Mass Illuminations: Jennings, Madge, Rimbaud and the 'Popular' Prose Poem

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The importance of the Mass-Observation social research project to post-war British literature can be traced to the founding involvement of two poets, Humphrey Jennings and Charles Madge. Their experimentation with the possibility of a prose-based poetry in the mid-Thirties has already been linked to the example of Surrealism. Here, it is argued that they were also strongly influenced by Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer (1873) and Illuminations (1872-74). Madge’s prose poem ‘Bourgeois News’ uses textual collage to create a Rimbaldian vision of the ‘parade sauvage’ of late imperial Britain, which strikingly anticipates the work of more recent British prose poets such as Rod Mengham and Tony Lopez. In conclusion, archival evidence is used to support the hypothesis that Madge composed an anoymous news article, influenced by his reading of Rimbaud, as an illustration of his belief that newspapers contained the potential for a revolutionary new form of ‘popular poetry’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-65
Number of pages15
JournalCritical Quarterly
Issue number3
Early online date14 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015


  • Prose Poetry
  • Mass Observation
  • Arthur Rimbaud
  • Humphrey Jennings
  • Charles Madge
  • T.S. Eliot
  • Modernism

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