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This review is taken from PN Review 19, Volume 7 Number 5, May - June 1981.

STRUCTURAL STRESSES The Modern Japanese Prose Poem Trans. Dennis Keene (Princeton University Press) £9.10
Dennis Keene, Surviving (Carcanet) £2.95

As a professor of English Literature working in Tokyo, Dennis Keene is well placed to consider the phenomenon of the prose poem in Japan: and in his translations of the work of six writers he has produced a book of great interest. His detailed and scholarly introduction considers the emergence of the form in 19th century France (Bertrand, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé) and its influence upon the very different context of Japan, with its highly specialized view of poetry. Here he sees the prose poem as the 'supreme example' of `the whole modernist attempt' - specifically, an attempt to define and explore a zone between naturalism and uta, the lyrical poem meant to be sung. The French texts (a number of which are translated) not only give essential background, but provide a vital point d'appui, enabling the reader to feel that he is in the hands of a sensitive and trustworthy guide. Several times I was reminded of the distinction made by Pound in 'The Serious Artist': - 'The prose author has shown the triumph of his intellect. . . . but by the verses one is brought upon the passionate moment'. There, for the writer of the prose poem, is the problem - how to capture that passion without falling back on the elaborations of established literary language, how to apply that intellect without imposing the rationale, the narrative impetus of prose. By what means is it possible to defeat the expectations of poetry and of prose, and to ...


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