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Prose Poems


"Which one of us, in his moments of ambition, has not dreamed of a miracle of poetic prose, musical without rhythm and without rhyme, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of reverie, the jibes of conscience?" -- Charles Baudelaire

A prose poem, as defined in The Glossary of Poetic Terms, is a genre in the poetic spectrum between free verse and prose. It is distinguished by the poetic characteristics of rhythmic, aural, and syntactic repetition, compression of thought, sustained intensity, and patterned structure, but is set on the page in a continuous sequence of sentences as in prose, without line breaks.

The models for this prompt were THE SUMMER MY SISTER TURNED FOURTEEN and FISHING by Nin Andrews.

The Prose Poem: An International Journal states in its submission guidelines: "Although we don't want to say that we can define "prose poetry," we do expect our contributors to at least know the difference between verse and prose poetry, so that they don't waste their time and postage. "

It's a form that has confused many. Is it a form of poetry? What makes it something other than standard prose?

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.

In Woods

Go into the woods. Large or small. One acre. A wilderness. Find a place where you can sit and see nothing around you but woods. Find these objects but do not take them from the woods: Something living. Something once alive. Something of an animal, not of man. Something made by people. An insect. A worm. A bird. Touch it with your pointed finger. Something you cannot name; give it the best name you can. Bury something of your own in a special place. Mark the place in your memory only. Plant a tree, flower, bulb, or seed. Next year, return. Did it grow? Why?  Dig up your object.  Ask how it has changed. Ask how you have changed. How have the woods changed? Sit again in the same place as last year. Answer all the questions.

Lianna Wright

Amy Blythe and Jelly Pepperton, January 15, 2000

No sooner had she taken the Hippocratic oath than she was called upon to do no harm.  “It was a Thursday,” Amy Blythe recalled, “and I’d just returned from duck hunting with my father in the Transvaal.  You’d think I’d be used to blood.”  The next day she reported to the emergency room at to begin her residency and, unbeknownst to her, meet her future husband-to-be under less than fortuitous circumstances.

“Jelly had swallowed his saxophone mouthpiece,” she intoned.  “He was wailing, literally, because all the air had to pass through the reed.  I reached in, yanked, and there was just blood everywhere.  I thought I’d killed him!” 

For Mr. Pepperton, it was the yank of love.  Four years later, after a laborious courtship involving a foot tour of Nepal, primal scream therapy, a course in wok cookery, and six months of Tantric sex, he popped the question.  “I wrote a song about that whole thing in the ER,” laughed Mr. Pepperton.  “Then I serenaded the shit out of her at Balthazar’s.”

The early courtship was not without its low moments, however, and friends doubted Ms. Blythe and Mr. Pepperton would ever make it.  “He’s a real Alpha male all right,” Ms. Blythe exclaimed.  “The first time he stayed out all night, I thought he was kidding. But I’m used to it now.  Where Jelly goes, nobody knows,” she laughed.

“I’m a guy, and you gotta know how that is,” explained Mr. Pepperton.  “What is this, the nineties?”

The bride fashioned her Wangnerian gown from the skins of goats she raised and flayed herself.  “It’s a good thing I don’t have a pet mentality,” she said. In addition, Ms. Blythe brought her own special combination of style and bravura to the selection of the bridal party.  “I used all my mother’s bridesmaids,” she said.  “I figured as long as my older sister got the gown, I might as well get the ‘girls.’ ”

Mr. Pepperton’s friends had no complaints.  “Hey, older women are in right now,” said best man Keitho Kidd.

In a simple ceremony at the Wellfleet summer home of the bride’s parents, the couple exchanged vows written by themselves and composed primarily of the first lines of their Mariah Carey favorites. Ms. Blythe and Mr. Pepperton plan to honeymoon at home, a loft in the as-yet-unnamed-but-slowly-becoming-fashionable meatpacking district. 

The bride has chosen to keep her name but will give up medicine to work for an as-yet-unnamed presidential candidate.  Mr. Pepperton will continue his career as a day trader while tending to the needs of his wife’s extensive collection of rare autumnal herbivores. “We just want to ‘let the feeling grow,’ ” Ms. Blythe crooned.  “From now on, it’s going to be all about us.”   

Mary DeBow

Meditation on Leaving One House After Another

On his last visit, son Robert brought photographs and videos of THE FARM to Mom & Dad: the abandoned barn, the rotting, built-for-horses wagon, the empty room with the kid-greasy davenport abandoned there, the hole in the ground (after a fire destroyed the house) with that same sofa in the pit. Along with the pictures,  he handed them a tiny, partly-destroyed saddle shoe he'd  found as he picked through the ruins.  No one knew for sure to whom it had belonged, because all clothes were passed along  as they outgrew the previous owner. They owned that probably next-to-youngest Kitty wore it last, losing it somewhere that day - long past - they'd moved away.

Mama recalls feeling her way through the empty rooms of that other FINE NEW HOME they had to leave. Painting over the most obvious signs of her growing children having lived there (Rich's black room, with the fluorescent spider and web on the ceiling above his bed;  Bob's footprints on the upper walls of the hall - precariously near the ceiling - as well as the more-normal sibling handprints below) made it easier for her to bear, without too much emotion, the bland, redecorated place. Only the too-big-to-move pool table left behind in the basement disturbed her (it had been a kind-of symbol for the five boys to prove their growing up).

Mom & Dad "ran away" from the ancient NEXT HOUSE, in spite of loving it; and not because of glowering at the telltale signs of its real age (after each flooding,  Roto-Rooter dredging the root-filled ceramic tile leading to the street; the native-stone walls sweating in the basement; the drafty windows and leaky roof; the added-on bathroom, with ceiling moistly sagging above the teens' frequent showering).  No, even though they'd be leaving  the hall door with all the growth-marks on it,   It was time to retire from it all and leave this place to those children who needed the space in which to face each tomorrow's personal sorrow.

In which space Father and Mother still live, thousands of miles away in the manufactured homes retirement village, whose owners won't let visitors stay for more than a couple  days.  Here, there is no child-sign left around to fuss over; but also, there's less laughter. The children, now free and alone, have homes holding kids of their own.
Thus, we - without the others - are living happily ever after.

Catherine M. LeGault


Feeling the weather shifting, I turned the lid on the end of Autumn a bit tighter by cleaning the garden tools today.  An old ritual learned from my dad who learned it from his.  I'm still using one of his spades, a pitchfork, and a trowel.  Clean out the plants from the garden.  Pile the good greens into the compost and put all the insect-damaged leaves and stems and rotted fruit in the garbage can.  Once we would have burned that part.  But the real thing is to oil the wood handles and sharpen the blades before you store them for winter.  The wood looks and feels so good when you work the oil into it. The grain comes up.  In my human way, I am thinking thirst but it's not that.  It's not want  either.  Perhaps it is just need.

In the Spring when I take them out, they, like the year and garden, will be ready. As new as they can possibly be in a world that is a year older.  They will turn the cold soil and spread it into the sun to dry.  I can rake it flat and even, weed free, and empty of all but the smallest pebbles.

I will sit to the side and look at my work and take deep breaths.  Off to the side a pile of rocks sifted from the dirt wait.  There are sermons in the stones.

Ken Ronkowitz


From the flames of form you flowed in a spiraling pirouette, circling  the light of an imagined sun.  Fluttering en pointe, floating on the forever  of a breeze you teased the fire with your soul.  Chimerical dancer, lover of  the art of motion, you rained fluid emotion in the savage storm, but in  sunlight you arched in an arabesque rainbow, curling your colors in  carnality.  Capricious rhythms inscribed your aerial ballets of deceit, as  specters spiraled beneath you in rivulets of blackness, swirling strands of  reality.  Once upon a time, you were a child in toe shoes, spinning innocent  arms and fingers, longing for flight.  Sadly, the mercurial passion matured with you and you painted the turbulent skies with your wingspan and smeared the sun in shadow.  I never saw you; I only saw the faded light through your  translucent wings.  I wonder if I will ever see you but in the flight of  dragonflies. 

James M. Thompson

me and john

old blind john sit outside his junk store everyday, wearing those dark glasses,  head tilted back, a big grin on his face like he didn't have a care in the world and everyday after school i'd find myself going through the boxes of discarded items people were always bringing him one mans trash is another man's treasure he'd say while the local farmers toiled under the hot summer sun and complained about the lack of rain me and blind john would sit under an old fan sippin' on ice cold grape sodas and eating boiled peanuts waiting for the next treasure hunter to come along  i can't say i felt sorry for blind john like most everyone in town seemed too  i guess grape sodas and boiled peanuts have a way of taking the edge off of feeling pity   

ray cutshaw