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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Writing paragraph poems or prose poetry

Confined to little brick-like blocks of text, prose poems offer about as much visual appeal as a business letter. When it comes to writing them, though, prose poetry often allows more freedom than free verse. For instance, you don’t have to decide where to break every single line to the best effect since the unadorned form of a paragraph acts like a shoe box where you can drop in almost anything.

Since you do not have to count feet, syllables, and lines or count on rhymes, prose poems also come with less stress than traditional patterns of poetry.

To give you an example, here’s my first attempt that placed in a 2011 issue of The Prose-Poetry Project! and was later included in my book, Living in the Nature Poem.

Hapless Holiday

I don't know if I can do this. I don't know if I can shut the door you bolted on the other side. Keeping out weather is one thing, raccoons another, although I know there's nothing below the kitchen sink they might find appealing – blackened banana peels, black coffee grounds, and those eggshells I keep on breaking as I walk.

© 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler

As you try your hand at writing prose poetry or paragraph poems, experiment with these devices:

• Write all around an image, insight, or event – real or surreal.

• Let the poem flow in a stream-of- consciousness.

• Create a verbal collage of almost anything – from dreams and diaries to factual data, stories, episodes, or headlines in the news.

• Use juxtaposition to startle your readers, or ask a timely question to ignite thought.

• Sprinkle in a little alliteration.

• Add wordplays, humor, or a rhythmic beat.

Prose poems usually come across as intimate, fresh, honest, and, sometimes, bizarre – like real people in real life! And here’s a bonus:

Prose poems depend on the same blocks of paragraphs you use for regular writing, so regular, non-poet people often come to prose poetry unaware and unscared! They just start reading, not realizing it’s a poem until poetic aspects surface as, hopefully, they'll do.

Writing the Prose Poem

Is this better or this, my right eye asks, sharpening the focus on the left and shifting the view toward the proverbial third eye centered in the forehead where more depth and better balance can be found by considering two differing perspectives. Rational thought and rumors of romance dance in lines and squiggles, circling and circling like squirrels ready to mate or preying partners ready to consume almost anything. Oh, who knows which way a poem will go?

© 2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. This post is a revision of Mary’s earlier article posted on 2011/01/18 but with the addition of two examples of prose poems from her book Living in the Nature Poem, published in 2012 by environmental publisher Hiraeth Press.


  1. This is cool, Mary. Wonder if I could write prose? I like yours!

  2. Thanks, Nells, and yes. You can write anything; you're that kind of good.