“The Ant Mansion,” one of the longer prose poems included in Bly’s volume The Morning Glory (1975), contains a short narrative in which the poet, after waking in his sleeping bag, takes a walk through the forest. He comes upon a “wood chunk” that has started to decay, providing a home to a colony of ants. He takes the object home and, after studying it, begins to speculate on its significance as a metaphor for human existence.

This poem, as well as the entire collection The Morning Glory, was the culmination of a series of poems Bly began in the early 1970’s. After his psychological journeys in Sleepers Joining Hands, Bly began to experiment with the form he called the “prose poem,” a form the French poet Charles-Pierre Baudelaire claimed would be the major poetic form of the twentieth century. The prose poem offered Bly several new options, introducing new elements into his poetry. First, it introduced the element of plot—the poems became more narrative in nature. Second, the emphasis was not on the form at all but on the content—not on the language, but on the thought. Third, it allowed Bly the best medium in which to write what had been called, for lack of a better phrase, the “thing poem,” or the object poem.

In his essay “The Prose Poem as an Evolving Form” (1986), Bly points out that the main difference between usual poetic forms and the prose form is that the basic unit of the usual poem is the line. In the case of the prose...

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