Over 40 years
at the cutting edge
of poetry publishing

Matthew Sweeney, from King of a Rainy Country

Author's Preface

I spent some months in Paris during the first half of 2016. While there I set myself the task of responding in a series of prose poems to the edgy city Paris had become, while bouncing off Baudelaire’s posthumously published collection of prose poems, Le Spleen de Paris. Anyone who knows these will agree they read very differently to Baudelaire’s celebrated poems collected in Les Fleurs du Mal. In fact, at first sight, it’s hard to see how the prose things are poems at all. Baudelaire’s own description of them was petits poèmes en prose. This doesn’t mean that he went for a heightened or poetic prose. No, there’s nothing poetic about these prose poems. And the range of the fifty of them in the sequence is wide – sometimes they’re little stories or parables, other times meditations or epiphanies. They can simply be rants or paeans, or slightly extended japes, and yes, frequently they’re funny, which his regular poems never are. Anyway, I was immediately taken with them – I’d never read them before I went to live in Paris. I could see they were nothing like the contemporary prose poem (however one might define that), which in the main has come into existence via the USA (and which I’ve never been wildly enamoured of). Anyway, I took the decision to model my efforts as much as I could on Baudelaire’s pieces, and strive for as wide a range as possible. Reading his, I never knew what was coming next, and I wanted some of the same effect. Sometimes I stayed quite close to Baudelaire, so that the result could be seen as a translation, almost, or at least a version. Other times, I tried to come up with something original, but very much along the lines of something Baudelaire had done. And there was a third category where I felt I was entering into dialogue with Baudelaire (‘Pied-Noir’ included in PN Review 238, Vol. 44 No. 2, Nov-Dec 2017 would be one of those) – the piece in itself might bear no resemblance to any of his prose poems, but might be written in a way that was appropriate to how he’d operated. I did not attempt or feel able to respond to all of Baudelaire’s prose poems (for a start, he was frequently misogynistic, which made me wary) but I endeavoured to cover as much of his sequence as possible, and to have in the end fifty pieces in my own sequence, as well.