Here is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while – recommend Measure and a couple of poets within.
Measure is one of the few journals devoted to publishing poetry in meter and rhyme – published by the University of Evansville Press. In the name of supporting the journal, I’ve included address, subscription info and submission guidelines at the bottom.
The poetry, by the way, isn’t as fraught as their cover art. “Fraught” cover art seems to be all the rage among poetry journals these days – at least the ones I”m familiar with. I let a subscription to Poets & Writers Magazine expire when, for a year, every single cover had a distressed, pensive, burdened-by-the-weight-of-their-own-profundity, poet on it. Seriously.
All of the poets in Measure possess an enjoyable gift for language, can write elegantly, skillfully and succinctly within a form, but some of the poets offer more than a melodious line and exposition.
Some Poets to Watch
Peter Swanson: A Distant Figure P. 128
The poem is written in 5 sextains. Swanson uses off-rhyme which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t – being the nature of off-rhyme. (The rhyme scheme fades in and out.) Dickinson’s poems feel this way to me too.
The meter of the poem is Iambic Tetrameter – on the conservative side with just a handful of variant feet. No complaint – just observing. In addition to his skillful use of meter and phrasing, his poetry offers fresh imagery and figurative language.
Love this image:
…in her wake
The light, a thousand nickles, fall
As though each wheeling stroke unfurls
A broken sun upon the lake.
Swanson falls back on the all too metrically convenient upon – a usage I’ve criticized in Stallings’ poetry. It’s an antiquated word and, besides that, Swanson uses the word incorrectly (as many metrical poets do). On and Upon are not always interchangeable. “To indicate a relation between two things, however, instead of between an action and an end point, upon cannot always be used: Hand me the book on (not upon) the table.” – Random House Dictionary. I’ve probably been guilty of it myself at some point.
Here’s some nice figurative language:
So many girls like her…
Into the coddling air…
Coddling air is a nice example of catachresis and personification.
But it’s the aptness of his imagery I enjoy the most. This is a poet who thinks deeply about analogy, simile and metaphor. He doesn’t settle for just any metpahor, but the metaphors he chooses inform the matter of his poetry. There are other examples, but here is the final stanza of his poem in full.
That rock, he knows, will outlast us,
Will feel another century
Of girls declare its back their bed
On summer days. That rock will see
Them burn away to rainbow dust,
Like dragonflies, by winter dead.
The skill of the imagery reminds me of Richard Wilbur, though Swanson’s phrasing is rougher. Setting off rainbow dust with the simile, like dragonflies, by winter dead is a master stroke, capturing the brilliant and moist (rainbow’s are a result of water droplets) beauty of the girl along with the inevitable transient dessication of her beauty. That’s the beauty of a masterful metaphor. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a good metaphor can launch a thousand pictures.
Caki Wilkinson: Two Lullabies Page 150
Wilkinson offers up a pair of poems in ballad meter, two lullabies, one for the “precious child” and one for the “ugly child”. While the poems don’t plumb the depths of human existence, I was tweaked by her imaginitive imagery and acerbic wit. She writes of the precious child:
Tonight you’ll dream of open doors
and scoops of sherbet skies
while schooners sail from distant shores
led by your violet eyes
The imagery in the rest of this first poem to the precious child is comparatively conventional, but these four lines are imaginitive and wild. I liked them. This is a poet with an imagist’s bent. In the Lullaby for the Ugly Child she shows the same imaginative reach, she writes:
she’ll watch the nursury shadows bloom
as auspices of crows.
Dead Matter Page 152
A second poem by Wilkinson, a Shakespearean Sonnet, delights again.
…sycamores unroll their yellow sleeves,
when rust moves through the maple’s palmate veins…
…fruits of labor steep in garbage bags
cooked by the very juices of their birth…
My 0nly complaint, as concerns Wilkinson’s sonnet, is that all but one of her lines are end-stopped. The sonnet gives the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that it was studiously written line by line.
A.M. Juster: No Page 79
This sonnet was the winner of the 2007 Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award.
Of all the sonnets this one was the most expository.
There is no figurative language, no imagery or metaphor. (That the judges chose this sonnet over the others naturally reveals their own predilections.) But the sonnet is masterfully crafted. What I liked most was Justin’s flexible use of enjambment. When reading many poets who write formally, one gets the sense that they write line by line, foot by foot, rhyme by rhyme, until they’ve studiously erected their poem – as if they were painting by numbers. Juster’s thoughts move over the line and through them, and the rhymes give the illusion of sheer happenstance.
Pray. Comfort those
he lacerated. Keep him in your heart,
but use that grief to teach. When you compose
a line, it is a message, not just art.
Alan Sullivan: The Blighted Tree Page 89
This is a lovely sonnet marred only by the end-stopping of all its lines. Where Sullivan’s line lacks flexibility, however, the sonnet’s colorful and straightforward imagery recommends it:
I spare the tree to bear its sweetest fruit –
the last apples, stunted for want of sap,
their savor wrung from dying bough and root.
The Frostian language closes with a lovely couplet:
year after, I shall not tend trees at all
I too have fruit to bear before the fall.
The observation and careful detail make me curious to read other poems by Sullivan.
Info on Measure
Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry
Department of English
University of Evansville
1800 Lincoln Avenue
Evansville, IN 47722
Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry is published in the spring and fall of each year.
One-year subscriptions (2 issues) are $18, two-year subscriptions (4 issues) are $34, and three-year subscriptions (6 issues) are $50. Please add $6 per year for all subscriptions outside the US. Current and back issues are availalbe for $10 each.
Manuscripts must be accompanied by an appropriately-stamped return envelope. Please see our website for complete submission guidelines.
- [The 3rd line in the 4th Stanza should read: Still never makes me wonder less.]
- I changed a line in this poem:
From: From off the floor where still its veins had bled.
To: Off the floor where still its veins bled through.
- I think this was my twentieth try at reading this. What I would really love is for an actress or another reader, a woman preferably, to give it a try. If there are any takers, and if you like the poem enough, let me know.
This is a poem I wrote for my own wedding and had only two days to do it. For the fun of it (and to make it easier) I based it on the Elizabethan model for working out ideas – which they called the Topics of Invention and taught in grade school. (So… the poem has that sound to it). My preamble has actually been a very popular poem and if you would like to use it, please feel free. But I have two favors to ask.
Leave a comment. It will make my day.
Second, if anybody asks, remember where you found it. Be sure to send them here.
[The title says it all. I was invited to write this prologue for a performance by the director and lead actor of Holcroft’s A Tale of Mystery. I no longer remember the actor’s name. I wish I did. If memory serves, the play was not written in heroic couplets or any kind of verse, but I thought writing the prologue this way would set it apart. Much of the subject matter, and even the wording, comes straight from a book on the history of Salem during this period. (I don’t remember the name of the book but found it locally.)
All I did was to versify the book’s prose (changing the prose to rhyming iambic pentameter). Shakespeare used to do this with his own plays – the most famous examples being from Antony & Cleopatra – in which he versified whole passages from Plutarch. If I had it to do again, I probably wouldn’t put this in my book. The couplet: “I only tell it now because it’s sad/ To see what’s good so easily go bad” is execrable. If spoken the way it should be (the actor reading the prologue was the villain of the play), the couplet might come off as humorously trite and mean-spirited – the way it was meant to be. ]