My question to poets: If English is accentual in nature because of its Germanic roots, why wouldn't the contemporary poet be more playful with and conscious of the accentual nature of our language? Once I've learned scansion, the fun of the beat seems an irresistible toy. If a poet were, say a drummer, and poetic meter the drum, wouldn't he/she just be itching to play that instrument?
The following I quote from the revised edition of Paul Fussell's "Poetic Meter and Poetic Form":
"I think very few people can manage free verse," says Auden. You need an infallible ear, like D.H. Lawrence, to determine where the lines should end."
Free verse-despite its name-follows its own more-or-less strict imperatives. Two of these are instantly obvious to ear and eye. The free-verse poem establishes a texture without metrical regularity--measurable meter is as much an anomaly in free-verse poem as the want of it is in a metered poem. . . .
A lot of people take the term free verse literally, with the result that there is more bad free verse written today than one can easily shake a stick at. Most of it hopes to recommend itself by deploying vaguely surrealistic images in unmetered colloquial idiom to urge acceptable opinions: that sex is a fine thing, that accurate perception is better than dull, that youth is probably a nicer condition than age, that there is more to things than their appearances . . . .Yet what is lamentably missing is the art that makes poems re-readable (italics mine) once we have fathomed what they "say."
Indeed, free verse without subtle dynamics has become the received, standard contemporary style, as John Hollander notices: "A the present time in the United States, there is a widespread, received free-verse style marked by a narrow (25-30 em) format, strong use of line-ending as a syntactical marker, etc., which plays about the same role in the ascent to paradise as the received Longfellow style did a century ago." Or, we can add, as the received mechanical heroic-couplet style two centuries ago. But the principle of excellence in each of these styles is the same, and it can be perceived and enjoyed by anyone who will take a little time.
The principle is that every technical gesture in a poem must justify itself in meaning. Which is to say that the free-verse writer can proclaim . . . that he is "released from forms," but he'd better not be. In free verse the abandonment of capital letters and punctuation must say something consonant with what the predications in the poem are saying. The sudden shortening of a line must say something. The degree of line-integrity or enjambment must refract the rhetorical status of the poem's address. And any momentary deviation into meter must validate itself, must appear not a lapse but a significant bold stroke. For the reader to attend to things like these may be harder than for him to respond to, say, a skillfully reversed foot in a metered line. But he must learn to attend to them if he is to take a pleasure less doctrinal than artistic in the poetry of his own time.
Question: If contemporary poetry is as much for the eye, what happens at readings when the listeners cannot see the ampersands?! I realize one pauses slightly at the sentence ending, but we can't see the nontraditional puncuation. How do you express the unconventional in the reading?
Causes Belle Yang Supports
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