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Family Portrait

Family Portrait

Family Portrait: American Prose Poetry 1900-1950

Edited by Robert Alexander

Most readers assume that American prose poetry began in the 1960s but in fact it has a strong tradition reaching back to the first half of the 20th century. Much of this work appeared in literary magazines and has never been collected. The anthology collects over 60 voices including such well-known figures as Sherwood Anderson, Paul Bowles, Kay Boyle, E.E. Cummings, H.D., Robert Duncan, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Earnest Hemingway, Amy Lowell, Kenneth Patchen, Laura Riding Jackson, Gertrude Stein, Jean Toomer, Thorton Wilder and William Carlos Williams. Margueritte Murphy's scholarly Introduction sets the stage for this collection which traces the history of American prose poetry from 1900-1950.

About the Editor

Robert Alexander is the Founder and Series Editor of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series. After receiving his Ph.D. in English from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, he worked for many years as a freelance editor. From 1993-1999, he was a consulting editor at New Rivers Press, and from 1999-2001 he served as New Rivers' creative director. He is the author of two books of poetry, White Pine Sucker River and What the Raven Said; and a book of creative nonfiction, Five Forks: Waterloo of the Confederacy. He divides his time between southern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Visit the editor's website.

Family Portrait contains work by 30 authors, including Sherwood Anderson, Holly Beye, Paul Bowles, Kay Boyle, Harry Crosby, e. e. cummings, H. D., Robert Duncan,T. S. Eliot, Mary Fabilli, William Faulkner, Charles Henri Ford, Jane Heap, Ernest Hemingway, Fenton Johnson, Amy Lowell, Robert McAlmon, Kenneth Patchen, Laura Riding, Edouard Roditi, Gertrude Stein, Jean Toomer, and William Carlos Williams. Introduction by Margueritte Murphy, afterword by Robert Alexander. 



Think of the origins of the prose poem, and what comes to mind? Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations? Comte de Lautreamont’s Les Chants de Maldoror? Aloysius Bertrand’s Gaspard de la Nuit? Charles Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen? With the French dominating our collective consciousness, it may be hard to believe that many American Modernist writers were also pioneers of the prose poem, but Robert Alexander proves this is the case in his anthology Family Portrait… Anyone interested in the roots of the prose poem will find this anthology a major contribution to the field. The essays by Margueritte S. Murphy and Alexander complement the selections, as do the contributor notes. Family Portrait brings many new members into the prose poem genealogy and challenges our assumptions about this simple yet profound literary form.
— John Bradley, Rain Taxi
Family Portrait, edited by Robert Alexander, is a must-read book for American prose poets and those who seek to study and understand the genre’s tradition and reach in the country. This is particularly true because of the myth that it emphatically busts: that prose poetry is of predominantly European lineage, the spawn of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs de Mal (1846) imported into America in the 1970s through academic circles. The prose poem’s history in America is vastly more rich than I had known before picking up this book… Family Portrait succeeds because it gives us a sense of this full range of the prose poem’s stylistic and strategic arsenal, and selects them from a time before the form was even recognizable… Now that it’s on my shelves, I will always know where to find it whenever I feel the desire to dig around in the tradition—an unexpectedly rich one, as this book tells us—of a form I hold dear.
— Steven Wingate, Gently Read Literature
This particular collection brilliantly edited by Robert Alexander is a wonder, a joy, and possibly a trip down through the first fifty years of the 20th Century in verse.… There is more joy and pleasure in this collection of prose poems than two rides on the Ferris wheel or a live concert of rock music pounding on the stages of America at this very moment.
— Maurice Kenny, The Blueline Review
Family Portrait contains a rich variety of American voices—the well-known side by side with the completely new—speaking from their shared time and their individual sensibilities in language that ranges from the straightforward folksy talk set down by William Carlos Williams to the provocative linguistic disjunctions of Gertrude Stein and E. E. Cummings. This volume provides a delightfully colorful, eye-opening, and essential addition to our library of American literature.
— Lydia Davis
Once again, we have Robert Alexander to thank for expanding our vision of the tradition of American prose poetry. Fifteen years ago, his co-edited anthology The Party Train demonstrated a tradition that pre-dated the poetic experimentations of the1960s and the 1976 publication of Michael Benedikt’s The Prose Poem: An International Anthology, long considered the gateway to contemporary interest in the form in English.

In Family Portrait, Alexander’s vision is solidified, clearly demonstrating the roots of prose poetry taking hold in the early years of American Modernism. This volume offers an invaluable selection of prose poems by a broad array of writers born before 1925, including William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, Kay Boyle, Laura Riding and Kenneth Patchen. As importantly, Margueritte Murphy’s introduction and Alexander’s afterword provide the aesthetic framework and historical context for the poems, together making a solid case for the importance of prose poetry to the American literary canon.

The prose poems of these Modernist writers illuminate not only the particularly supple strength of American language, but also how the form itself, ‘the child of two worlds (in Alexander’s words), ‘serves to bring together, at long last, the sacred and mundane.
— Holly Iglesias
I thought the last thing we needed was another anthology of prose poetry, but I was woefully wrong. Alexander’s choices of American prose poems between 1900 and 1950 prove the genre, in many different guises, was preparing itself to be honed by the masters of the 1960s. If you have any doubt the prose poem was flourishing over this fifty-year period, ‘Hysteria’ by T.S. Eliott, ‘Family Portrait’ by Kenneth Patchen, a number of short beauties by Fenton Johnson (among many other startling entries), suggest otherwise. If you need to be further convinced, Marguerite Murphy’s excellent introduction fills a gap in prose-poem criticism that was sorely needed. As a bonus we get Alexander’s witty afterward, tracing one’s man’s personal history writing prose poems, grappling with all the complexities of the genre. This is a book I’ll be returning to often and with pleasure, and anyone who has ever considered writing prose poetry should be familiar with it.
— Peter Johnson
Family Portrait doesn’t just rewrite the history of the prose poem in America—it sets the record straight. Robert Alexander has done a great service for everyone who loves this sinewy, quirky, delicious form. Margueritte Murphy’s scholarly Introduction sets the stage for a book that traces the history of American prose poetry from 1900-1950. Simply put, this collection belongs on every poet’s—and poetry lover’s—bookshelf. From here forward, no one will be able to write about the prose poem without referencing Family Portrait.
— Peter Connders

Release DateNovember 2012




Dimensions6.2 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches

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