Such Rare Citings: The Prose Poem in English Literature

By N. Santilli | Go to book overview

3
Contexts I: The English Mail-Coach

THE VISUAL DIMENSION OF THE PROSE POEM IS CHARACTERIZED BY its brevity. This formal severity instantly distinguishes the form from poetic prose, which, by contrast, is naturally expansive in its complex weaving of syntactical rhythm, as De Quincey's texts clearly show.1 In fact, what emerges from an analysis of De Quincey's work in relation to the prose poem is the presence in the new genre of an undefined agent that forcibly separates prose pieces and sustains their isolation against our natural tendency, when reading prose poems in quick succession, to fuse them into a single narrative. However, if brevity is regarded unanimously as an essential property of the prose poem, the theories that supply the reason for this concision vary widely.2

Lyricism and a strong sense of closure provide the most common explanation of brevity in the prose poem. Michel Beaujour rejects these theories, comparing instead the prose poem to a picture, and he cites Bertrand's Gaspard de la Nuit (subtitled "fantasies in the style of Rembrandt and Callot"), Rimbaud's Illuminations, and Butor's Illustrations as evidence of the pictorial association. Historically, the French prose poem has been closely identified with the art book in which concise texts accompany and often imitate visual images. Beaujour claims that the art album provided a frame that supported a reading of the prose text as poetic. Tellingly, he is obliged to qualify this: "Paradoxically, these texts seldom get read very attentively in the luxurious context which is, so to speak, their artistic-poetical collateral. In order to become 'poems' in their own right, rather than skippable pages of stylish typography, they have to be published separately, in non-illustrated volumes."3 While the size and content of the individual prose poem and its collective presentation continues to be affected by its association with the art book (Samuel Beckett/ Jasper Johns, Foirades/Fizzles participate in this tradition as, more

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Such Rare Citings: The Prose Poem in English Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Acknowledgments 11
  • Introduction 13
  • Abbreviations 27
  • 1: The Prose Poem and the Romantic Fragment 31
  • 2: De Quincey and Baudelaire 71
  • 3: Contexts I 98
  • 4: Contexts II: Mercian Hymns 118
  • 5: Parallelism 137
  • 6: Beckett's Late Prose 161
  • 7: The Prose Poem and the City 181
  • Notes 207
  • Works Cited 259
  • Index 277
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