Visualizing Prose Poetry: Landscape, Dream Machines, and Transformation

Abstract: A critical and practical exploration of the prose poem form. Zack Anderson will analyze the form’s possibilities for representing the intersection of violence and landscape. Paul Cunningham will consider the form’s inclination toward surrealistic dream logic and the avenues that such logic creates for ecologically-minded poetry. Hannah V. Warren will discuss the prose poem as a feminist site of hybridity, transformation, and counternarrative. 

Landscape: In this panel, I want to consider the conjunction of violence and landscape as it manifests in the prose poem. How does this form operate as a mechanism for both containment and spillover? What can the prose poem show us about how violence is embedded or concealed in the landscape? How do landscape and violence exceed the representational powers of poetry? What happens when form exceeds itself? How does the prose poem stage the failure of containment? How can we read prose poems through Georges Bataille’s concept of “nonproductive expenditure?” I intend to approach these questions through poems by Raúl Zurita, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Rauan Klassnik, as well as through discussion of my own work.  

Dream Machines: At the beginning of her career, Swedish surrealist poet Aase Berg wrote prose poems exclusively. She writes, “The prose poem doesn’t need a meaning, a message; it speaks a dream language, a language that wants to slip through language and use it, that wants to make the words into body in a total concretion.” Similarly, earlier works of prose poetry is what gave me permission to focus on the poem as a site or mass—a “total concretion”. Whether I’m focusing on a queer body and its orifices or a tree and its oozing sap, I too see the prose poem as landscape. I’m specifically interested in something Berg calls “ur-landscape,” a landscape owned by no one; usurped by no humanism. From an ecological point of view, I’m less concerned with assigning a narrative to the non-human and more interested in the contradiction of attempting to inhabit the being of the non-human in a way that doesn’t feel anthropocentric. This is where a surreal, Rimbaudian language of the unconscious might prove to be useful. 

Transformation: Shivani Mehta writes, “Centuries ago men grew sons and waited while the women sailed in search of nameless catastrophe.” Shaped as prose but lining the tongue as lyric, prose poetry crosses borders. On a surface level, prose poems explore and break boundaries between the two genres. More importantly for this presentation, prose poetry often seeks to rewrite traditional narratives, acting as alternate historical documents. Looking at work from Ely Shipley, Shivani Mehta, and Alice Notley, I argue that prose poetry provides a space for marginalized voices to reclaim and reinvent the histories that systematically excluded them. Alongside my analysis of these authors’ collections, I will provide context from my own prose poetry, showing how my work attempts to resist the dominant, cisheteropatriarchal narrative that plagues female bodies. 

Images of panel participants with text reading "prose=poetry" in the background