Poetry in a Prosaic World
Ah! why was I born in a century of prose! —Baudelaire, “Various Notes on L'Art philosophique”
It may be that all genres define themselves against other genres from a theoretical point of view; the poème en prose has the notion of differentiation built into its generic label. Baudelaire, who named the modern genre of prose poetry, was especially concerned with presenting his prose poems as different from whatever came before them. This concern is apparent in his dedication to Arsène Houssaye:
I have a little confession to make to you. It was in paging through, for the twentieth time at least, the famous Gaspard de la nuit of Aloysius Bertrand (doesn't a book known by you, me and some of our friends have every right to be called famous?) that the idea came to me to try to do something analogous, and to apply the process that he had applied to painting and ancient life, so strangely picturesque, to modern life, or rather a modern and more abstract life.
Who among us, in his ambitious days, hasn't dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm and rhyme, flexible and choppy enough to adapt itself to the lyrical movements of the soul, to the undulations of reverie, to the somersaults of consciousness? ... You yourself, my dear friend, haven't you tried to translate the strident shout of the Glazier into a song ...?
But, to tell the truth, I fear that my jealousy hasn't brought me happiness. As soon as I began the work, I noticed that I not only kept far away from my mysterious and brilliant model, but also was doing something (if it can be called something) strangely different, an accident