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Great American Prose Poems : From Poe to the Present

by David Lehman

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1912143,099 (3.45)None
Presents a collection of prose poems by American authors, arranged chronologically, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Jenny Boully, and including an explanation of the origins and characteristics of a prose poems.
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Lehman indicates in his introduction that one major criteron in his selection of prose poems for this text is that he had to love the piece. Well, if these are the prose poems he loves, I can honestly say that I don't share Lehman's taste in poetry. Still, there are a few scattered handfuls of enjoyable and interesting texts in this volume. (Just skip the Stein.) I rather wish it had been organized by year of publication of the text, rather than by the author's birth year, since it was difficult to see the development of the genre/form when the pieces presented kept jumping between (for instance) the 1970s and 2000s. ( )
  fleurdiabolique | Jul 11, 2007 |
There's a reason why other prose poetry anthologies avoid limiting themselves to American poets. In America, there's a huge gap in time between where prose poems went from being tolerated to when they recently came back into style as an accepted form. As a result, collections that focus solely on American prose poets tend to be skewed towards modern writers and ignores earlier ones.

Lehman's own introduction relies heavily on the work of non-american prose poets to define the genre, borrowing an idea from Baudelaire's "Paris Spleen." Since American poets have only begun to accept the form somewhat recently, a lot of the best work was written in the past 40 years. Even before you get a third of the way into the book, you're already reading work published in the late 1980's.

Not necessarily a flaw, this linear top-heaviness is the result of Lehman trying to find the best examples possible. He does manage to collect some great writing, although it's questionable if every piece should really be classified as a prose poem. By the end of the anthology there's a healthy collection of poets who're definitely writing for the genre, but the opening is suspicious. In it, Lehman pulls prose pieces with a lyric quality to them and conviently dubs them "prose poems." He includes a story out of Jean Toomer's collection of poems and short stories, Cane in one place, he chooses to include Poe's "Shadow- A Parable" (instead of "Eureka- A Prose Poem") in another.

By including these pieces in the same anthology as Charles Simic's "prose fragments", James Wright's "prose pieces", and Amy Gerstler's prose poems, the definition the anthology strives to achieve becomes too blurred to be of much use to the reader trying to understand the form.

In defense of the book, all of the pieces in it are great examples of high quality writing (in one form or another). But if you're looking for an anthology to help provide a firm understanding of the genre, you need to step back from the American prose poem and find an anthology which puts the American tradition into the context of prose poems from across the world. The reliance on more recent american poetry will make this anthology useless as time goes on. As prose poetry journals like Sentence increase in popularity, this anthology will quickly become dated. If you're hungry for some new prose poems from recognizable poets, this is a good book to pick up. If you're trying to introduce yourself to the genre, try and track down a copy of "models of the universe." ( )
  misirlou | Sep 23, 2006 |
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Presents a collection of prose poems by American authors, arranged chronologically, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Jenny Boully, and including an explanation of the origins and characteristics of a prose poems.

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