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This article is taken from PN Review 250, Volume 46 Number 2, November - December 2019.

on the Prose Poem
Poetic Enigmas
The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem: From Baudelaire to Anne Carson, edited by Jeremy Noel–Tod (Penguin) £25
N.S. Thompson
I love the prose poem. In particular I love its insouciance as a form and, if one may continue the personification, with its complete lack of concern about its literary status. Ultimately, of course, this reflects the insouciance of the authors who first developed it. Although it simply appeared at first, it was consciously developed in creative ways. Or rather, as we shall see, it appeared in one particular form and was then picked up and expanded by others. At its base, it can be seen to be, or resemble, an internal or external monologue, a diary entry, a vignette, a miniature essay, random jottings or notes to self, or even be a short narrative. But one expects more from it than the above forms, something that makes it poetic. And by that I mean it has an ambiguity of meaning that allows it to resonate on several levels. Nevertheless, it is a literary enigma: is it prose masquerading as a poem or a poem masquerading as prose? If it is an enigma, a hybrid or whatever term one wishes to choose, it has proved a highly effective form in which to express and move the emotions and stimulate imaginative responses in its readers. Having said this, given its enigmatic status, it behoves an anthology to give some context and historical background to its development. In this, Jeremy Noel-Tod’s The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem is disappointing, especially when one would have liked to see an anthology that seeks to educate and inform the reader about the history of the form, which ...

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