The Art of Poetic Prose

This idea is not original to me and I am not pretending that it is. But when I started writing what I hoped would be “higher” fantasy – something approaching a “mythic” form of expression – I naturally fell into a style I called “poetic prose”.

If you start Googling the words prose and poetry combined you find the more common expression “prose poem” but little on its antonym or “poetic prose”. A prose poem is not poetic prose……the former is a poem written in a free style form, while the latter, “poetic prose”, is prose imbibed with some type of deeper poetic expression. The latter form is not so well defined simply because it’s not well known or understood.

That’s why I take a tiny bit of credit in trying to articulate this form. Reading 19th century writers, I have always felt a higher sense of the English language in how it was used in the great Victorian Age….a literary time now lost to the harsh realities of our Modern Age. I became interested in understanding certain sides of that late Romantic literary period that has sadly disappeared from all of Western culture.

At the same time the Modern world I felt had given us awareness, the intent and psychology behind why we say what we say, and an understanding of how much deeper our language can go in connecting us to each other and ourselves. Yet I had always felt something was lost. 

The break with the the Romantic Age seems to have left us with a use of language that feels disconnected from the world and from Nature on some level that’s sad, almost tragic, disaffected, unemotional, over-abstracted, absent, and even hollow.

And so it was this ability to approach the mystical through language in a renewed and fresh revitalized way, seeing visions through it and walking into the hidden beauty expressed behind language, that interested me in trying to write poetic prose.

That’s when I started looking at my writing as something “beyond the words”…..as having a flow, a meaning, a visual, and an overall vision that was heightened. It felt needed, as if the mythic stage I was trying to describe had to have it if it was going to stand on its own two feet with Gods and characters that felt beyond-real to me.

To write prose poetically is simply about writing narrative with poetic expression and merging the hidden symbols and poetic metaphors and similes in it with the story. It’s the use of symbology, colors, allusions to Nature, and old world ideas that try and escape the Modern limited concrete world of narrative bound to realistic writing in order to fly off into the transcendental world of purist ideals. It is about simile and metaphor yet looking beyond it. Rhyme and rhythm with alliteration could be used to create “lyrical prose” that lived and breathed. It was about embracing the Greek idea of the Gods in my expression and of heaven as deeply connected to Man via almost Biblical language, connecting the reader to higher expressions in the words used that escape the material and connect with the more divine, heavenly, and primal concepts inside ourselves – of beauty, of ugliness, of light and dark, of the natural world, of mist and of time, of the inner meanings behind story and it’s fantastic worlds, and of the fleeting and fragile nature of life, of the world, and all language itself. Poetry and language often hides behind that sublime and tragic truth if used with passion and purpose. That was what I found missing in most Modern novels which I wanted to fill in my own.

But the traps in using poetic prose I found often involve the Modern readers disinterest in what feels like flowery, disingenuous, often ariel prose. On the surface it often felt artificial and naive, distracting even. That concept found in poetic prose, I found, then started to erode the narrative of the story and disconnect the reader from it.

To combat that problem I intentionally removed “exotic words” and unconventional language rarely seen in Modern English use today. I also simplified very large sentences, returned to more a more protagonist focus trapped between more poetic descriptive expressions and engaging narrative, trying very hard to see what I was actually saying in my writing versus what I meant to say in the more dreamier abstract language. That’s not always easy to see in one’s writing. Any writer knows this.

But the disinterest in use and exploration of poetic prose much less reading of it may be its downfall for many in the end. It is simply one form of writing that has the ability to both elevate the story but also grossly distract from it if the ideas expressed by it are not fully accepted by readers or carefully constructed by writers. The reason is simple: Few people today read for interest in language or quality of writing. All books are now judged purely for story and the variety of story expression used…..not language.

In that sense using poetic prose I found came with a certain level of risk for writers. It was a risk I was willing to take…..but I doubt few others will in the future if those limitations are not more fully articulated and addressed.

It is why I’ve started to fine tune my ideas about poetic prose and its use in writing mythopoeia, possibly going even farther than Tolkien in articulating poetic prose language as a medium in itself in helping to materialize mythopoeia and mytho-poetic writing styles, yet with real limitations.

Because my own education in language is poor as it is and very limited, it’s had me pull back from the really rich, ornamental Victorian Age language and conceive of poetic prose as something greatly simplified for Modern readers….something more digestible or palatable….something used with purpose.

In that sense I’ve pulled back a lot of my interest in pushing it farther, and really building poetic prose as more of a sub-style of prose rather than a completely new medium. I’m sad about that as I think if pushed farther it could change how novels get written and how Modern English is used. But that may be a thing for future, younger writers to embrace. Because pushing poetic prose farther is going to take some skill and some acceptance that our Modern culture currently does not care to have.

With the advent of this new Metamodern Age, however, where there appears to be a return to some limited level of neo-Romantic views, it may be possible. I still feel “poetic prose” has some hidden value that’s not found in Modern prose that some people may be seeking from language that allows us all to escape the crude often crass Modern world of pulp, consumerist, pop culture language that feels stripped of beauty and meaning and allow us to return to a use of language that connects us with the deeper mythology inside us.

Sample:

THE GARDENS OF ABREA

“These gardens still so fair, so sweet, no feet had yet trodden nor hands dare touched, its fruits no lips yet tasted, its unnumbered buds and blossoms unwithered and unwasted, a virgin beauty still unblemished yet spread open to the skies. Bravely this land had withstood as by some overseeing power the brutal night that had sought to penetrate it wonders and plunder it, sundering it from its father’s light.

But with springtime’s fever upon it, with youthful passion Abrea had glistened in the vibrant air, full and fertile, calling as to a secret lover from afar, whispering wistfully upon the perfumed winds word of its own abundance fully unleashed and laid bare to be but loved in all its blossoming glory.”

– the Author



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  1. The Author says:

    Thanks Luke for your kind words. Best of luck on your mythopoeic novel. Send me a link when you get it posted online and I’ll share it. I am always happy to have another writer here. 🙂 Best regards – Mitchell

  2. Luke says:

    The passage at the end of this post was quite beautiful, and for two short paragraphs I had gotten a very striking and amazing image in my mind when I read them. I had been looking at your work for a while now and I plan on getting your first book soon. Just wanted to say to keep at it! I hope to see all the Phantammeron books someday sitting on my bookshelf and on other’s as well. I am working on my own mythopoeic work and it has been nice to see another person with such a passion for the art as I do. Have a good day/night/whatever time it is!

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