Invisible Fences: Prose Poetry as a Genre in French and American Literature

By Steven Monte | Go to book overview

6.
The Idea of an American Prose Poem, Take One

To judge from the remarks of various American critics and poets, the French poème en prose and the American prose poem are not the same thing. Irked by Ezra Pound's charges of provincialism and quips such as “what the French real reader would say to your Improvisations is Voui, ç(h)a j(h)ai déjà (f)vu ç(h)a ç(h)a c'est de R(h)imb(h)aud!!” William Carlos Williams wrote in his 1918 prologue to Kora in Hell, “I was familiar with the typically French prose poem, its pace was not the same as my own compositions.” 1 Russell Edson stated in 1976 that “the prose poem comes to us [Americans] not so much from the idea of the poème en prose, but out of modern poetry itself.... I don't think a line of European virtuosos is necessary to find the availability of the prose poem in America.” 2 Stephen Fredman argues in Poet's Prose that whereas the French poème en prose is “a highly aestheticized, subjective, idiolectical artifact, a paean to the isolated genius, ” the American prose poem tends to “interrogate the realm of truth” and thus clear the way for “a union of fact and imagination.” 3 Fredman goes as far as to suggest that the term “poet's prose” is preferable to “prose poem” because the latter is “an oxymoron aimed at defamiliarizing lyric poetry, and it remains redolent with the atmospheric sentiment of French Symbolism.” 4 Even John Ashbery, who acknowledges some debt to French poets, remarked in a 1971 interview that “there's something very self-consciously poetic about French prose poetry which I wanted to avoid [in Three Poems] and which I guess is what I found disappointing in my earlier prose poems; it's very difficult to avoid a posture, a certain rhetorical tone.” 5

From a formal perspective, the differences that exist between the French and the American prose poem are either limited to narrow historical periods or nonexistent. A wide range of types exists in both literatures—long and short

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Invisible Fences: Prose Poetry as a Genre in French and American Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Invisible Fences - Prose Poetry as a Genre in French and American Literature *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Note on Terminology *
  • Introduction *
  • 1. - Origins of the Prose Poem and Theories of Genre *
  • 2. - A Wide Field of Prose Possibilities *
  • 3. - Poetry in a Prosaic World *
  • 4. - The Makings of a Genre *
  • 5. - The Emergence of Prose Poetry in English *
  • 6. - The Idea of an American Prose Poem, Take One *
  • 7. - The Idea of an American Prose Poem, Take Two *
  • 8. - Negative Dialectics *
  • Conclusion *
  • Notes *
  • Bibliography *
  • Index *
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