From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Prose poetry is usually considered a form of poetry written in prose that breaks some of the normal rules associated with prose discourse, for heightened imagery or emotional effect, among other purposes.
Arguments continue about whether prose poetry is actually a form of poetry or a form of prose (or a separate genre altogether). Most critics argue that prose poetry belongs in the genre of poetry because of its use of metaphorical language and attention to language. Other critics argue that prose poetry falls into the genre of prose because prose poetry relies on prose's association with narrative, its consistent divergence of discourse, and its reliance on readers' expectation of an objective presentation of truth in prose. Yet others argue that the prose poem gains its subversiveness through its fusion of both poetic and prosaic elements.
As a specific form, prose poetry is generally assumed to have originated in the 19th century France. At the time of the prose poem's emergence, French poetry was dominated by the alexandrine, an extremely strict and demanding form that poets such as Aloysius Bertrand and Charles Baudelaire (Petits Poèmes en prose) wanted to rebel against. Further proponents of the prose poem included other French poets such as Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé. The prose poem continued to be written in France and found profound expression, in the mid-20th century, in the prose poems of Francis Ponge.
At the end of the 19th century, British Decadent movement poets such as Oscar Wilde picked up the form because of its already subversive association. This actually hindered the dissemination of the form into English because many associated the Decadents with homosexuality, hence any form used by the Decadents was suspect.
Notable Modernist poet T.S. Eliot even wrote vehemently against prose poems, though he did try his hand at one or two. In contrast, a couple of other Modernist authors wrote prose poetry consistently, including Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson; in actuality, Anderson considered his work to be short fictions—in the current term, "flash fiction." The distinction between flash fiction and prose poetry is at times very thin, almost indiscernible.
Then for a while prose poems died out, at least in English—until the early 1960s and '70s, when American poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Russell Edson, Charles Simic, Robert Bly and James Wright experimented with the form. Edson actually worked in the form foremost, and aided in giving the prose poem its current reputation for surrealist wit. Similarly, Simic won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for his 1989 collection, The World Doesn't End.
At the same time poets in the United States were writing prose poems in English, poets were also exploring the form in Spanish, Japanese, and Russian. Octavio Paz worked in the form in Spanish in his Aguila o Sol? Eagle or Sun? (ISBN 0811206238). Spanish poet Ángel Crespo (1926-1995) did his most notable work in the genre. Dennis Keene (translator) reveals the work of six Japanese prose poets in The Modern Japanese Prose Poem: an anthology of six poets. Similarly, Adrian Wanner and Caryl Emerson describe the form's growth in Russia in their critical work Russian Minimalism: From the prose poem to the anti-story.