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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > March 2019 > Where the line breaks

Where the line breaks

The best prose poems blend the surreal with the matter-of-fact and create their own new special effects, says Charlotte Runcie

There is no single perfect way to write about the here and now, but writers should always be trying to find it. It’s the major question facing poets, authors and journalists: how can we capture things as they really are? One answer is by using the right form. The poetry critic and academic Jeremy Noel-Tod has edited a new Penguin anthology of a relatively young form of writing—the prose poem. Noel-Tod argues persuasively that the prose poem is “the defining poetic invention of modernity.” “In an age of mass literacy,” he says, “our daily lives are enmeshed in networks of sentences and paragraphs as extensive as any urban grid. The prose poem drives the reading mind beyond the city limits.”

There has been an uptick in the number of prose poems being published in the last 20 years, which leads Noel-Tod to describe them in his introduction as “suddenly everywhere.” Your mileage may vary on the “everywhere,” depending on how many poetry magazines you read, but this book demonstrates that prose poems have been explored seriously by poets of every stripe over the last century and a half, beginning with the French writer Aloysius Bertrand in 1842 and going all the way up to the Kurdish-Syrian poet Golan Haji in 2017. (Given the form’s relative newness, the anthology starts with the most modern poems and then works backwards.) The modes that a prose poem seems to do best, at least the ones included here, are transgressive in spirit: surrealism, dissent, ambivalence, eroticism and horror.

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In Prospect’s March issue: Gaby Hinsliff explains why all sides of the Brexit debate feel like they’re losing. She says that the Brexit war has raged on for two and half years and disfigured British politics in the process, leaving Remainers in mourning and Leavers crying betrayal. Elsewhere in the issue: James Ball, Martin Moore and Barbara Speed examine how we should be less worried about the tech giants Facebook, Amazon and Google and more worried about the data they hold about us. Ball argues that breaking up these huge companies isn’t the answer; Moore asks what would happens when a tech giant wants to run a smart city, and Speed looks at the increasing trend of tracking everything in our daily lives from the amount of water we drink to how many notifications we receive to our smartphone. Also, Rachel Sylvester profiles Sajid Javid, the Cabinet minister positioning himself for the top job.