Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium :
poems, mostly metrical, and rants and raves on poets, poetry, and the po-biz



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Mike Snider's Formal Blog at the Sonnetarium

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The End of the Day

Oh who is
so cosy with
despair and
all, they will

not come,
rejuvenated, to
the last spectacle
of the day. Look!

the sun is
sinking, now
gone. Night,

good and sweet
night, good
night, good, good
night, has come.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

One of the things I miss about the Triangle is Quail Ridge Books, which has a larger and more various poetry section than any chain I've ever visited, but last Sunday they didn't yet have Camille Paglia's new anthology. Instead I bought John Hollander's Picture Window and Ted Kooser's Flying at Night, the first 88 pages of which I read while driving back to Maryland on Interstates 85 and 95: they're short poems, for the most part readable at a glance, so it was only mildly crazy. Here's the first poem:

Selecting a Reader

First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on the shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

Not the kind of poem that usually interests me: the line breaks, particularly, seem almost literally artless. But the self(and poetry?)-deprecating sensibility of the poem won me over, perhaps because I'd read about the poem somewhere, recognized it, oh yeah, this is the one I heard about made me interested in him … In any case I kept reading.

He's a Minnesota Nebraska poet, and damned if he didn't remind me of his upper Midwest neighbor Robert Bly:

Late September

Behind each garage a ladder
sleeps in the leaves, its hands
folded across its belly.
There are hundreds of them
in each town, and more
sleeping by haystacks and barns
out in the country—tough old
day laborers, seasoned and wheezy,
drunk on the weather,
sleeping outside with the crickets.

But there's none of Bly's portentousness or pretentiousness, and he's not afraid to be funny:

A Hot Night in Wheat Country

One doctor in a Piper Cub
can wake up everyone in North Dakota.

At the level of an open upstairs window,
a great white plain stretches away—
the naked Methodists
lying on top of their bedding.

The moon covers her eyes with a cloud.

I'm not at all sure that I'll buy more of Kooser's work, but I'm glad to have this. Hollander later.

Update 2005 03 30: Henry Gould was kind enough to remind me that Ted Kooser is from Nebraska, not Minnesota.

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Monday, March 28, 2005

I wrote this Sunday, but couldn't get online with my NC ISP before I had to hit the road back to Maryland, so I'm posting it now.

The Desert City reading last night was pretty darned spectacular. Ken Rumble did his usual (well, I've only seen it three times) fine job of introducing the poets, and may have outdone himself introducing Kent Johnson — hysterically funny bold-faced lies which nevertheless really did introduce the audience to Kent's work.

Patrick Herron began by reading a translation done by Kent from the work of a rebel Salvadoran poet killed by the Somoza military, and continued with his own often funny and very often political poetry, finishing with poems by the puppet Lester Herron. It was a good set — the little eruptions of rhyme and (mostly) doggerel meter made me wish he'd occasionally try those tools for some effect other than satire.

Kent also began with a translation by Kent Johnson (with Forrest Gander), this time of a poem by the Bolivian Jaime Saenz. There are five of these translations here: I'd love to see the Spanish. I was particularly impressed with the poem he read from Doubled Flowering (some discussion of the book here) and the last poem he read, "Baghdad Exceeds Its Object," though for me, at least, the text of the latter gives little clue to the power of Kent's performance.

After the reading many of us went to Laura and Todd Sandvik's home for what I understand is the traditional Blue Door after-reading reading, with drinks and fantastic finger-foods provided, I presume, by the Sandviks. (Thanks!) Eden Osucha read, and one long poem she'd finished that day, about a young man in many ways lost and broke in a laundromat and unable to talk to the woman washing her clothes there, produced the only spontaneous applause of the evening. Very impressive, considering the quality of work all evening.

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Saturday, March 26, 2005

The April Poetry arrived in the mail today, with six poems each by Kay Ryan and A. E. Stallings, two of my favorites. Stallings' "Triolet on a Line Apocryphally Attributed to Martin Luther" comes damn close to making me regret I'm not taking her workshop on "Forms of Repetition" at West Chester this year: it begins "Why should the Devil get all the good tunes, / The booze and the neon and Saturday night, / The swaying in darkness, the lovers like spoons?"

I haven't yet read anything else in the issue. There's another set of essays by non-poets on their experience of poetry, and a set by some of the regular contributors to Poetry. Reviews are by Dan Chiasson — I'm not hopeful. But Ryan and Stallings by themselves make this a great issue.

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Until Arts & Letters Daily pointed me to Clive James' review in the Sunday New York Times book section (here's the link, but it's only good for a few days because of the NYT's obnoxious for-pay-only archive policy), I had no intention of buying Camille Paglia's poetry anthology Break, Blow, Burn. Having read the review, I'll try to buy the book today on my way to Kent Johnson and Patrick Herron's reading in the Desert City series — and I'll certainly be looking for more writing by James. That I don't know him is probably evidence of my literary hick status, having been out of university life for fifteen years and having never lived anywhere near a city big enough to have a real literary scene independent of the academies.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Packing tonight for travel right after work tomorrow — I'll be blogging Friday. Write well.

Moonlit Night

In Fuzhou, far away, my wife is watching
The moon alone tonight, and my thoughts fill
With sadness for my children, who can't think
Of me here in Changan; they're too young still.
Her cloud-soft hair is moist with fragrant mist.
In the clear light her white arms sense the chill.
When will we feel the moonlight dry our tears,
Leaning together on our window-sill?

Du Fu, translated by Vikram Seth, from Three Chinese Poets

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

From a few years ago, I've got another sonnet with an extra foot:


My daughter's learning how the planets dance,
How curtseys to an unseen partner's bow
Are clues that tell an ardent watcher how
To find new worlds in heaven's bleak expanse,
How even flaws in this numerical romance
Are fruitful: patient thought and work allow
Mistake to marry meaning. She writes now
That Tombaugh spotting Pluto wasn't chance.
Beside her, I write, too. Should I do more
Than nudge her at her homework while I try
To master patterns made so long before
My birth that stars since then have left the sky?
I'll never know. But what I try to teach
Is trying. She may grasp what I can't reach.

But I did that on purpose, a little self-referential wink. Tim Steele and Rhina Espaillat both spotted it in a heartbeat, and, for what it's worth, thought it a good idea (though I can't get the thing published). I think what bothers me is that this time I didn't realize I had three supposedly unstressed syllables in a row. Still, you know, I think it has a pentameter feel — all those 'r's and 'l's and long vowels do beg for some kind of elision …

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No one's called me on the extra foot in line one. Of the explanations I can think of, only the last and least likely is at all to my taste, and that not much: no one noticed, no one thought I'd care, the draft's beneath criticism, or I pulled it off by sounding like I know what I'm doing.

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Monday, March 21, 2005

I must have owned the book for at least five years, since it's a 1999 first edition, but I could swear I never read a word from Jaqueline Osherow's Dead Men's Praise until late last night. Wasted years. Here are a few lines from "Views of La Leggenda della Vera Croce," a long poem about a spur-of-the-moment trip to see a series of paintings including one in which a family of Jews—father, mother, two children—are burned alive when the father is accused of desecrating the Host:

I need—as in Arezzo—to close my eyes,

To stop these flames and likenesses from spinning
From the painted to the identical real landscape,
But it's worse with my eyes closed; now they're careening

Around my tight-shut eyelids' burning map—
That red you get when you shut your eyes in sunlight
Consuming the entire extent of Europe—

A continent notoriously profligate
Of knees, heads, fingers, elbows, thighs.
Wasn't this Uccello's greatest insight:

That if you gradually habituate the eyes
They will be capable of watching anything?
I wonder if this came to God as a surprise.

She has a new book available, With a Moon in Transit.

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Forgot to post the drafts yesterday. Seemed longer working on it. Weird that Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" (I know she didn't write it) was part of the inspiration, and probably not so weird that it was part of what steered me away from the poem I thought I was writing.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

I walk a lot here in Southern Maryland, and sometimes (including today) I remember to take my Palm Zire 71 with me so I can take pictures. I've ended up taking a lot of pictures of tiny things, of dead and broken things, and as I walked I wondered "why?" My poems aren't quite as obsessed with death and failure and banality as the pictures I've been taking, but that stuff's surely there. Was I a true grandchild of Baudelaire and Duchamp after all, a younger cousin of Foucault and Derrida?

Nah. There's no way I know of to take a "pretty" picture with the camera on that thing (prettiness is petty anyway) and I can't pretend to beauty in a medium I only play with. The Palm does take extreme closeups — an inch or two — better than all but very expensive cameras, and death is always striking. So I do what I can with the tools I have. It's all any of us can do.

I hope my toolset for poems is better than what I bring to photography, but the poem I made after walking and thinking and showering isn't at all the poem I thought I'd make when I posted earlier today. It's clearly related to that still unwritten poem, though, and here it is:

Grant love is sanctioned lust, glory really shame,
All gods mere nothings formed to justify
Plunder and rape, and beauty just a name
For neurons firing as they're made to lie;
Acknowledge that we'll never know a truth
Worth naming truth and say we're always fools,
Or not quite fools, perhaps, but foolish youth
Reciting history taught in biased schools;
Agree that each of us must actually
Construct the world convenient to our use
And that that use is always death; agree
That any use will be construed abuse.
Accept it all — what difference should it make?
Should I despair for merely half-truth's sake?

First sonnet I've written in a while, and if it stays close to its present form I'll probably use the first clause for a title. I've put the pictures from my walks here. In Maryland I live at the door on the left of the little white building in the middle of this picture. Sometime this week I'll update my links for the blogs I found via the Stick.

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New poetry blogs discovered through the Stick, a breakthrough at work, a fun night jamming at open mic Thursday, a good gig last night with a giant band, and Anthony Hecht's Collected Earlier Poems have restored my spirits. We loaded out our gear at two o'clock this morning so I just got up, but after breakfast and a walk, I've got (a draft of) a poem and a real blog post to write. Gonna be a good day, if the creek don't rise. And tomorrow today's the equinox!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Let it be recorded that scooterdeb passed The Stick to Brian, who passed it to Karma Police, who passed it to Evelio, who passed it to Ivy, who passed it to Suzanne, who passed it to Gina, CDY, and Jeffery — who passed it to Tricia Lockwood, Tony Robinson, and me.

  • You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?
    The poems of Catullus, in the hope they'll slip through once again.
  • Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
    Many times! Harriet Vane was probably the longest lasting (I had a crush on Lord Peter, too), and Jan from Vikram Seth's The Golden Gate the strongest. The most recent was Mary Gentle's Ash.
  • The last book you bought is:
    Four at once: the Penguin Classics edition of Aeschylus's Oresteia, David Ferry's Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations, The Complete Poems of Marianne Moore, and The Devil's Race-Track: Mark Twain's Great Dark Writings.
  • The last book you read:
    Antonio Damasio's Looking for Spinoza is the last one I finished.
  • What are you currently reading?
    The Devil's Race-Track, The Way We Think (Fauconnier and Turner), From Dawn to Decadence (Barzun), The Misanthrope and Tartuffe (trans. Wilbur), Collected Poems of Anne Stevenson 1955-1995, and Disappearing Ink (Gioia).
  • Five books you would take to a deserted island:
    Complete Shakespeare (Riverside ed), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Origin of Species, Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, and Gödel, Escher, Bach.
  • Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
    Hannah Craig, because I want her to post again.
    Michaela Cooper because she wrote a wonderful post on Ozymandias at her previous blog and has pictures of penises on her current blog.
    Jonathan Mayhew because. Just because.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Last Saturday night two drunks jumped me in a very public place: I got a slight cut on the chin (from a ring?) and they went to jail. It was weird and tiresome and I haven't slept worth a damn since. I'll be back to regular posting soon.

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Sunday, March 13, 2005

Friday's Stammer was a blast, in spite of starting a little late because I'd forgotten the PA head and had to race back to the house to get it. Students from a Broughton High School Creative Writing class were among the performers, both in the feature section and in the open mic after our second set; Host Mz Julee and Stammer regulars Langston Fuze and Dasan Ahanu read and performed spoken word pieces; Scott Carey played guitar, effects, and tape loop; Kirk Adam of Glitter Films showed three films, including a hilariously deadpan analysis of the postmodern Graffiti Removal Movement. I took some pics, but the lighting was horrible for the poor little camera in my Palm Pilot. They're all here, anyway, including a fuzzy shot of the Salamanders playing at intermission. Neither bassist David Penny nor flautist Lauren Robbins-Pollack are in that pic, so I added pictures of them in my living room.

It's an entirely different world than the Lucifer Poetics Group tour or the Desert City reading I attended with my wife. Perhaps because there's always an open mic, perhaps because the Stammer at ArtSpace (it travels every other month) is in downtown Raleigh near Shaw University, there's a lot of emphasis on performance and on message: Stammer poets typically have something to say that they damn sure want you to know about and remember. It's not quite slamming, but there's a lot of hiphop rhythm and a lot of rhyme. E. V. Noechel and Durham's Tanya Olson are the only ones I know to swim in both ponds.

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Thursday, March 10, 2005

Tomorrow night my band, The Salamanders, is opening the Raleigh Stammer, a monthly poetry reading and open mic. If you're in the North Carolina Triangle area come on out. I'd love to see you, we're pretty good, and we don't get to play much because of my long-distance life.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2005

"One important change in the foundation of current aesthetic opinion is that the possibility of pure individual agency, basic to the mainstream Romantic fetishization of a poet's unique and metrically untrammeled voice, appears in the light of postmodern theory as a false and dangerous myth. Another idea that is breaking down everywhere is the belief that communication can (or should) be "natural." Replacing it is the conviction that every piece of human creation is inescapably culturally determined, so that the transparent representation of an idea is impossible and all expression is, in a word, artificial. Far from being by definition ignorant or reactionary, then, the unabashedly stylized use of meter reveals itself as perfectly coherent with both of these postmodern principles, and the crucial assumption of epochal inappropriateness becomes an unconvincing aesthetic argument against meter."

Annie Finch, from "In Defense of Meter"

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What we've got here is a post on syllabic verse in English, and those of you who've read these comments at Gary Norris's DagZine will recognize its origin. There are some metricists who do not consider English syllabics to be metrical at all — neither the Poetry Free For All nor Eratosphere will consider them in their metrical forums — but I am not one of them. I have myself written two poems using awdl gywydd, a Welsh syllabic quatrain, seven syllables per line, in which lines one and three cross-rhyme into lines two and four, which in turn rhyme with each other. Sunday night's was written in a fit of pique and shows it, but I like this one.

If, by some wild chance, you're not convinced by my example, consider Richard Wilbur, perhaps the greatest living American poet, and these opening stanzas from a new poem in his Collected Poems 1943-2004, "Sir David Brewster's Toy":

In this tube you see
At the far end a batch of
Colored-glass debris—

Which, however, grows
Upon reflection to an
Intricate pied rose,

Flushed with sun, that might,
Set in some cathedral's wall,
Paraphrase the light.

That's rhyming haiku, a form he's used before, and there's a tanka among the new poems, and these and other syllabic forms are scattered throughout his later work.

Still, the skeptics have a point. In English, and I suspect in any language having a strongly developed stress system combined with lots of diphthongs and habitual elisions, it's very hard to hear syllable counts. Syllables in our language are neither isochronous (are they in any language?) nor do they vary in length in any systematic way. In speech, they often disappear altogether. Even when written, it's sometimes hard to say how many syllables a word has: is "fire" and "higher" a true rhyme? Sometimes, in some dialects. It seems to me that English syllabic lines, unless short and preferably odd-numbered in syllable-count (and rhyme doesn't hurt), are simply imperceptible to listeners and readers who aren't willing to count on their fingers.

That doesn't mean long unrhymed syllabic lines are of no use to poets. One of the functions of meter and other formal devices — too much emphasized in the handbooks these days — is to aid invention, to force the poet out of habitual language and thinking. Marianne Moore may have repudiated syllabics and serially free-versified her poetry, but surely those intricate stanzas were part of what allowed her to make poems in the first place. After complaining for two pages about the diatribe on rhyme in the introduction to Paradise Lost, Johnson acknowledged no one wished Milton had been a rhymer. I certainly don't wish Moore had written iambs.

The more important function of meter, however, one which in our language long syllabic lines cannot fulfill, is to affect a listener or a reader silently voicing the lines. It gives the sounding line more power and makes it more memorable. For that very reason, some poets distrust meter — it can make very silly things sound convincing, at least for a while. But I'll end by once again quoting this passage from the dread Timothy Steele's Missing Measures:

To reiterate a point made earlier, meter is neutral. It is a means by which poets can make what they say more forceful and memorable. Indeed, if poets care about an issue, they should want to give it the best possible treatment. The poet who says his subject is too urgent for meter may be deceiving himself. If we care about what we say, if we want to communicate it to others, if we want them to consider it as having more than ephemeral interest, we should aim to make what we say as memorable as possible.

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Monday, March 7, 2005

Even though I disagree with what he says, Jonathan's to be congratulated on getting the draft finished, and I wish him luck on the translations.

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I've been meaning to highlight this statement from the inestimable Henry Gould:

The major poetry of most eras emphasizes clarity, simplicity, capaciousness : firm literary values upon which the poet can build those chordal layers of connotative meaning and feeling which are capable of moving an audience.

Henry was replying to a repeat run of Ron Silliman's trobar clus foolishness, but it seems to me to answer this and this from Jonathan Mayhew as well.

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Via Poemanias, I've found this tribute site to Michael Donaghy, surely one of the best poets of the late 20th century in English. There's video, audio, and links to poems and transcripts of talks. I met Michael only briefly — at West Chester in 2001 — we played flute and mandolin on the steps of the student center; that night he gave one of the most incredible readings I've ever heard; occasionally he'd send an email about some absurdity or wonder in the poetry world. I'm grateful to Edgar for pointing out the site.

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Via the most excellent Pharyngula, PhaWRONGula: a blog of satirical verse rooted in skepticism and developmental biology. Long may they sing!

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Sunday, March 6, 2005

Consider pomo poets,
Who know it's just all illusion
Knowing truth and only fools
Ignore their school's confusion.

In their inscrutable way
They're sure one day we'll need them.
They can't slip their homespun noose.
What use it is earthly use to read them?

Update 3/7/05: tinker, tinker, scribbble, scribble.

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It took me a long time to get comfortable (didn't say competent) at rhyming. When I first started writing more-or-less (more less than more) metrical poetry I seldom took the trouble to find full rhymes, and whether or not I did, I usually hid the rhymes with violent enjambments. I was even pleased when people would read a poem and tell me admiringly that they didn't notice the rhyme at first: Auden said everyone secretly likes the smell of their own farts, and my readers and I, grad students all, clearly thought rhyming was not so different from farting. I've learned better, but I seem to have forgotten how to do slant rhyme.

That's not quite it: it feels like cheating, even though I know that's silly. I used to use rhyming dictionaries a lot, and that felt like cheating, too. Geek that I am, I still read rhyming dictionaries, but I don't use them when I'm actually working on a poem. Frost said that in well-done rhyme you can't tell which word was thought of first, and sometimes these days even I don't know — they're just there. But this last week, and especially yesterday, as I tried to rework my terza rima murder mystery drafts into slant rhyme, I found myself loading Lexical FreeNet for words that sounded like the word I wanted to pair. God. Maybe it's just practice I need.

It also felt like cat-vacuuming, a term used at the Usenet group rec.arts.sf.composition to mean any of the enormous number of unimportant things you suddenly have to do right-now when you sit down to write. It's not moving the story forward. I think the thing to do is get the practice using slant rhyme by working on the next section of the story, and the next, and the next, and save rewriting for when I have a story to rewrite.

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Links redone. I'm not happy with it, but I don't have the time and probably don't have the skill to do real design on them. Archives are on the right now — in the unlikely event you want to find what I said in March 2003 you can now do it more easily. The categories have changed and several links have moved from one category to another. Within each category, links are in alphabetical order by site name. The POETRY BLOGS list is last because it's so damned long no one would would ever find anything else if it were first. Only Neil Gaiman's blog was deliberately dropped — I haven't visited it for months — so if you notice any links which disappeared or have been damaged through my incompetence please let me know. I've added several poetry blogs: the as far as I can tell anonymous The Quiet One, Martha's Martha's Blog, Chad Parenteau's Freak Machine Press, Joe London's Joe London, Tom Beckett's Vaudeville Without Organs, and Edgar's Poemanias. I've added The Poem: contemporary British and Irish poetry to POETRY SITES & ZINES, Carl Zimmer's The Loom (an evoblog) to NON-POETRY BLOGS, and BrambleStory and Poetry Free For All to WORKSHOPS & CONFERENCES.

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Saturday, March 5, 2005

I'm going to spend the day wrestling with slant rhyme, and if I can get close to a draw, I'll post something later. Whatever the result, when I do cry "Uncle!" I'm going to begin reorganizing the link list. I don't see any practical way to make that list easier to browse, but at least I can move valuable things out of the ghettos I never visit. If you've got suggestions, send them.

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Friday, March 4, 2005

Updated 3/5/05: Changes are marked by strikethroughs and underlining.

Gary Norris asks, and in blogland I appear to be the one to answer these particular questions (in the larger world I'm virtually irrelevant), so here I go:

  1. What poetry isn't metrical?
    • Until about 150 years ago, almost none.
    • Recently, perhaps most poetry in what used to be called the Industrialized World. For an important example, William Carlos Williams's mature poetry is in no meaningful way metrical. Looking ahead to the next question, there is no countable, audible feature of the language which is used a basis for the line in Williams's poetry.
  2. What meter is not based on a count of recurring features of language?
    • None that I know of — with three four important caveats:
      1. Meter is based on counting the audible features of a language. Word counts (unless all the words of a language have the same syllable count), relative line-length given a particular typeface, sentence count, sentence length, vertical displacement on a page — these and similar features may very well be the basis of a prosody, but they cannot determine a meter.
      2. Metrical poetry uses countable language features as a basis for the line, not for the poem as a whole.
      3. Different languages have different features which may be usefully counted. For example, neither pitch nor quantity (syllable-length) vary in any systematic way in English, so English meters cannot be based on those features — Robert Bridges notwithstanding.
      4. The breath is not a countable feature in any language, since it is not a language feature at all but, instead, a feature of a particular person's physiology at a particular time and place.
  3. What purpose does it serve to call Poem A metrical and other Poems non-metrical?
    • An important answer is that it serves no evaluative purpose: metrical poetry is not, by virtue of its being metrical, either better or worse than non-metrical poetry.
    • Nevertheless, it is useful to understand the distinction, since metrical poems in the various meters achieve their rhythmic effects differently from each other and from non-metrical poems. Knowing the difference enables readers to experience the rhythms intended by the poet:
      • Metrical poetry typically builds its rhythms out of the interaction and tension between the nominal meter on the one hand and ordinary speech rhythms and syntax on the other but, when well handled, usually does not, except for comic effect, grossly distort ordinary speech rhythms. In the context of Gary's questions, one important result of this is that, in metrical poetry, there is no necessary pause at the end of a line — enjambment quickens metrical poetry.
      • Non-metrical poetry builds its rhythms in three principal ways:
        1. More or less extended repetitions of particular syntactical structures.
        2. Line breaks chosen so as to stop the line before some important idea or word is expressed, thus emphasizing that idea or word — enjambment slows non-metrical poetry.
        3. Deliberate rupture of ordinary syntax so as to foreground particular sounds, words, or phrases.

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George Wallace, who pointed me toward another rhyming translation of the Divine Comedy, also has a blog I've put in the wrong category and therefore too often miss — he'd mentioned Binyon's translation a year and a half ago. And in one week this February he made at least passing references to Shakespeare, Anthony Burgess, Hunter Thompson, Arthur Miller, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Frank Zappa, John Berryman, Bob Dylan, Dylan Thomas, Anton Checkov, and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and managed a double dactyl on Vladimir Nabokov — who did a prose translation of Eugene Onegin. I've got to rearrange things.

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Thursday, March 3, 2005

As far as I know, Dorothy Sayers is the only 20th century writer who produced a fully rhymed, metrical, terza rima translation of the Divine Comedy in English. It's still in print, and wonderful; it's actually the translation I like best, though there are more than a few forced moves which approach the silly. James Falen, Charles Johnston, Walter Arndt, and Douglas Hofstadter have all translated Eugene Onegin using Pushkin's original 14-line rhymed tetrameter stanza, and all but Arndt's is in print. Vikram Seth used the Onegin stanza in his delightful The Golden Gate, and it's still in print. It's possible there is actually a market for novel-length, full-rhymed, metrical stories.

But I can't think of any others from the last century. Glyn Maxwell's Time's Fool is terza rima, but the rhymes are almost never full. Both of Fred Turner's epics, The New World and Genesis, are unrhymed, as is Andrew Hudgins's After the Lost War. I'm working on one, so far in full-rhyme (snippets here and here), but I'm thinking it might be better to use slant rhyme most of the time and full rhyme for climactic moments, or perhaps for the ends of sections, the way Shakespeare would end a blank verse scene with a rhymed couplet. (Right. Just that way.) But I also think maybe I'm just finding it damned hard to do and looking for a way out. Does anyone know of other examples I could read?

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Wednesday, March 2, 2005

A sample from 44 Sonnets — one of the sonnet-almost-every-day poems I wrote in January and February of last year, considerably revised:

Walking at Lunchtime With an iPod On Patuxent River Naval Air Station

That swan's not native, either, but I'm cold,
While he, so nonchalantly graceful, rides
This slate-grey inlet rimmed in manifold
Frail icy layers piled by waves and tides.
My playlist's poetry, while overhead
A T-2 Buckeye loses altitude,
Dragging "a flower like a froth, and dead"
Through chaos to "DNA molecule is the nude …"
And here, beside unswerving coon tracks, lies
A duck encased in ice. I stoop to see
What happened, but I can't. That's no surprise.
I play at death in code and poetry.
Stiff-kneed, I stand and prod it with my shoe
Before returning to the work I do.

Drafts here.

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About a month ago, Mary Agner also posted on Anne Stevenson: here, here, and here.

In a bit of shameless self-promotion, I'll mention Mary had some very kind words about my 44 Sonnets, as did Jason Stuart at Grim Pen and Ivy Alvarez, who was kind enough to mention it again today with a link, and who has her own fine chapbook what's wrong, with cover by Christine Hamm. You can get your handsewn (but laser-printed) 44 Sonnets for three bucks or a trade.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Anne Stevenson will be the keynote speaker at this year's West Chester University Poetry Conference. I didn't remember reading anything of hers (it turns out I had: "The Trouble with a Word like Formalism," in Annie Finch's After New Formalism), so I went to the St Mary's College library and checked out her Collected Poems 1955-1995 and a book of essays, Between the Iceberg and the Ship. The next day I ordered both.

One essay in particular, "The Way You Say the World Is What You Get," has come to mean a lot to me already — for one thing, she pays serious attention to Robert Graves and his engagement with the world, in poetry and life, in contrast to Wallace Stevens, and clearly loves both poets. If the creek don't rise, I'll post a response to that essay this weekend. Meanwhile, here's her poem of the same title:

The way you say the world is what you get.
What's more, you haven't time to change or choose.
The words swim out to pin you in their net

Before you guess you're in the TV set
Lit up and sizzling in unfriendly news.
The mind's machine—and you invented it—

Grinds out the familiar formulae you have to fit,
The ritual syllables you need to use
To charm the world and not be crushed by it.

This cluttered motorway, that screaming jet,
Those crouching skeletons whose eyes accuse,
O see and say them, make yourself forget

The world is vaster than the alphabet
and profligate, and meaner than the muse.
A bauble in the universe? Or shit?

Whichever way, you say the world you get.
Though what there is is always there to lose.
No crimson name redeems the poisoned rose;
The absolute's irrelevant. And yet…

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Today and much of last week Greg Perry has been posting about Richard Wilbur, and comparing his work to that of Weldon Kees. Greg likes Kees better; I'm in no real position to say, since I know only a few poems from Kees. But Wilbur is the poet I most often turn to these days. He has an essential joy in and for the world — without ignoring human evil or natural indifference — that sustains me in my blackest moods. I'll point again to David Mason's review of Wilbur's Collected Poems 1943 2001, which quotes the end of "For C.," a magnificent poem for Wilbur's wife:

We are denied, my love, their fine tristesse
And bittersweet regrets, and cannot share
The frequent vistas of their large despair,
Where love and all are swept to nothingness;
Still, there's a certain scope in that long love
Which constant spirits are the keepers of,
And which, though taken to be tame and staid,
Is a wild sostenuto of the heart,
A passion joined to courtesy and art
Which has the quality of something made,
Like a good fiddle, like the rose's scent,
Like a rose window or the firmament.

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I've got Mark Woods' wonderful wood s lot in the wrong damned list, so I don't visit as often as I should. Today he's posted, among other good things, poetry from and links to Robert Lowell and Howard Nemerov.

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In the unlikely event this is the only poetry blog you've visited for a week or so, you might not know about Tom Beckett's interview of Nick Piombino. Now you have no excuse — go read it.

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Josh Corey quotes just one poem from Ilya Kaminsky, and now I have to go over my budget.

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I like poems that fart and break dishes. My peeve with "experimental" poetry is that too often there's no one there to do the farting nor any dishes to break.

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