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This article is taken from PN Review 81, Volume 18 Number 1, September - October 1991.

Forever Alien? - The Prose Poem Roger Little

SOME COMMENTS made by Frank Prince in P·N·R 78 set me wondering. 'It seemed to me (and still seems)', he writes, 'that the Baudelairian tradition of poetry in prose was inextricably bound up with the French language, its inflexions and syntax.' His lack of sympathy with the Illuminations, considered by French poets and critics as the high point of Rimbaud's output, seems perverse. His categorization of them into 'charms or prayers, while others remained baffling or unrewarding', suggests that analysis has failed: magic or dismay are all he is left with, and so he turns to Rimbaud's verse or the hothouse narrative of Une Saison en enfer for models and satisfaction. Like so many critics before him, indeed, he spends more time on dating the Illuminations than on analysing them. A consideration of whether such escapism is inevitable, particularly for the English-language reader, might lead us towards answers to a number of the difficulties that he or she has coming to terms with the prose poem in particular and modern French poetry in general.

The title 'prose poem' suggests a hybrid only if genres are confused with styles or if, to put it in terms used by George Steiner, the technique of verse is confused with the attribute of poetry. A prose poem should therefore be as susceptible of analysis as a verse poem and leave neither more nor less margin to critics for the unsayable. Certain techniques are knowingly abandoned, the most obvious being rhyme and ...

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