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Like a porcupine or hedgehog?: The prose poem as post-romantic fragment
journal contributionposted on 2016-07-01, 00:00 authored by Cassandra AthertonCassandra Atherton, P Hetherington
Prose poems are frequently characterised as fragmentary or incomplete in the way that they gesture to a larger, often unnamed, frame of reference; present small, sometimes unfinished narratives which are implied to be parts of larger narrative structures; and are often characterised by considerable indeterminacy. In this respect, it may be argued that prose poetry traces part of its lineage back to Romantic fragment poems—indeed, at least as far back as James Macpherson’s Ossian “translations”. In the Romantic period, fragments were understood as reflecting the idea of the imperfectability of contemporary human existence, aided by the antiquarian attraction of many Romantic writers to the ruins and relics of the classical past and an associated preference for the evocation of notions of infinitude and boundlessness. This paper argues that prose poems gesture to this Romantic genealogy in their concern with openness and diversity, and the reshaping of literary-aesthetic boundaries to metonymically explore incompleteness. The paper takes its name from Friedrich Schelgel’s Igel. Schlegel famously described the fragment as an Igel, or hedgehog, because of its autonomy and isolation from the wider world. One way of understanding the renaissance of the prose poem in the last 35 years, is to apply the Schlegelian metaphor of a hedgehog to contemporary prose poems in order to argue that this hybrid genre remains in dialogue with the fragmented literary works of the past. This paper argues that as prose poetry continues to explore fissured identity and plurality in a postmodern society, it owes a significant debt to postmodernism’s Romantic and fragmented inheritance.