Plangent Encounters

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By Langdon Hammer

March 11, 2014

Since its origins in 19th-century French literature, the prose poem has been a bad child. The one rule it follows breaks the basic rule other poems obey: the prose poem must be written in prose—not in lines, not in verse. Everything else in the prose poem is up for grabs. It’s a type of poem that can take any shape: the essay, manifesto, meditation, diary entry, travelogue, letter, anecdote, parable, prayer, or parody, among other literary types.

Charles Baudelaire didn’t invent the form, but his Le Spleen de Paris (1869) permanently stamped it with his melancholy yet exuberant genius.

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Langdon Hammer is the poetry editor for The American Scholar.

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