Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On Prose-Poems

Last week I went to a reading by the prose-poet Louis Jenkins. He read from his frequently humorous poems and spoke a little about his experiences with the form. He said that his goal in writing a prose-poem is to “write about the extraordinary in an ordinary way”. This interview with Mr. Jenkins is worth a read, as is his poetry.

He mentioned that this form is getting more popular these days in English-speaking countries. Perhaps this is related to the general shortening of attention spans (and therefore also to the increase in popularity of flash fiction, or short-short stories). I personally can’t recall having read a prose-poem in Swedish, though of course that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Is this type of poetry popular in other countries? And does their form making them easier to translate than other kinds of poetry?


Eric Dickens said...

I like prose poems. Only this morning did I see one (though I've not read it) when leafing through a collection by the Estonian Mats Traat, some of whose (ordinary) poems I'm translating. Of about 110 poems he has 8 prose poems.

They are succinct, often have hidden rhyme and rhythm schemes that separate them from prose-proper. Like poems they are glimpses, cameos of things.

They can be humorous or serious. I've only noticed serious ones, mostly.

In the Swedish language, the Finland-Swedes Gunnar Björling and Bo Carpelan did a few. In Sweden-proper, Gunnar Ekelöf did a few. In Finnish, Eeva-Liisa Manner, ditto.

Leafing through a Mloda Polska anthology of the poetry of that Polish movement, there are names such as Stefan Zeromski, Jan Kasprowicz, Waclaw Rolicz-Lieder, Alexander Szczesny.

In French they have Baudelaire, Max Jacob, Milocz (sic!), Lautreamont, Perse, Michaux, Rimbaud,Ponge, and others, no doubt.

In German there is Günter Kunert.

In Dutch Gerard Bruning. And so on.

These are just random pickings from my bookshelves. But it rather suggests that more people than you think have written prose poetry internationally. (I'm using the criterion that the sentences follow on from one another, as in prose. There may be much more sophisticated criteria.)

BJ, if you compile an anthology, I'll contribute for the languages I know well.

B.J. Epstein said...

Eric, that's great. You mentioned many writers I've never heard of. Thanks for proving me wrong! I wonder about poetry from completely different traditions (such as in Asian countries or in Arabic) -- I know very little about their forms, but I am curious whether they use prose-poems, too. Maybe Japanese translator and Brave New Words guest blogger Alys Lindholm knows.
Years ago, I had a special interest in flash fiction, which sometimes seems to have more in common with prose-poems than other kinds of fiction. Julio Cortazar's "A Continuity of Parks" is a good example of the form.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

My post is merely to add some other names of Swedish prose poem writers to those already mentioned.

Tomas Tranströmer's name must be on the list, and his work is available widely in English translations by, among others, Robert Bly and Robin Robertson.

Tommy Olafsson and Anders Johansson are two current practitioners of the form. I have seen some of Olafsson's prose poems in translation now and then.

Carl-Erik af Geijerstam, who died recently (September 2007) well into his 90s, was better known in Sweden for his translations (including Hesse), but he was a long-practicing poet who included many prose poems in his collections.

Kind regards from a Stockholm wanderer.

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you for the list of Swedish writers. I must admit that I only had heard of Tomas Tranströmer, despite having lived and read widely in Sweden for many years. I'll have to look into those authors on my next visit.

Best wishes,