Some thoughts on prose poems

by bjmuirhead

It’s been years since I was interested in writing poetry in any serious way. I’ve always considered myself a prose writer whose ventures into poetry have been frustrated by a basic lack of  interest in the form and structure of poetry, but fuelled by my love of reading poetry.

The result of my inability to come to terms with poetry was a venture into ‘prose poetry’, largely inspired by the work of St John Perse. I knew nothing about what other people called prose poetry, and I didn’t really care; the style suited me, and that was enough, especially as I don’t really believe there is any such thing as a “prose poem”. What I do think exists are short prose pieces which may or may not fall between prose and poetry, and that these are what we normally call “prose poetry”. One of my favourite pieces, written in the early eighties, is this:


Back to back

     I have stabbed myself. The wound is not deep, but puckers inwards, neat and clean with blood…

     Facile with redemption I do not dab or wipe but twis my lips to siphon the flow. Not a drop shall be lost though a sudden struggle to swallow almost defeats me.

     I retch,

     Ready another knife, subtle with release…


This piece (published in Place and Persepctive: Contemporary Queensland Poetry, ed. Barry O’Donohue, Jacaranda Press, 1984) was pure prose which I then broke into  paragraphs, which were taken by many to be very long lines.

At the time this simply was the way I wrote all prose, despite the editor of a well known and prestigious Australian literary journal, who sent a rejection with the comment You can’t be serious!! scribbled over it. (It is the only rejection slip I have kept, with the purpose of reminding myself of just how limited another person’s reading can be… including my own.)

I guess the point I am making is simply that I used no special ‘poetic’ techinque. It was just images which flesh a tiny narrative. In point of fact, the person who stabbed himself did so whilst drunk and attempting to open a bottle of beer with a very sharp and entirely inappropriate knife, and them sucked the wound…

I could have written a story about what he did, but I really only wanted to make a point about redemption and wounding which the events sparked within me. But poetry?

Everyone is welcome to categorise my small pieces however they want, but I will continue to think of them as prose which, for the sake of convenience, is most often categorised as prose poetry.