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Prose: What It Is (And Is Not)

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Wed Jun 15, 2011 3:55 pm
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Kyllorac says...



For a while now, I've noticed a trend towards using the term "prose" to refer poetry, and not in the sense that a poem was more prose-like* than traditionally poetic. While the latter sense is valid, referring to poetry or the language making up a poem as "prose" is incorrect.

Prose is, simply put, any writing, or the language used in writing it, that is not poetry. Prose adheres to the rules and conventions of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and usage, and it is characterized by how it follows natural speech patterns. The simplest complete unit of prose is the sentence, and we communicate using prose every day.

In sharp contrast, poetry is a carefully constructed form of expression, often† characterized by how it veers away from natural speech patterns. The simplest complete unit of a poem is the line, and poetry does not always adhere to the rules and conventions that prose must. Although we likely encounter forms of poetry every day, it is not a natural form of communication; after all, when was the last time you held an entire conversation in verse or waxed poetic with everything you said?

The purpose of prose is clear communication; the purpose of poetry is quite varied, depending on who you ask‡. In general, though, poetry tends to be more concerned with exploring the abstract (such as emotions) without necessarily explaining it°, while prose tends to be more focused on conveying information as quickly and effectively as possible.

Now, there are forms of writing that blur the line between poetry and prose, and one of them in particular, the prose poem, is likely the source of the prose/poem term confusion.

Prose poems look, at first glance, to be prose; unlike most poetry, prose poems are structured into sentences and sometimes paragraphs, much like regular writing, and often follow the grammatical conventions of prose. That's where the similarities between prose and prose poetry end, however. Although a prose poem lacks the hallmark line structure of more typical poems, the actual content of a prose poem remains unmistakably poetic, be it through the use of consistently strange syntaxes and imageries or other poetic devices like rhythm, alliteration, consonance, dissonance, internal rhyme, etc.

On the opposite end of the continuum, you have prose pieces, such as sketches and vignettes, that contain strong poetic elements (such as uniquely rich imageries) and/or lack typical prose elements (such as a "point" to the piece), but more importantly lack the heavy use of poetic devices and artificially constructed structures found in poetry, which is why they are classified as prose.



Summary

    Prose and poetry are quite different, and one should never refer to a poem or the language used to construct it as "prose".

    Prose is essentially all forms of writing that are not poetry, though it also refers to the language used to construct such pieces. It is derived from natural speech patterns and adheres to the rules and conventions of the language.

    The simplest complete unit of prose is the sentence.

    Poetry is a carefully constructed, and therefore artificial, form of writing. It often† does not adhere to natural speech patterns or language conventions.

    The simplest complete unit of poetry is the line.

    There are some forms of writing which blur the distinction between prose and poetry. One of these is prose poetry.

    Prose poetry, although it may look like prose on the surface, is a type of poetry, hence the "poetry" part of the name.


Footnotes

* Or "prosaic", if you prefer.
But not always, like almost everything about poetry.
And what their mood is at the time.
° Now watch me get mobbed by poetry people for writing such an inaccurate/grossly overgeneralized statement.
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Wed Jun 15, 2011 11:25 pm
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Jenthura says...



Wow, I really enjoyed reading this. Poetry has been (and believe will always be) my number one most hated form of literature. I can't write it, I can't critique it...I can read it, but most of the it doesn't since, as you said, nobody ever explains things in poetry.
Being a practical person, that bothered me for quite a while, until I decided to ignore poetry completely. XD
Kudos to you! This should be Featured.

Jenth

(Also, the footnotes were almost the best part. I love footnotes. xD )
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Fri Jun 17, 2011 2:43 am
inkwell says...



It's nice of you to clear this up for some of the users here. I hadn't realized that it was in such misuse.
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Sun Jun 19, 2011 6:34 pm
MeanMrMustard says...



Kyllorac wrote:The simplest complete unit of prose is the sentence, and we communicate using prose every day.


I get what you mean, but I don't know about everyone, I certainly don't communicate in first, second, or third person everyday. Your example and attempt to relate to everyday life isn't quite explained in the way you want.

Yes, we can be unreliable first person accounts, but we are not going about narrating like "I wanted to ride the bus to work. It was a big yellow bus.", we're more like "ride the bus today, it's got plenty of room, oh and my mom is a b*tch," is much more accurate. The actual methods of dialogue and thought in prose are like everyday communication and really, that can work the same way in poetry.

But nice job overall.




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Tue Jul 05, 2011 7:57 pm
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Kyllorac says...



@MeanMrMustard

Silly person. This article refers only to written forms of communication; not spoken. ;P Every time you write something with the intention of communicating, it is prose. Your post, for instance, is in first person, adheres to grammatical convention, and is written. It does not use stilted or archaic language, nor does it incorporate imagery; it simply says what you want to convey clearly.

With how prevalent the internet is in this day and age, and how much writing features in communications through it, I highly doubt you do not communicate using prose at all, every day (especially since you're a member of this site).
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Tue Feb 05, 2013 4:32 pm
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Audy says...



Although we likely encounter forms of poetry every day, it is not a natural form of communication; after all, when was the last time you held an entire conversation in verse or waxed poetic with everything you said?


Unless you're Pengu.




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Wed Jun 12, 2013 10:09 am
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WritingService says...



Thank you for the great information that I needed as I'm new to this forum.




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Mon Aug 26, 2013 1:48 am
kayfortnight says...



I certainly don't communicate in first, second, or third person everyday.


Actually, you do. If you ask someone, "Wanna go to the mall?", that's second person. Even though you don't say you, it's implied. In your example,"My mom is a b*tch," you're using third person, because your mother is the subject, not you or I. You use first person when you use the simple words yes or no. It's implied that you're saying, "Yes, I am," or "No, I don't," even if you don't say the full sentence. And before you ask, I have absolutely no idea how you would define using "we" by this. A combo of first and second person? Karz, what POV would you say a work had if it was written as "we", maybe with a hive mind like bees or something?
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