The ordinary and the unreal: American and Australian prose poetry

Cassandra Atherton, Paul Hetherington

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    The prose poem, Silliman notes, is 'perfect for hallucinated, fantastic and dreamlike contents, for pieces with multiple locales and times squeezed into few words' (1989: 81). This, he argues, is because the quotidian nature of prose is often unexpectedly subverted by encounters with the magnificent. This paper uses Silliman's assertion as a starting point to discuss the way in which the American tradition of surrealist prose poetry employs recurring demotic elements - such as dalliance and anecdotes - to introduce the extraordinary. This, in turn, creates a comic or absurdist dimension in such works, underscoring one of the paradoxes at the heart of the prose poetry form. We argue that the coupling of the quotidian with the surreal in prose poetry creates and exploits a comic tension, focusing the reader on the impossibility of objectivity and adding a piquant playfulness to the serious issues such poems canvass. This paper will discuss prose poems by American prose poets Russell Edson and Charles Simic. It will also briefly analyse three Australian prose poems. These works indicate that surrealist prose poetry in Australia tends to be focused on a fusing of the laconic with the savage in its in its appeal to humour.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-11
    Number of pages11
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


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