Dr Cassandra Atherton is an award-winning writer, academic and critic. She was a Harvard Visiting Scholar in English in 2016 and a Visiting Fellow at Sophia University, Tokyo in 2014. She has published 17 critical and creative books and is the successful recipient of more than 15 national and international grants and awards. Her most recent books of prose poetry are Trace (Finlay Lloyd), Exhumed (Grand Parade) and Pikadon (Mountains Brown Press). She recently received an Australia Council Grant to write a book of prose poetry on the Hiroshima Maidens and is co-writing a scholarly book on prose poetry with Paul Hetherington for Princeton University Press.

Paul Hetherington is Professor of Writing at the University of Canberra and head of the International Poetry Studies Institute there. He has published twelve full-length collections of poetry, including Burnt Umber (UWAP, 2016), Gallery of Antique Art (RWP, 2016) and Íkaros (RWP, 2017). He won the 2014 Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards (poetry), was commended in the 2016 Newcastle Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the 2017 Kenneth Slessor Prize. In 2015-16 he undertook an Australia Council for the Arts Residency at the BR Whiting Studio in Rome. He is one of the founding editors of the international online journal Axon: Creative Explorations.

The Ordinary and the Unreal

American and Australian prose poetry

The prose poem, Silliman notes, is ‘perfect for hallucinated, fantastic and dreamlike contents, for pieces with multiple locales and times squeezed into few words’ (1989: 81). This, he argues, is because the quotidian nature of prose is often unexpectedly subverted by encounters with the magnificent. This paper uses Silliman’s assertion as a starting point to discuss the way in which the American tradition of surrealist prose poetry employs recurring demotic elements – such as dalliance and anecdotes – to introduce the extraordinary. This, in turn, creates a comic or absurdist dimension in such works, underscoring one of the paradoxes at the heart of the prose poetry form. We argue that the coupling of the quotidian with the surreal in prose poetry creates and exploits a comic tension, focusing the reader on the impossibility of objectivity and adding a piquant playfulness to the serious issues such poems canvass. This paper will discuss prose poems by American prose poets Russell Edson and Charles Simic. It will also briefly analyse three Australian prose poems. These works indicate that surrealist prose poetry in Australia tends to be focused on a fusing of the laconic with the savage in its in its appeal to humour.