Prose Poem Defined

Stuck Inside? Write a Prose Poem

Learn how to write a prose poem. What’s the difference between prose vs poetry? Discover how to use the elements of poetry to define your prose.

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Many of us are stuck in our homes and looking for an outlet to soothe our anxiety. Or, maybe we need something to keep our quarantined children busy. Here’s a suggestion: write a prose poem. First, though, we need to answer a few questions. Like, what is prose? Or, even what is a poem?

Definition of Prose

The definition of prose is simple enough. Prose means ordinary language or the way you and I talk every day. Prose doesn’t need a meter or any rhyme, and it doesn’t even need to have figurative language. Prose just means language in its ordinary form.

And that’s what makes a prose poem such a beautiful thing. There fewer rules when it comes to writing a prose poem. But, you’re probably asking: How do I turn ordinary language into something poetic? It does seem like a contradiction, but it isn’t. Let’s explain how prose can be poetic.

Prose vs Poetry

Prose vs Poetry

If prose is ordinary language than poetry, by its nature, is poetic. But, what does that mean? What makes language poetic and not ordinary prose? Well, poetry is one of those things that can be hard to pin down into an exact set of parameters. But, let’s try anyway.

The definition of poetry

Poetry, at its core, is the expression of meaningful feelings and ideas through language. Poetry has a distinctive style or a feeling. Poems feel poetic because they use the elements of poetry or tools that writers use to express themselves. What are those?

Three elements of poetry

There are a lot more than three elements of poetry. But, let’s just talk about the basics to get you started on your prose poem.

Rhyme- or the repetition of syllables. You might rhyme lime and time. The ‘i’ sound in the middle of all three of these words is repeated to create a rhyme.

Repetition- repetition is repeating a word or phrase over and over to emphasize a point. Like if you had an argument with someone and you were proven right, you might say to the other person “You were wrong, wrong, wrong!” You’re repeating the word wrong to emphasize your point.

Metaphor- the definition of metaphor is to directly compare two, unlike things to make a point. The keyword here is direct. So, don’t use the words like or as because that would be a simile.

Example of a metaphor: “My brother is the black sheep of the family.” Here you’re saying that your brother is the outcast of your family, not an actual sheep.

There are many more elements of poetry, but we’re only going to talk about those three to keep things simple when writing our prose poem.

The difference between prose and poetry

When we get down to it, the difference between prose, or normal writing, and poetry is structure. Poetry is written, mostly, in lines called verses. Groups of verses are called stanzas, and stanzas are broken up by line breaks, or a space between one stanza and the next. Verses, and stanzas, will incorporate patterns of rhymes. These patterns are called a meter.

So, in a lot of ways, a poem looks, on paper, like a song.

Prose is structured with sentences. These sentences make up paragraphs. (duh, right?)

When writing prose you’re not going to incorporate a rhyme scheme. You’re also don’t have to rely on figurative language like metaphors and similes. You can use figurative language, for sure. But, unlike with poetry, you can go without it and your prose will be fine.

How to write a prose poem

How to write a prose poem

To write a prose poem, you will write using the elements of poetry, in this case, you can use the three that we talked about above. But, you will use the prose structure. Instead of writing in verse and stanzas, you’ll use sentences and paragraphs.

So, to write a very simple prose poem you can limit yourself to one or two paragraphs. Use two or three elements of poetry in those paragraphs. Maybe, your entire paragraph is an extended metaphor comparing two, unlike things. In that paragraph, you can use a handful of rhymes, but you don’t have to worry about creating a pattern. And, you can repeat a word or phrase to emphasize a point. That would be a very simple, easy prose poem.

Also, we’ve only touched on three elements of poetry, but there are many more you can use in your poem. Try using assonance or alliteration, or onomatopoeia. You’re free to use any of them as long as you stick to the paragraph, sentence structure.

Outside of that, you’re free to write whatever sounds poetic to you. It’s a little loose, I know. But, poetry be like that.

So, to help you out, let’s look at some prose poems.

Examples of Prose Poems

Poetry in the wild! Here are a few excerpts from prose poems.

Excerpt from after the war, by Heidi A. Howell

  1. the breath waits to happen. it pretends a separate movement. an open. a close. to refuse it is only wet feet. clothing. around the rain and after hold your hands up in the air. clasp it. asking. this always in the distance. and you not walking there.

Notice how the poet ignores the rules of punctuation and writes in short, fragmented sentences. Read the full poem here.

Arizona Drought, by Amy Karon

Dusk of scorched August kills lights and batteries. Bereft, we feel our way downstairs to sleepwalk rippled asphalt. Night blooms around us. Awake now, we trace faded memories of desert petrichor, the sweet, pungent exhale of creosote after rain. Lights stay out, and eastern hills birth a dense moon. Our neighbors emerge, phoneless and befuddled, to murmur low and circle the lone field where nighthawks croak and boom and poorwills snatch moths from ghosts of ironwood. Moonset sends these tenants of earth and sky to sleep. But we stay out, the join of our fingers a compass marking the path toward thunderheads that burst on the horizon (at last, at last, at last).

There’s that repetition we talked about.

There’s are a few examples. Hopefully, they’ve got you feeling inspired to write a prose poem of your own!

prose poetry

If you’re looking for more information on how to write a prose poem check out The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice 

2 comments on “Stuck Inside? Write a Prose Poem”

  1. Thank you for explaining the difference between prose and poetry in a simple way. I didn’t realize the difference between a metaphor and a simile. I probably learned it in school and had forgotten but I am glad to refresh my memory.
    Great post and advice!

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