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Prose Poetry

Alcatraz edited by Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington

September 2023, no. 457

Alcatraz is an international anthology of prose poems which builds on the success of previous collaborations between the artist Phil Day and poets Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington. Contributors include many outstanding poets from the United States (twenty-eight), the United Kingdom (ten), and Australia (thirteen), with smaller numbers of poets from India, New Zealand, Germany, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong. The title with its alphabetical alpha and omega, was offered to the poets as an inspiration. I was halfway through the book before I realised the book itself embodies a multitude of jail breaks, vaulting over a range of conventions. These include its front and back cover – entirely taken up by a numinous painted image, the title on its spine the only printed word – and even the luxurious feel of its paper.

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The poetry community in Australia, as in the United Kingdom, has been slow to accept prose poetry as a legitimate poetic form. Yet there have been celebrated exponents of prose poetry over nearly two centuries – and even longer if the prose component of the Japanese Haibun, developed by Matsuo Bashō (1644–94), is understood as prose poetry.

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The Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry edited by Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington

December 2020, no. 427

What is it about English language poetry that has proved so resistant to the lure of the prose poem? The French, it appears, held no such qualms, finding themselves besotted with the form ever since Aloysius Bertrand and Charles Baudelaire began dispensing with line breaks and stanzas. Of course, the very existence of English-language works like Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (1914) or William Carlos Williams’s Kora in Hell (1920) could be used to argue otherwise, but such endeavours were considered too eccentric at the time to impart a lasting legacy. Perhaps if T.S. Eliot, whose antipathy towards the prose poem is well known, had given us a major cycle along the lines of Saint-John Perse’s Anabasis (1924), a work he admired and translated, things might have turned out differently.

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Belated recognition of Australian prose poetry

by Paul Hetherington and Cassandra Atherton
October 2020, no. 425

Until recently, Australian prose poetry hasn’t attracted much attention – we’re not sure why. Having written prose poetry for years, we’re both fascinated by the form, which can be loosely defined as poems written in paragraphs and sentences rather than in stanzas and lines.

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In his infamous 1955 review of Patrick White’s The Tree of Man, A.D. Hope’s dismissal of the book as ‘illiterate verbal sludge’ focuses on a perceived confusion between the categories of poetry and prose. White ‘tries to write a novel as if he were writing poetry, and lyric poetry at that’, writes Hope ...

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The heat of recent controversy in Australia about the meaning and value of multiculturalism in education, in history and in society at large is an indication of the tenacity with which a dominant culture, in this case that of British Australia, clings to its privileges.

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