Poetry and Prose

When Poetry International announced that this year’s festival would explore the boundaries and relationships between prose and poetry, reactions were mixed. The American poet Charles Simic recounts his own experiences in his essay ‘Prose poetry’, written especially for the occasion of the 41st festival:

When a book of mine consisting entirely of poems in prose received the Pulitzer Prize in 1990, there was considerable protest from some of our more conservative literary critics, who demanded to know how a prize meant to honor poetry could be given to something that by definition is not poetry. I didn’t bother to defend myself from my detractors, but if I had, and had told them the true story of how the poems in The World Doesn’t End got written, they would have been even more outraged. Here then, finally, is my confession: I never once in my life sat down to write a prose poem. In other words, everything in that book came to me as if by accident . . .

 Prose poetry is a monster-child of two incompatible impulses, one which wants to tell a story and another, equally powerful, which wants to freeze an image, or a bit of language, for our scrutiny. In prose, sentence follows sentence till they have had their say. Poetry, on the other hand, spins in place. The moment we come to the end of a poem, we want to go back to the beginning and reread it, suspecting more there than meets the eye. Prose poems call on our powers to make imaginative connections between seemingly disconnected fragments of language, as anyone who has ever read one of these little-understood, always original and often unforgettable creations knows. They look like prose and act like poems, because, despite the odds, they make themselves into fly-traps for our imagination.

A strict division between poetry and prose seems old-fashioned. In fact, it is the borderland between prose and poetry that provides such a rich and fascinating source of inspiration for both poets and novelists. This year there are many special programmes about epic poetry, prose poems and and the influence of prose on poetry.

Read the full text of 'Prose poetry' by Charles Simic on Poetry International Web.

Read the full text of 'Fly-traps of our imagination: on Charles Simic's essay 'Prose poetry' ' on Poetry International Web.