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  • Approaches to Teaching Baudelaire's Prose Poems ed. by Cheryl Krueger
  • Sima Godfrey
Approaches to Teaching Baudelaire's Prose Poems. Edited by Cheryl Krueger. (Approaches to Teaching World Literature, 142.) New York: Modern Language Association, 2017. xiv þ 212 pp.

In this study, Cheryl Krueger brinsgs together a distinguished group of scholars to share critical and pedagogical insight into the collection of Baudelaire's prose poems known as Le Spleen de Paris (1869). Considering that the companion book, Approaches to Teaching Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil was published in 2000 (ed. by Laurence Porter (New York: Modern Language Association)), this new anthology is as welcome as it is overdue, especially given the increased interest in and focus on the prose poems during the past fifty years. After years of having been read as an experimental addendum to the Fleurs du Mal, the generically ambiguous prose poems have emerged definitively from the shadow of Baudelaire's volume of verse. For all its disruptiveness and ironies, Le Spleen de Paris lies at the core of Baudelaire's poetry for the twenty-first century. The spasmodic succession of poems with their fragmentary riffs, narrative anecdotes, ethical fables, and the many disruptive voices one hears are by nature challenging. That Baudelaire invites the reader (via his dedicatee, Arsène Houssaye) to chop the collection up at will and read poems in no particular order does not eliminate the confusion, but does facilitate teaching, as one is under no obligation to look for an 'architecture secrète' (Barbey d'Aurévilly). Commenting on the volume's non-structure, Krueger notes that the reader of these poems is something of a 'page surfer, dipping in at any point, starting and stopping at will' (p. 180), much like the practice of browsing the Internet, where 'tout … y est à la fois tête et queue, alternativement et réciproquement' (Baudelaire, quoted p. 180). Not surprisingly, the poem that solicits the greatest attention is 'Le Mauvais Vitrier', the jarring prose poem in which a (bored, dejected, or perverse) narrator (impoverished city-dweller, or poet in search of the ideal, or Baudelaire) recounts his encounter with a poor glazier (or representative of the proletariat, or realist novelist, or Houssaye, or Baudelaire). The narrative form of the poem makes it particularly accessible to readers. Beyond literary provocation, it reflects, quite literally, the shock of modernity Walter Benjamin found in Baudelaire with the menace of random violence in the streets that twenty-first-century students will recognize all too well. Its 'sensationalism with a vengeance' (Catherine Nesci, p. 173) makes it as irresistible as a fait divers in a tabloid paper. A barometer of our [End Page 612] current moment, the poem is at the heart of Claire Lyu's reading of the phrase 'Qu'importe?', which challenges students to think about the morality of the disaffected response 'Whatever…' (p. 36). It is to the credit of this volume that authors address not only changing ways of writing in the prose poems, but also the changing learning styles of twenty-first-century students, who read these texts and assimilate information digitally. In short, this anthology is a model example of the successful twinning of scholarship and pedagogy. It will be of interest, even indispensable, to anyone teaching Baudelaire's prose poems for the first or the fiftieth time.

Sima Godfrey
University of British Columbia


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pp. 612-613
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