up, we have the legendary Gertrude Stein. Stein's work— Tender Buttons— is a masterclass in prose poetry. Her innovative use of language and form has influenced countless poets and continues to captivate readers.

Russell Edson is another name you should know. Often called the godfather of American prose poetry, Edson's absurd and humorous prose poems— such as those in The Tunnel: Selected Poems— have a unique charm that's hard to resist.

And we can't forget Margaret Atwood. Yes, the renowned novelist is also a prose poet! Her collection— Morning in the Burned House— showcases her gift for crafting evocative prose poems.

These are just a few examples of the many talented prose poets out there. Exploring their works can provide a deeper understanding of prose poetry and inspire your journey into this fascinating world. So, why not pick up a collection or two and start reading?

Next, let's delve into how you can start writing your own prose poetry.

Writing your own Prose Poetry

Feeling inspired by the works of these masterful poets, and want to try your hand at prose poetry? That's great! Let's start with a simple definition of prose poem. Prose poetry is a type of poetry that uses the natural flow of speech, but still maintains the qualities of a poem—like imagery and rhythm.

Begin your journey into prose poetry by immersing yourself in the works of the greats. Reading is one of the best ways to absorb the style and rhythm of prose poetry. As you read, take note of the elements that appeal to you, and think about how you can incorporate them into your writing.

When you're ready to write, start small. Choose a moment, a thought, or a feeling, and write about it in a paragraph or two. Don’t worry too much about form or structure yet—just let your words flow.

Remember, a good prose poem paints a picture. So, focus on creating vivid, sensory details that draw in your reader. Try to capture the essence of your chosen moment or feeling, and convey it in a way that makes your reader feel something too.

As you continue to practice, remember that writing is a process. Don't be disheartened if your early attempts don't live up to your expectations. Keep reading, keep writing, and keep refining your craft.

And most importantly, have fun with it! Prose poetry is a wonderfully flexible and expressive form. So, feel free to experiment, take risks, and find your unique voice.

Happy writing!

Prose Poetry vs. Free Verse

Now that we've explored the definition of a prose poem and how to write one, it's time to differentiate between prose poetry and another popular form—free verse. While they share similarities, understanding their unique features will give you a clearer picture of the literature landscape.

Free verse, like prose poetry, breaks away from the traditional rules of poetry. It doesn't stick to a specific rhyme scheme or meter. This gives it a certain level of freedom—hence the name! But while free verse can feel liberating, it's not just about writing anything that comes to mind. It requires control and intention to create a meaningful piece.

On the other hand, prose poetry, as we've established, has the appearance of prose but the soul of a poem. It builds a rhythm without the constraints of line breaks. It's about finding the poetry in everyday language, and using it to create something beautiful.

So, what's the main difference? Format is key. While free verse may break into lines and stanzas, prose poetry presents itself as a block of text. But they both share a love for freedom—freedom from traditional structures, that is!

Understanding these differences won't just help you identify prose poetry and free verse—it'll also broaden your perspective of poetry as a whole. And who knows, maybe it'll inspire you to explore different kinds of poetry in your writing journey.

Why Prose Poetry matters

With all this talk about prose poetry, you might be wondering—why does it matter? Well, there's more to this form of poetry than meets the eye.

First off, prose poetry challenges the traditional boundaries between prose and poetry. It proves that poetry isn't confined to verses and rhymes—it can take on many forms. This opens up a whole new world of expression for writers and poets. You don't need to worry about fitting into a specific box—you can simply focus on telling your story the way you want to.

Moreover, prose poetry makes poetry accessible. If you've ever felt intimidated by the complex language and difficult-to-decipher metaphors in traditional poetry, prose poetry is a breath of fresh air. Its simple, conversational language can help you appreciate the beauty of poetry without feeling overwhelmed. It's like a gentle introduction to the world of poetry.

But don't be fooled by its simplicity—prose poetry can be just as powerful and evocative as traditional poetry. It can paint vivid pictures in your mind, stir up deep emotions, and make you see the world in a new light. That's the true beauty of prose poetry—it's simple, yet profound.

In a nutshell, prose poetry matters because it breaks the mold. It pushes the boundaries of what poetry can be, making it more inclusive and accessible. So next time you come across a prose poem, remember—it's not just a piece of writing. It's a testament to the limitless possibilities of the human imagination.

If you're fascinated by the world of prose poetry and want to enhance your writing skills, check out the workshop 'Writing From Memory - Part 2' by Charlie Brogan. This workshop will help you dive deeper into the creative process and explore the power of writing from memory, which can be an essential tool in crafting beautiful prose poetry.