Mention* the words “prose poem” in a room filled with poets, and a battle akin to the ones that occur between Star Trek and Star Wars fanatics will transpire. One branch of poets will argue that a prose poem is a poem. The other side will contend that a prose poem is prose.
It’s impossible to reach some sort of compromise. A prose poem is, after all, a hybrid form. It is a contradiction of terms. It subverts both poetry and prose.
The prose poem is further complicated by the fact that there is no strict definition of what a prose poem is. It can be a short passage. It can be a long one. It is supposed to be non-discursive. It should have “self-evident poetic qualities,” whatever that means. It can be of a narrative or of a language-oriented trend. It may employ both trends. It is, as An Exaltation of Forms states, “a relatively young genre still in the process of self-definition.”
That process of self-definition means literary battles are going to continue to rage, and poets are going to persist in taking sides. They will query how a prose poem is different from the “lyric short story” or the “poetic novel.” They will prove that it is or is not different from those two. The proof won’t bring agreement or compromise. Each side will remain firmly convinced that their view is the superior and right one, just as Star Wars and Star Trek fanatics are.
*Originally published June 6, 2011