Rhyme and Meter Online: March 8, 2009

  • As with last week, many discussions on various forums which, though interesting, are too changeable to reference.
  • If any readers would like to recommend sites or blogs please do! Feel free to recommend your own blog or poem if you like but please don’t post your poem in the comment field (provide a link and the first lines).
  • Search terms used to find these posts: Rhyme, Meter, Formal, Formalist, Poetry

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Poetics and Ruminations

Robert Lowell from Soup to Nuts

Robert  Lowell  began as an arch-formalist deeply indebted to the Modernists, in particular his teacher John Crowe Ransom, and  his mentor-friend Allen Tate, both members of the so-called “Fugitive” poets of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Ransom was himself a leading member of the formalist New Critics, and the precepts he held close to his heart were those of the English Renaissance and the “Metaphysical” poets of the 17th-century.

Birthday of Richard Wilbur

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Structure & Surprise: Engaging Poetic Turns

The Structure-Form Distinction

Perhaps you asked yourself about content, and so you discovered that you like a wide variety of topics in your poems: desire, death, hope, nature, relationships, nightingales.  Perhaps you asked yourself about form, and so you discovered that you like a lot of forms—a lot of sonnets, some villanelles, a smattering of sestinas.  But one question you probably didn’t ask yourself was: do these poems turn?  If this question, which likely only arose if you had a number of sonnets on your list, in fact seems strange, then it is imperative to investigate this strangeness for it indicates that the turn, a significant shift in the poem’s rhetorical progress, which is so vital in poetry, is rarely recognized as such.

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Today’s Woman writing Community

Writing Advice: How To Write Great Children’s Poetry and Rhyming Stories


Children love rhyme. The rhythm of the text, the way the words bounce off the tongue can be especially appealing to young children who are mastering language and reading. There are two vehicles for verse in the children’s market: poetry and rhyming stories. Both have special guidelines.

Rhyming Stories. Often at writers’ conferences editors will say they don’t like stories with rhyming text. That’s not exactly true — rhyming stories are published all the time. What these editors are really objecting to is bad rhyming text. Too many writers try to copy Dr. Seuss, the master of the rhymed story. They imitate the form of his work but not the substance. The rhyme is a vehicle to tell the story, not the other way around. It must still follow all the rules of a good picture book: a strong opening, believable characters, an interesting plot, a satisfying ending. Every word must advance the story – you can’t throw in extra phrases simply to complete the rhyme. Consider the opening lines of The Cat in the Hat. In eight short lines Dr. Seuss establishes setting, mood and conflict. Few books written in prose do so much with so little…

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Poemshape

W.B. Yeats & Long Legged Fly: Meaning & Meter


The supreme act of creation, the genius of mind, moves outside its own awareness – becomes like the long legged fly that moves upon the stream or the the source of being and mind. It must not be observed lest the mind too, become aware of itself, and so slip from the supple surface of its contemplation. The beautiful metaphor of the fly upon the stream is Yeats’ expression of true genius – the state in which great art is produced…

(G)reatness & Style: Jack Stillinger on John Keats

…my feeling is that content (great in thought or otherwise) has all too readily been equated and conflated with (G)reat Poetry. There’s a difference (or at least one is inclined to assume so) given the broader public disregard of contemporary poets in favor of poets like Keats, Dickinson, Frost, Shakespeare, Millay and Cummings – all poets who were and are famous not just for their ideas, but for their poetry (the language and style in which they expressed their ideas).

What is: Heroic Couplets

The term Heroic refers to Iambic Pentameter and Couplets refers to any two, paired, rhyming lines.

Open Heroic Couplets: Open Heroic couplets are rhyming couplets that are enjambed.

Closed Heroic Couplets: Closed Heroic couplets are rhyming couplets that are, first and foremost, syntactically discrete, meaning that each couplet is end-stopped with the end-of-couplet rhyme…

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suite101.com

Understanding Emily Dickinson’s Wild Nights


The poem’s final stanza deepens the enigma that is Emily Dickinson. A little less than a year after the poem was allegedly written, Dickinson largely disappeared from society. She became a local Amherst eccentric, always dressed in white. Near the end of her life, she shunned company of any kind. This image of Dickinson, along with her austere portrait, taken at the age of 18 at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, have jointly impressed on readers the notion of the poet’s ascetic restraint. But “Wild Nights” depicts a more radiant inner existence, to which she has allowed readers only a glimpse.

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How to write heroic couplets

Heroic couplets were once the epitome of poetry. If you had to read Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales.you’ve read heroic couplets. Poets used this form not just for “regular” poetry, but for social commentaries, arguments, political dissertationsanything and everything you could think of was put into heroic couplet form. It’s name was even derived from the distinguished and loft subject matter often contained in it’s verses. This form of poetry was immensely popular until about the end of the 18th century…

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TimesOnline

Poetry is the cornerstone of civilisation


You can’t teach being a poet, you can’t train to be one. I was once a judge in a poetry competition, and I can’t tell you how many people who aren’t poets write it. I have yet to hear a convincing explanation of where poetry comes from and how it arrives, but I do know it is the highest calling of a cerebral, emotional, aesthetic existence. Poetry, along with dancing and drumming, is probably the most ancient of all our arts. There was rhythm and rhyme before written language. Its meter resonates from our own heartbeats to make stories. Before somebody wrote down Homer’s Iliad, it was memorised and repeated. Poems lit up the memory of our collective past, told us who we were and where we came from, and they still do…

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Delight in Disorder

Imperfections and inconsistencies can enhance the appeal of a person, a place, a thing, an action, an idea, and so on. For example, an imperfection—a crack—helps make the Liberty Bell one of Philadelphia’s most popular tourist attractions. Likewise, a very noticeable imperfection helps make the Leaning Tower of Pisa one of Italy’s foremost tourist draws….

….A single mole on the cheek of a beautiful woman tends to increase rather than diminish her beauty. And graying temples can turn a middle-aged man into a distinguished gentleman…

W.B. Yeats & Long Legged Fly: Meaning & Meter

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Some Good References

I’ve been wanting to study some Yeats.

Many of his greatest poems are written using regular metrical patterns like blank verse, where the metrical pattern doesn’t vary from line to line, but many more aren’t. These poems are like Emily Dickinson’s – poems based on ballad meter. Ireland is famous for its ballads and folk songs and Yeats must have heard them frequently – if only on the evidence of the forms he used. Here is the poem before my own annotations. A scansion of the poem follows later.

That civilization may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
(Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.)

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most gently if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That nobody looks; her feet
Practise a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.
(Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.)

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope’s chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on that scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo.
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.
(Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.)

I’ve ordered a book by Helen Vendler, Our Secret Discipline: Yeats and Lyric Form,  but haven’t recieved it yet. vendler-on-yeatsI’ll be interested in seeing what she says about Long Legged Fly. Her book has recieved some mixed reviews, some bad, one reviewer finding the book as “dry as chalkdust”, but she’s the only critics, to my knowledge, that has tackled Yeats’ use of form. John Unterecker’s A Reader’s Guide to W.B. Yeats is useless in regard to Yeats’ formal practice. His book is more of a biographical overview of the better poems – their inspiration, meaning and symbolism. A very good book if that’s what you’re looking for (if you can get past the god-awful cover – below left).

So… I’m going to take a stab at the form Yeats used in Long Legged Fly. If reading Vendler persuades me I have missed something or gotten something wrong, I’ll make a note of it.

On the Poem

The poem is written in three stanzas and the metrical form of each Stanza is cut from the same cloth –  though each is more freely varied than would have been acceptable by the generation of poets immediately preceeding Yeats (the Victorians).  While contempories were veering off into free verse, YUnterecker on Yeatseats was content to continue working flexibly within the varied forms he had inherited. It was said that he would sit and hum to himself as he shaped the meter and rhythm of his lines.

In each of the stanza, Yeats folds his poetry around the creative spark – the genius of  mind. In the first is Ceasar, in the second Helen, and the third Michelangelo. Interestingly, Yeats doesn’t confine himself to artists – Ceasar wasn’t; neither was Helen. In one sense, Yeats could be celebrating the genius creativity as being more than just the province of the artist. On the other hand, Yeats could also be suggesting that all human endeavors, whether Ceasar’s territorial, empire-building ambition which Yeats frames as “civilization” (perhaps man’s greatest collective accomplishment), or Helen’s physical grace and beauty, are expressions of artistic genius and creativity. The meaning could be either or could be both. Unlike some analysts, I like to think that the goal is not to guess at what Yeats intended,  but to offer the possibilities presented by the poem itself.

The dog and pony are tethered far from Caesar’s hearing. The work of man, and by extension mankind, will not tolerate the presence of animals. Helen, for her part, represents a nexus through which history will move because of her beauty and grace. Without her, history cannot act on human events and cannot inspire Homer, Virgil or Christopher Marlowe to write about them. With this in mind, it may be deliberate that Yeats paraphrases Christopher Marlowe’s play Doctor Faustus.

FAUSTUS. Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless  towers of Ilium–
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.–
[Kisses her.]
Her lips suck forth my soul:  see, where it flies!–
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wertenberg be sack’d;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appear’d to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa’s azur’d arms;
And none but thou shalt be my paramour!

Perhaps Yeats is suggesting that it is through her, symbolically a woman’s beauty, that art is made possible – that Marlowe’s lines were made possible. But, like Caesar, that creative act of her self-making, the making of her beauty,  cannot be disturbed – needs quiet, needs silence for her genius to express itself. But perhaps Yeats intends another sense too. Describing her as three-parts child, one part woman, Yeats describes her innocence. She thinks that nobody looks. Her creative act is pure, without guile, without knowledge of the lascivious observer. Like the long legged fly upon the stream, her mind moves upon silence.

The reference to her picking up  a tinker shuffle on the street, could be a reference to the poem itself – a poem based on ballad meter, one  that Yeats could have picked up on the street. In this sense, Yeats could be treating  Helen as the muse of poetry, shaping a simple rhythm into a poetry that will shape history and men’s thoughts. She becomes a sort of patron Saint of poetry.

In the final stanza Yeats suggests Michelangelo’s creation of David. Michelangelo is the indisputably great artist – the only Artist of the three. But Yeats writes about more than Michelangelo. Michelangelo’s art will inspire a sexual awareness such that ” “the girls at puberty may find the first Adam in their thought”. It is, like the creative act of Caesar and Helen, a nexus of through which history will act, through which their will be further creation – procreation of the girls and their lovers – the single most profound and powerful act of creation which mankind is capable of.

So it is that Yeats moves from the creation of civilization through arms, the creation of art in symbolically graceful and beautiful Helen, to the great procreative act – the creation of ourselves. In this guise, perhaps, Yeats might have intended Michelangelo to symbolize God’s own creation of man, or better, man’s own re-creation of himself.

But keep the children out.

Curiously, Yeats must have known there would be no children in the Pope’s Chapel – no girls. I’m inclined to think that, by children, Yeats was referring to the Pope, (along with his attendant Bishops, etc…) This would imply a criticism of religion. The Pope and his attendants, the “children”, would presumably interfere with Michelangelo’s creative genius. That is, Michelangelo’s work was not meant for them, the unimaginative and spiritually naive “children” of the church, but for the pubescent girls – who would immediately, if instinctively, comprehend the meaning (the creative power and genius) of Michelangelo’s work. They, the girls, would understand what the children, the Pope and the Bishops, could not.

The supreme act of creation, the genius of mind, moves outside its own awareness – becomes like the long legged fly that moves upon the stream or the the source of being and mind. It must not be observed lest the mind too, become aware of itself, and so slip from the supple surface of its contemplation. The beautiful metaphor of the fly upon the stream is Yeats’ expression of true genius – the state in which great art is produced.  Though the maps are spread before him, Caesar gazes on nothing.

The Meter of the Poem

To me, the meter of the poem is the most interesting part of it. I love to study how poets vary their lines.

Here is a first scansion. This scansion guesses that Yeats was varying not just metrical feet, but their count within each line.

Anapests are in blue. Trochaic Feet are red. Feminine Endings are Green. Anapestic Feminine Endings (of which there are two) are marked with blue and green. Headless feet are orange. Phyric feet are yellow. (The color coding is my own scheme. As far as  Iknow, I’ m the first to ever try it. I think it helps readers to see how poets varied meter.)

Scansion: Long Legged Fly


Unless there’s some Regular Irish ballad meter I don’t know about (I’m hardly an expert on Irish literature) I would say that the form is Yeats’ own creation (though based on ballad meter). The first four lines are similar to ballad meter (as opposed to Common Meter – see my post on Dickinson). The syllabic count of Common Meter is strict 8/6/8/6 and Iambic . The rhyme scheme is ABAB. Ballad Meter is less strict. Syllables count less. What matters is the number of metrical feet per line 4/3/4/3 – generally Iambic Tetrameter alternating with Iambic Trimeter. Variant feet (anapests) are common in Ballad Meter and the rhyme scheme of Ballad Meter is also looser – ABXB (which is the rhyme scheme Yeats uses).

There are actually some recordings of Yeats reading his own poetry. Here’s one of him reading The Lake Isle of Innesfree.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear the water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

And here is Yeats defending his chant-like readings (for which he was sometimes criticized).

To be honest, I don’t know what Yeats intended. It was clear, however, that he took meter very seriously.  What’s hard is discerning, in the case of Long Legged Fly, which meter he was taking seriously. If he was hearing ballad meter (and varying the feet on that basis) then one ought to scan the lines as alternating between Tetrameter and Trimeter (rather than Dimeter) – since the number of metrical feet per line is what matters in Ballad Meter.

That civilization may not sink,
Its | great bat|tle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To | a dis|tant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where |the maps |are spread,
His |eyes fixed |upon no-thing,
A hand |un-der |his head.

(Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.)

This scansion reads the variant lines as having headless lines, rather than anapests. The first foot of the respective lines would be interpreted as iambic feet missing an unstressed syllable (headless). The advantage to this reading is that it retains the underlying metrical alternation (between tetrameter and trimeter) of a recognized ballad meter (at least in the first four lines). The next four lines 4/3/3/3 before the refrain are of Yeats’ own creation. (The whole of it, in fact, is probably a nonce form – meaning that the form was created to suit the poem.) Still, there is an underlying pattern, and regularizing the number of metrical feet is a recognition of it. And there’s also Yeats’ rhyme scheme. The rhyme scheme is typical of ballad meter, so why not the meter? All in all, the second scansion assumes a regular pattern from which Yeats varied. The readings regularizes the number of metrical feet per line. Here is the alternate scansion in whole:

Long Legged Fly - Ballad Meter Scansion

The metrical foot pattern of each stanza (as opposed to the syllabic count) is as follows:

4/3/4/3/4/3/3/3

Followed by the Refrain:

5/2

Note: I could also read the final line of the refrain as:

His | mind moves | upon si-lence

This, to me, stretches credibility. But then again, listening to Yeats read, it’s possible. He was nothing if not eccentric. It would make the refrain a 5/3 pattern, in keeping with the other Trimeter lines.

That said, the scansion is probably the least important element of this poem. Altering the scansion doesn’t alter the poems’s meaning but does alter the emphasis within the respective lines. Either way, Yeats’ modern sensibility, his willingness to flex regular metrical patterns almost beyond recognition, is apparent. His ear for the elegantly varied metrical line was part and parcel of his unique genius.

Be sure and comment if you found this interesting!

(G)reatness & Style: Jack Stillinger on John Keats

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Apropos to my previous post on (G)reatness and the Language of Poetry, I was reading Jack Stillinger’s Introduction to Keats’ Complete Poems and ran across the following two paragraphs.

The content of Keats’ best poems, if reduced to their themes, would be, just as with the best work of Shakespeare and Dickens, quite banal (“life is very difficult,” “the imagination is not to be relied on,” “everything has to die,” “nature consoles”). john-keats-stillingerBut Keats concerns with dreaming, illusion, problems of time and mortality, and the pleasure-pain compexity of life should not be translated in this way; they give a pleasurable and requisite seriousness of content to the poems, but they cannot be taken as equivalent of the poems. The same may be said of the most characteristic tensions in the poems – the conflicting claims of human and immortal realms of existence, the opposition of attitudes toward the actual and the ideal. These provide structure and dramatic conflict, but they are not the equivalent of the poems either. And the ideas and tensions cannot be invoked to account for Keats’s sudden rise to greatness in the poems of the last nine months of his career, because they are in his work all along, from late 1816 to the end. Something else is needed to explain the excellence of his mature poetry.

That “something else,” I suggest, is Keats’ style. This is a topic that was comprehensively considered in the 1940s (by W.J. Bate and R.H. Fogle in particular) but has been relatively slighted in more recent decades, possibly because critics have become increasingly aware of the methodological difficulties seemingly inherent in stylistic analysis of a literary text. Nowadays there is a great deal of argument about what “style” is and where it resides, if at all, in literary works. But it is still practically useful, while the debate goes on, to retain a concept of style in the old-fashioned sense of “mode of expression,” referring to such things as choice of words and images, sentence structure, rhythms and sound patterns, figures of speech. These fundamentals are, or used to be, taught in a freshman Introduction to Poetry, with textbook like James R. Kreuzer’s Elements of Poetry or Laurence Perrine’s Sound and Sense. It would be a mistake, to underestimate the importance of these elements in literary art. All works have subject matter, themes, structures, incidents, ideas, and feelings; it is ultimately the language in which these are contained and transmitted that makes some works more pleasing and more moving that others.

And it is this “something else” that seems to be missing from most of the poetry of the latter 20th Century and presently. Perhaps this “something else” has been undervalued?

As it stands, my feeling is that content (great in thought or otherwise) has all too readily been equated and conflated with (G)reat Poetry. There’s a difference (or at least one is inclined to assume so) given the broader public disregard of contemporary poets in favor of poets like Keats, Dickinson, Frost, Shakespeare, Millay and Cummings – all poets who were and are famous not just for their ideas, but for their poetry (the language and style in which they expressed their ideas).

Style doesn’t have to mean Meter or Rhyme. Whitman rejected meter and rhyme – but there’s no confusing his verse with the prose of a novelist. His rich rhetorical patterning more than offset the absence of rhyme or meter. He was a stylist in as full and rich a sense as Browning or Tennyson, his contemporaries. I can’t claim to have read even a fraction of a fraction of all the poetry that is being printed and published everyday, so maybe there’s a poet, or poets, who display a command of language and style that elevates their ideas to great poetry. I keep looking every day.

Write (G)reatly!

About Heroic Couplets

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Heroic Couplets

The term Heroic refers to Iambic Pentameter and Couplets refers to any two, paired, rhyming lines.

Open Heroic Couplets: Open Heroic couplets are rhyming couplets that are enjambed.

Closed Heroic Couplets: Closed Heroic couplets are rhyming couplets that are, first and foremost, syntactically discrete, meaning that each couplet is end-stopped with the end-of-couplet rhyme.

Open Heroic Couplets

Open Heroic Couplets can also be called riding rhyme – a term coined by Puttenham and Gascoigne to describe and differenitate Chaucer’s rhyming heroic couplets from the (in their day) rapidly increasing popularity of Closed Heroic Couplets. I personally love the term riding rhyme and prefer it. One of the first Iambic Pentameter poems I wrote, a fable called the Monkey and the Crane, is written in riding rhymes. The greatest example, in my opinion, was written by Christopher Marlowe – his Hero and Leander.

kit-marloweAt Sestos Hero dwelt; Hero the fair,
Whom young Apollo courted for her hair,
And offered as a dower his burning throne,
Where she should sit for men to gaze upon.
The outside of her garments were of lawn,
The lining purple silk, with gilt stars drawn;
Her wide sleeves green, and bordered with a grove,
Where Venus in her naked glory strove
To please the careless and disdainful eyes
Of proud Adonis, that before her lies.
Her kirtle blue, whereon was many a stain,
Made with the blood of wretched lovers slain.
Upon her head she ware a myrtle wreath,
From whence her veil reached to the ground beneath.
Her veil was artificial flowers and leaves
Whose workmanship both man and beast deceives.
Many would praise the sweet smell as she passed,
When ’twas the odour which her breath forth cast;
And there for honey bees have sought in vain,
And, beat from thence, have lighted there again.
About her neck hung chains of pebblestone,
Which, lightened by her neck, like diamonds shone.

While Marlowe is fairly conservative with his enjambment (he was murdered at the start of his career), notice the following lines:

Her wide sleeves green, and bordered with a grove,
Where Venus in her naked glory strove
To please
the careless and disdainful eyes
Of proud Adonis

The end-of-couplet strove is enjambed, it’s syntactic and phrasal sense carries over into the next line. In poetic terms, there is no caesura or pause after strove, usually indicated by punctuation. This, in a nutshell, is what typifies Open Heroic Couplets. By way of comparison, take a look at the opening to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (the poet who was the first, as far as we know, to make use the form. )

Marlowe was murdered (a great reckoning in a little room as Shakespeare called it) before he could complete Hero and Leander. George Chapman picked up where Marlowe left off (completing Hero and Leander), not the genius that Marlowe was, but a fine poet nonetheless. Chapman’s own heroic couplets further break down the formality of a coinciding rhyme and pause. See Chapman’s Odyssey as well. Ben Jonson and John Donne were also writing heroic couplets during this period and, if you like the form, they’re worth reading.  By the mid-sixteenth century the presence of couplets were almost made invisible – thought and sense flowed from one line to the next without any relationship to the couplets.

This evolution of the open heroic couplet, as such, reach a kind of apogee in Chamberlayne’s Romance (book length) Pharonnida, written in 1659. Because of literature like this, the open heroic couplet also came to be known as the romance couplet. It was a model that Milton would later reject when he chose a verse form for Paradise Lost. He wanted to write an Epic, not a romance.

That all changed with the Restoration.

Closed Herioc Couplets

Closed and Open Heroic Couplets both got their start at roughly the same time – about 1590 to 1600, when Shakespeare was establishing himself. princeton-encyclopediaThe appearance of heroic couplets was mostly due to a rash of Latin translations during this period – Ovid’s Amores and Heroides along with Martial’s Epigrammation (a tip of the hat to The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics for some of this information). The couplets, in English, were apparenty meant to imitate the Latin distich. A distich is defined as “a unit of verse consisting of two lines, especially as used in Greek and Latin elegiac poetry.” The online Literary Dictionary goes on to say:

distich [dis‐tik], a pair of verse lines, usually making complete sense, as in the closed couplet. The term is most often applied to the Greek verse form in which a dactylic hexameter is followed by a ‘pentameter’ (actually composed of two dactylic half‐lines of two‐and‐a‐half feet each). This form, known as the elegiac distich or elegiac couplet, was used in Greek and Latin verse for elegies and epigrams, and later by some German poets including Goethe.

The  thing to note is that in Latin, the “pair” of verse lines didn’t necessarily rhyme, but they did tend to make a complete and closed syntactic unit which, in and of itself, made complete sense. This is important because this is just the feature which the Restoration Poets like Dryden and Pope, valued above and beyond any other feature of the heroic couplet; and this is precisely what open heroic couplets don’t do. Open Heroic Couplets are, in a sense, an English bastardization of the Latin poetry which initially inspired the form’s rennaisance in the 1590s. The works of Marlowe, Done, Jonson and others were seen as a bastardization.

For their part, the Restoration poets brought a white-hot formality to Closed Heroic Couplets, more closely imitating the spirit of the Latin distich. At no other time in history, to my knowledge, was poetry subject to such a rigorous and complex formality. Dryden  made “definitive use of the caesura in the second and fourth lines” (Princeton p. 523) in addition to emphasizing the couplet and end-of-couplet rhyme with its own caesura. Within the couplet, a whole array of rhetorical grammatical figures were wielded for the sake of balance and elegance: anadiplosis, zeugma, syllepsis, antimetabole, polyptoton, etc…

Here are a couple of examples by the Restoration’s greatest poets:

John DrydenDryden: One Happy Moment

O, no, poor suff’ring Heart, no Change endeavour,
Choose to sustain the smart, rather than leave her;
My ravish’d eyes behold such charms about her,
I can die with her, but not live without her:

One tender Sigh of hers to see me languish,
Will more than pay the price of my past anguish:
Beware, O cruel Fair, how you smile on me,
‘Twas a kind look of yours that has undone me.

Love has in store for me one happy minute,
And She will end my pain who did begin it;
Then no day void of bliss, or pleasure leaving,
Ages shall slide away without perceiving:

Cupid shall guard the door the more to please us,
And keep out Time and Death, when they would seize us:
Time and Death shall depart, and say in flying,
Love has found out a way to live, by dying.

Maybe in some later posts I’ll give these a line by line analysis. For now, just a couple of features worth noting. Notice how all of the end-of-couplet rhymes are end-stopped. Notice, besides that, how all of the lines are end-stopped. Compare this to Thomas Middleton’s Verse of just a generation or so before. They make Middleton look like an Allen Ginsberg. Notice also, especially with Dryden, how you can extract any one of his couplets and they will more or less make a complete syntactical unit.

One tender Sigh of hers to see me languish,
Will more than pay the price of my past anguish:

The verse is regular Iambic Pentameter with some variant, trochaic first feet. Don’t be fooled by the following line, which some might read as follows:

I can die |with her,|| but not live | without her:

Here’s how Dryden means us to read it:

I can | die with | her, but | not live | without her:

When reading poetry, especially, from this period, always try to read with the meter.

The last thing to notice about Dryden’s poem is that, despite the tightly laced poetry, this poem is about sex, sex, sex. The meter itself! Every single line ending is a feminine ending – a sort of metrical double entendre. Every rhyme of the poem is a feminine rhyme (otherwise known as a multiple rhyme) – en-deavor/leave her; please us/seize us.  It is chalk full of pornographic double-entendres. Don’t be fooled by the straight-laced formality of the poetry from this period. Some of the most depraved, erotic and sexual poetry ever written comes from this period.

As an aside: when the Restoration poets did try to write in a form other than Heroic Couplets, as in blank verse, they couldn’t shake (what had become) an instinctive habit of thought. Their habit of writing closed syntactic  ideas every two lines continues to show up in their blank verse like faint shadows ; giving to their blank verse the feeling that it proceeded two lines at a time. For more on this, and Dryden especially, take a look at my post on All for Love & The Modern Formalists.

Alexander Pope

Pope: An Essay on Criticism, 1709

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind,
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;
But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise
New distant scenes of endless science rise!
So pleased at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o’er the vales, and seem to tread the sky,
Th’ eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem the last:
The growing labours of the lengthened way,
Th’ increasing prospect tires our wandering eyes,
Hills peep o’er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!

Pope, as compared to Dryden, preferred a poetry that was less public, more social and personal. You might not think so given these samples, but they’re only two samples. Pope’s poetry, for that reason, is perhaps more approachable than Dryden’s. If you’re going to read any poem from in Closed Heroic Couplets, my advice would be to read The Rape of the Lock.

Here’s the story behind the poem as given in the Twickenham Edition of Pope’s poem:

The families concerned in the Rape of the Lock–the Fermors, Petres, and Carylls–were prominent members of that group of great intermarried Roman Catholic families owning land in the home counties, most of whom came within the circle of Pope’s friends and acquaintances and to whom Pope considered his own family to belong. Some time before 21 March, 1712, when Pope sold his poem to Lintott, Robert, Lord Petre had cut off a lock of Arabella Fermor’s hair, and John Caryll had suggested to Pope that he should write a poem to heal the estrangement that followed between the two families:

The stealing of Miss Belle Fermor’s hair, was taken too seriously, and caused an estrangement between the two families, though they had lived so long in great friendship before. A common acquaintance and well-wisher to both, desired me to write a poem to make a jest of it, and laugh them together again. It was with this view that I wrote the Rape of the Lock.

The incident behind the poem has never been authoritatively tracked down to place and time. It is improbable, but possible, that it happened, as the poem states, at Hampton Court; and the counter-claims of the houses of the Fermors, Petres, or Carylls have never been substantiated.” (Twickenham, Vol II, p. 83)

Was Belinda, as the poem hints, willing to marry the Baron? “Arabella may well have been considered as the possible bride for Lord Petre. The rape of the lock may well have been an incident in the period of circumspection–how thorough such circumspection was likely to be may be gathered from the correspondence of Caryll during 1710-11 when he was choosing a wife for his son. If two such families who ‘had lived so long in friendship before’ are estranged through a fairly trivial incident, it seems there is thunder in the air. All the fun of the poem read very differently when, less than two months before the poem was published, Lord Petre married Catherine Warmsley, a Lancashire heiress some seven or more years younger than Arabella and much richer.”

On Hegemony

Curious to see what other online writers had written on the subject, I ran across the following site – The Heroic Couplet: Its Rhyme and Reason by J. Paul Hunter. His take on the form is a dense, sort of socio-political/socio-aesthetic examination. It’s worth reading if you enjoy this kind of criticism. He makes one assertion that is both true and untrue.

If forms can be hegemonic–and all but prevent meaningful departures–the couplet was such a form; never has any single poetic form before or since dominated the English language (or any other language I know about) so insistently and so thoroughly.

Closed heroic couplets were hegemonic and dominated poetic practice for many decades. However, to say that no other single poetic form before or since has so dominated the English language is to curiously ignore or exclude free-verse. The poets of the heroic couplet could only in their faintest dreams conjure up the triumphant ubiquity and hegemony of free verse! If any age of poetry compared to the Restoration, this is it.

Write (G)reatly!

Rhyme & Meter Online: Sunday March 1, 2009

  • As with last week, many discussions on various forums which, though interesting, are too changeable to reference.
  • If any readers would like to recommend sites or blogs please do! Feel free to recommend your own blog or poem if you like but please don’t post your poem in the comment field (provide a link and the first lines).
  • Search terms used to find these posts: Rhyme, Meter, Formal, Formalist, Poetry

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Mike Snyder’s Formal Blog

…given that a good long narrative is hard enough on its own, given the additional difficulty of making effective use of rhyme and meter (or at least line breaks), and given the common reader’s reaction when he or she sees poetry (you know it’s not “Oh, Goody!”), why the hell does anyone want to write a verse novel?… Why do I want to?

In free verse, the line break is either a purely visual artifact to organize a silent reading (viewing?), or else it’s a rhythmic marker to organize a performance. In either case, it forces the reader to experience language differently than in prose: the rhythm of the sentence is broken; the forward thrust of argument and narrative are diminished…

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Accomodatingly

And the forms which are all over the place right now are forms which emphasize craft, but which don’t require deep acquaintance with pre-modern poetry– they are forms whose difficult requirements don’t include scansion or rhyme. That’s why young poets are (mostly) writing sestinas, pantouns, lipograms, anagrams, alphabetical acrostics, rather than Spenserian stanzas, ottava rima, or rime royal…. Such forms not only allow us to avoid measuring ourselves against Victorians who really knew how to do stuff we haven’t learned…

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Poetry Foundation

Maybe poetry is so marginal, so fragile a commodity, we worry about kicking it when it’s already pretty clearly down. Whatever the reason for our anxiety, the negative review, when it appears in magazines like this one, is often more of an event than it ought to be. But negativity, I’m starting to think, needs to be the poetry reviewer’s natural posture, the default position she assumes before scanning a single line. Because really, approaching every new book with an open mind is as well-meaning but ultimately exhausting as approaching every stranger on the street with open arms…

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PoemShape

…the Romantic Era had begun. This was the beginning of the age that emphasized the pastoral over and above the urban – an intuitive grasp of the world began to supercede the classical emphasis on reason. The world’s natural state was a central metaphor for the Romantics with its the inevitable cycle of creation and loss.

While pursuing discussion on Orr’s article over at A Compulsive Reader, another question occurred to me. Why is it that practically no poets after the moderns seem to be widely read, remembered or recognized by the general, non-poetry reading public. Almost everyone I ask (who maybe reads three or four poems a year) knows of Robert Frost, can name a poem by him and maybe even recite a line or two. No one, (during my unscientific survey), could do the same for any poet of the later generation.

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Sonnets

The sonnet is an old and challenging way to write a poem due to the rules of meter, lines, and rhyme scheme. Probably the most notable sonnet writer in the world is William Shakespeare. But sonnets are still being written today! My aim, dear reader, is for these sample sonnets to inspire you to search for more contemporary sonnets.

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Frederick Turner’s Blog

New research has shown that the prosodic character of spoken language is essential to its meaning.  This is obvious in a tonal language like Chinese, where the very meaning of a word depends on its tone. But English is no less tonal, except that we use tone and pitch not to establish our lexicon but to establish our syntax and logic.  In English we cannot speak a sentence without instinctively giving it a melody—all songwriters understand this.  It is a natural genius that we all possess, and that poets refine and amplify by the arts of meter and rhyme…

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Welcome to Dr. Roger K.A. Allen’s Blog

With regards poetry, this is ephemeral a bit like origami, fresh bread or the morning newspaper. Poetry is meant to be read fresh. Fashions and written expression change. Today’s formless and often artless style would not even be recognised as “poetry” by Shakespeare or Milton. There are no rules now. The bar has been lowered as with our education. Only editors have the divining rods to detect good poetry. Rhyme and meter are gone. It is now McDonald’s poetry a bit like most modern art and modern education. What matters now are content, mood, fuzzy feelings and most of all, what’s in fashion.

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February 26, 2009

Calling on North Shore poets to create


Anyone who feels like saying “Give peace a chance” in meter, rhyme or free verse may submit one poem of 50 lines or fewer to the 10th annual Peace Poetry Contest. The deadline is Friday, April 10.

The contest is sponsored by the Samantha Smith North Shore Chapter of Veterans For Peace. Submissions should focus on the nature and value of peace, and call for an end to war and to violence and hatred in our communities.

Children in grades kindergarten to 12, as well as adults, may participate. A public reading will be held Sunday, April 26, at 2 p.m. at Salem State College.

Only original, previously unpublished compositions will be accepted. Writers, children and adults, should send poems, with contact information, to peacepoetry@massvfp.org, or to: Peace Poetry, Veterans For Peace, P.O. Box 177, Ipswich, MA 01938.

Students should include names of their parents and schools, and a parent or teacher’s phone number and e-mail address for notification.

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Gently Read Literature

One of the remarkable discoveries in Things, for those of us who know only his translations, is that Cole’s own poetry is driven by a pulsing formalism—not only in the taut meters and insistent rhymes, but also in the tendency toward received forms: the villanelle, ghazal, sonnets, sestinas. Though he occasionally lapses into abstractions—as Fried noted, “his embrace of abstraction…can make the eyes cross, at least out of context”—his willingness to “stumble” both into philosophically “abstract” and politically incendiary terrain make him an unusual and courageous contemporary poet…

Keats’ Ode to Autumn

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About Keats’ Ode to Autumn

The Ode to Autumn was the last of the famous odes Keats wrote – and some would argue his greatest. Helen Vendler, a “close reader” who can turn limericks into three hundred page dissertations and the bar room drunks who wrote them into towering geniuses, wrote an exhaustive book on Keats’ odes. odes-of-john-keats1Even if two thirds of her analysis is sheer conjecture, her ebullience and knowledge makes her every sentence worthwhile. You may be no closer to knowing what Keats actually intended, but you can safely skip your MFA.

Vendler writes, for example, that Keats “must have” remembered Coleridge’s Frost at Midnight. Evidently she could find no correspondence suggesting this to be true but, who knows, maybe she’s right.

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple trees, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in the silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet moon.

Vendler then proceeds from the conjectural “must have” to “Keats borrowed” in the next paragraph. So… without clearcut documentation, take what Vendler writes with a grain of salt. Whether or not Keats ever read or knew of Coleridge’s poem should remain conjecture. Nevertheless, what the similarities between these two passages tells us is that the Romantic Era had begun. This was the beginning of the age that emphasized the pastoral over and above the urban – an intuitive grasp of the world began to supercede the classical emphasis on reason. The world’s natural state was a central metaphor for the Romantics with its the inevitable cycle of creation and loss.

My main reason for mentioning Vendler, however, is her assertion that reaping serves Keats as a metaphor, throughout his poetry, for the act of writing:

As the act of conceiving poems is paralleled to natural fruitfulness, his books are the garners into which his grain is gathered. A teeming brain becomes a ripe field; the act of writing is the reaping of that field; to have written all the poems one has been born to write is to have gleaned the full harvest from that teeming brain; and to have compiled one’s poems in books is to have stored away riches.

She continues:

The ode To Autumn… contains Keats’ most reflective view of creativity and art… (p. 234)

Vendler’s entire chapter elaborates on this central premise. She may or may not be right about Keats’ intentions, but in this case at least, Keats’ own letters show that he liked to think along these lines. Vendler’s chapter is worth reading; and even if you don’t read Vendler, knowing this much might help you read the poem in a different light. Keats knows that autumn will inevitably destroy all that he’s found beautiful within the ode, but knows as well that Autumn has its music too – its song, its “wailful choir”, a part of its own dissolution and impossible without it. Autumn must achieve its fruition through its own dissolution. Bear in mind, as well, that Keats knew that he was likely to die when he wrote this poem. The symptoms of his tuberculosis were already underway. Keats once wrote that life was metaphor. Perhaps, with this ode, he is metaphorically describing his own dissolution and the harvesting of his mind – his poetry.

But there’s another possibility – one that possibly sends tenured professors, lit majors and the Helen Vendlers of the world into fits of apoplexy. And that’s that Keats may simply have been writing a beautiful poem. If there was any poet in the history of poetry who could write beautifully for the sake of writing beautifully, that was Keats. His skill with language and imagery rivaled Shakespeare’s. The writing of the “Ode to Autumn” may have given him a venue for an exquisite expression of poetic thought.

Indeed, in a letter to Reynolds written in September of 1819, Keats writes:

‘How beautiful the season is now–How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather–Dian skies–I never liked stubble-fields so much as now–Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow, a stubble-field looks warm–in the same way that some pictures look warm. This struck me so much in my Sunday’s walk that I composed upon it.’

It’s thought that Keats was referring to his Ode to Autumn. He was communicating an ineffable experience through sheer poetic expression. That is, he was communicating an experience, not meaning. Don’t underestimate the genius required to pull this off. The possibility doesn’t diminish the poem one iota. There is not a poet alive today who could accomplish the same feat (though I hope one shows up). By way of analogy – not every line of music in a suite by Bach or  a concerto by Mozart conceals a subtext. It is music – meant to be enjoyed as music. Likewise. Keats’ “Ode to Autumn” may be a kind of music in words. The “point of the poem” is in the beauty of reading or reciting the poem – meant to be enjoyed as a poem. And this was, in fact, an aesthetic pursued by Keats – (see  critics like W.J. Bate and R.H. Fogle). (The poem, in its language and imagery, becomes the embodiment  of its own subject matter.)

It was also an aesthetic that Robert Frost referred to as “a revel in the felicities of language”. He used this phrase in reference to the late E.A. Robinson’s poetry, but it was a felicity he also claimed for himself. In my recent post on Interpreting Frost’s “Stopping by Woods”, I cover some of that ground. As it pertains to this post, the author Mark Richardson offers up  the most pertinent comment:

Frost directs our attention not to the poem’s [Stopping by Woods] theme or content but to its form: the interlocking rhyme among the stanzas. He once remarked to an audience at Bread Loaf, again discouraging biographical or thematic readings of the poem: “If I were reading it for someone else, I’d begin to wonder what he’s up to. See. Not what he means but what he’s up to” (Cook 81). The emphasis is on the performance of the writer and on the act of writing. [p. 191]

Although we have no comparable comment from Keats (to my knowledge) it probably wasn’t necessary for Keats to make it. The whole aesthetic of poetry was different. The successful poem was frequently the one that was aesthetically beautiful – in content and style. In other words, how the poem was written was the message and content. In the case of Ode to Autumn, what makes the poem is it’s style and expression.

Remember, when reading “close readers” like Vendler and others, that unless the interpretation comes from the poets themselves, any interpretive reading is outright conjecture. Period. There is no reason to think that Vendler, in any of her analysis, reflects what Keats actually intended. Vendler spends over 50 pages of prose to unfold a one page poem. There’s not a professor alive who can persuade me that Keats thought all the thoughts Vendler ascribes to him. Not every single line has to mean something.  But… there are other reasons to read Vendler’s book. You will learn a tremendous amount about the philosophical currents of Keats’s day,  what Keats thought along those lines, and how they may relate to his odes.

In the scansion below, I’ve left iambic feet unmarked. The colors of the scansion are as follows: Trochaic Feet are reddish, Spondaic Feet are purplish, Phyrric Feet are yellowish.


Keats: Ode to Autumn Scansion

On the Shape of the Poem

The first thing to notice, as to the form of the poem, is its division into three stanzas. These three stanzas, in turn, most likely find their inspiration in the Petrarachan Sonnet. John Keats - StatueKeats’ temperament (along with the temperament of the era) was ill-suited to the argumentative terseness which the Elizabethans preferred – most perfectly summarized in the Shakesperean Sonnet with the sting of its closing epigrammatic couplet. The Romantics were after a different aesthetic – one of intuition and, in some ways, gnosis.

The stanzas are almost like foreshortened Petrarchan Sonnets. Instead of two quatrains and a concluding sestet, Keats reduces two quatrains to one, and expands the sestet by one line – a septet. In the final stanza, there is even a kind of volta between the quatrain & the final septet, as though the whole of the poem were built on the Petrarchan model but in a much expended form.

The couplet isn’t held off to the end of the poem, as in a Shakespearean Sonnet, but is enclosed within the septet, discouraging the feel of discursiveness (the working out of an idea in the Shakespearean sense). The couplet nonetheless has the effect of subliminally grounding or halting each stanza before the final line. The whole of it produces a kind of nested, self-enclosed completeness – a calm and contemplative feel.

[I love the image at right – the statue of Keats. What a pity that he died so young!]

Writing the Ode to Autumn

The meter of the poem might seem conservative, but in Amy Lowell’s biography on Keats, she finds the following comment from one, Lord Houghton:

Uniformity of metre is so much the rule of English poetry, that, undoubtedly, the carefully varied harmonies of Keats’ verse were disagreeable, even to cultivated readers, often producing exactly the contrary impresssion from what he intended. (p. 500 – John Keats)

Lowell then discusses Keats’ compositional practice. I love it, being a poet. It’s an aspect of biography all too frequently overlooked by biographers who are not themselves (unlike Amy Lowell) poets.

In a letter to Taylor, a confidant of Keats, here is what Keats himself wrote about the composition of poetry:

In poetry I have a few axioms, and you will see how far I am from their centre.
1rst. I think poetry should surprise by a fine excess, and not by singularity; it should strike the reader as a wording of his own highest thoughts, and appear almost a remembrance.
2nd. Its touches of beauty should never be half-way, thereby making the reader breathless, instead of content. The rise, the progress, the setting of Imagery should, like the Sun, come natural to him, shine over him, and set soberly, although in magnificence, leaving him in the luxury of twilight. But it is easier to think what poetry should be than to write it. And this leads me to
Another axiom – That if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all.

There you have it, advice from one of the language’s greates poetic geniuses.

Lowell then provides a description of how Keats first wrote the poem (p. 503). I’ve recreated what the manuscript might have looked like based on her description (I’ve marked additions in Italics):

Who hath not seen thee? For thy haunts are many oft amid thy stores?
Sometimes whoever seeks (for thee abroad) may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor
Thy hair soft lifted by the winnowing wind
While bright the sun slants through the bushy barn
Or sound asleep in a half-reaped field
Or on a half reap’d furrow sound asleep
Dosed with red poppies; while thy sleeping hook
Spares from some slumbrous
Spares some minutes while warm slumbers creep

At this point, Lowell tells us, Keats decides to rewrite what he’s already written:

Who hath not seen thee oft amid they stores?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad my find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor
They hair soft lifted by the winnowing wind
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep
Das’d with the fume of poppies while thy hook
Spares for some slumbrous minutes the next swath
Spares the next swath in all its twined flowers

This insight into Keats’ compositional practice probably won’t be of interest to anyone but other poets and even then, only to poets and readers interested in an older poetic style. One thing to notice is the italicized bushy in the 5th line of the first sketch. Apparently, or so Lowell tells us, Keats’ line read:

While bright the sun slants through the barn

But this line isn’t Iambic Pentameter. It’s missing one foot.It’s Iambic Tetrameter.

While bright | the sun | slants through | the barn

So Keats, almost casually, adds the word bushy before barn. It was a terrible addition and an anemic adjective. Fortunately Keats didn’t keep the line. However, it goes to show how meter can guide the language and subject of the poem in ways that the poetry of free verse does not. Meter frequently forces the poet to rethink first thoughts, to plumb a layer of ingenuity in a way that free verse poets rarely plumb.

Another aspect which Lowell stresses is how Keats plays with the sounds of a given line. She conjectures that the line that began with: Spares from some slumbrous, was to heavy with the consonant m in both some and slumbrous. You can see Keats, she conjectures, tinkering with the line as he tries to eliminate the heavy alliteration.

Reading the Meter

There are only a couple of lines that will trip up a modern reader unfamiliar with Iambic Pentameter:

the-songs-of-spring

Instead, the modern reader would probably be tempted to read the line as follows:

Where are | the songs | of Spring? | Ay, where | are they?

In the first foot, this puts the emphasis on Where rather than are. A trochee in the first foot is an acceptable variant, in Keats’ day, but I suspect Keats meant us to read the line as iambic. Emphasizing are in the last foot, making the last foot a trochee, is an out-and-out no-no – especially in poetry of this time. Keats would never have written a line like this. Just remember Houghton’s comment on Keats’ variants which, by our standards, are dazzlingly mild. A trochee in the final foot would have caused apoplexy. If we read the last foot as iambic, as it should be, then the first foot makes more sense if it is also read as iambic.

Why?

Because it’s a lovely use of meter.

The shift in emphasis (with the same word) between the first and last foot is a virtuosic use of meter and just what we would expect from a poet of Keats’ caliber.

The only line that might be a stumbling block for modern readers is the following:

while-barred-clouds

Readers in Keats’ day would have automatically pronounced the –ed in barred – (even if they no longer pronounced the ending in common parlance). Four hundred years before the full pronunciation of –ed was actually a part of everyday speech. However, the extra syllable never stopped being useful to writers of metrical poetry – and so the full pronunciation of –ed continued as an artifact, a poetic convention, right up to the start of the 20th century.

One last thing I can’t help but notice, having just analyzed Milton’s versifying, is how Milton’s metrical habits seem to have brushed off on Keats. Keats, at different stages of his short career, idolized Milton’s verse. Keats, like Milton, mostly limits trochaic variant feet to the first feet of the lines. Keats, on the other hand, shows a greater willingnes to vary the Iambic Pentameter pattern with Spondaic feet and Phyrrics. This flexibility is probably what Lord Houghton meant when he referred to Keats’ varied harmonies. It’s probably impossible to imagine ourselves back in the day, reading Keats’ poetry the way his contemporaries read them.

Suffice it to say, though these days his verse may seem conventional and conservative, in his own day his metrical style was as unique and unconventional as the language of his poetry.

Write (G)reatly!

IMHO: (G)reatness & the Language of Poetry

On Being Memorable

I’ve been scouring the net for other response’s to Orr’s New York Times Article, where he asks: Where is the ambition? Where are the Great poets?

Orr - On PoetryWhile pursuing discussion on Orr’s article over at A Compulsive Reader, another question occurred to me. Why is it that practically no poets after the moderns seem to be widely read, remembered or recognized by the general, non-poetry reading public. Almost everyone I ask (who maybe reads three or four poems a year) knows of Robert Frost, can name a poem by him and maybe even recite a line or two. No one, (during my unscientific survey), could do the same for any poet of the later generation.

The one clear difference between Frost, Cummings (and Eliot in some cases) is that they wrote Poetry that utilized meter and rhyme to varying degrees. There’s no dispute that meter and rhyme are mnemonic aids. The trick of rhythm and rhyme begins before writing, with the oral tradition. So, the fact of Frost’s popularity is, I think, indisputably linked (though not fully dependent on) his use of meter and rhyme.  His poems are memorable in ways that Ashbery’s poems simply are not.

The Marketplace

There aren’t a lot of Border bookstores or Barnes & Noble bookstores in the smaller malls of the Midwest. Instead, there are shops like Waldenbooks (now owned by Borders), that cater to the very general public. I used to shop at Waldenbooks – the only bookstore close by. I know all about their poetry section. It usually only had four or maybe five books in it. Waldenbooks, unlike Borders and Barnes & Noble (which are still primarily located in urban and metropolitan areas), only buy what they know they can sell.  That said, they are a top-notch barometer of what the wider population typically reads on a daily and weekly basis.

Here’s what I never found on any of their shelves: Language Poets, Avant Gard, Black Mountain Poets, Objectivists,  Beats, etc… none of the various “schools” after the moderns. If anyone reading this can tell me whether this has changed, let me  know. While I was shopping at Waldens, the only free verse poet they  stocked was Walt Whitman. Period. The other poets were Robert Frost, Christina Rosetti, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Shakespeare’s Sonnets, his major plays, maybe Keats, maybe Tennyson.

What do all these poets have in common?

With the exception of Whitman, none of the poets are free verse poets.

Why has the generation of free verse poets that followed the moderns largely failed to appeal to the wider, non-poetry reading, public – why have they failed to capture their imagination and inspire them? Or let me put it another way: Why have they failed to be salable?

If popular appeal is a part of (G)reatness – then the last generation of poets have failed.

In reading the various responses to Orr’s article, almost every individual volunteered a list of poets who Orr could have or should have mentioned. But I can’t think of any two bloggers who agreed on a poet.

A Failure of Aesthetics? Poetry is more than content.

My hunch is that Orr is equating (G)reatness with popular recognition and appeal, which is why he passed over all the poets other bloggers have variously mentioned. That said, Orr studiously avoids defining much of anything –  asking more questions than he answers. He avoids defining what he believes to be (G)reatness in style which, it would seem, ought to be part of the equation. His description is artfully noncommittal:

Generally speaking, though, the style we have in mind tends to be grand, sober, sweeping — unapologetically authoritative and often overtly rhetorical. It’s less likely to involve words like “canary” and “sniffle” and “widget” and more likely to involve words like “nation” and “soul” and “language.”

Ya think?

I’ll go a step a further.

AR Ammons Collected PoetryA poet can’t be (G)reat unless his or her poetry is stylistically (G)reat – and by stylistically (G)reat, his or her poetry must stand apart from prose. It’s not enough to have “great thoughts”. At least in the wider literary marketplace, poetry is judged in part by how and to what degree it differentiates itself from prose. AR Ammons’ poetry attains a level of complexity comparable to that of Stevens, but he lacks Stevens’ melodious line and flare for metaphor and imagery.  His poetry is more like a compressed prose. Meanwhile, the poems widely considered to be Stevens’ best are also, frequently, his most metrical and metaphorical- Sunday Morning and The Idea of Order at Key West.

Shakespeare’s ideas, as Robert Shaw pointed out, are frequently pedestrian, but his language could elevate proverb to profundity. Poetry is more than content. That’s the realm of the novel (which isn’t to say that some novelists aren’t better stylists than others) but that’s not why the broader public reads them. Poetry has to be more than content, or it places itself in direct competition with every other work of prose. What Do We KnowThe results are, simply put, obvious and indisputable. A store like Waldenbooks is stuffed with contemporary novels while its poetry section couldn’t stop a screen door.

When poets adopted free verse, they surrendered the one quality of poetry that, up until then, differentiated it from every other form of writing. And it’s not just rhythm and rhyme that were rejected, but rhetoric and the building of ideas out of metaphor. Walt Whitman, while he rejected rhyme and metrical pattern, remained an intensely rhetorical and figurative poet. In contemporary poetry there is frequently nothing that distinquishes a poem from any given prose paragraph.

Mary Oliver is perhaps among the most salable of modern poets. Her poetry is rich with figurative language, image and metaphor, all immediate and accessible. Her poetry uses language in a way that a novel doesn’t.

Who knows whether Oliver will be counted among the (G)reats?

Maybe her stature will be comparable to Andrew Wyeth, who was favored by the wider public while being largely rejected by art critics, curators and collectors who couldn’t help but interpret Wyeth’s popularity as a rejection of their own increasingly unpopular aesethetics. As it is, I have an uncertain sense of Oliver’s overall popularity.

Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, while it may be held in high regard by fellow poets, must be special-ordered in most smaller book stores while Robert Frost’s poetry can be found in any number of permutations, including children’s books.

Can the contemporary aesthetic of free verse be (G)reat?

Have the poets of the last hundred years legitimized their own aesthetics?

If wider public appeal is any indication, the answer is No. The poets of the last generation have failed to produce a genre that in any way  competes in the marketplace of modern literature. It has failed to inspire the wider public. Rather, the marketplace continues to favor a poetry that is not prose or “lineated prose” – but that is differentiated from prose in all the ways rejected by the generation following the moderns and contemporary poets.

Hey, David Orr!

self-portraitFrom the time that I was a child, I have wanted to do something spectacular.

When I was in grade school and watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, I wanted to be a great astro-physicist. As a young teenager I wanted to be like Bach and Mozart. Then, when I was a sophomore in High School,  I saw a video of Robert Frost reading. From that day on, I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be a great poet. In fact, I wanted to be among the very greatest.

I’ve never thought small.

I wasn’t good with numbers. I wasn’t a good composer. I’m a good carpenter. But poetry…

Orr writes:

“In 2005, Poetry magazine published a round-table discussion entitled (naturally) “Ambition and Greatness,” in which participants were alternately put off by the entire idea of “capital-G Great”

I remember reading the round table discussion Orr describes. I remember wanting to write to the magazine but deciding the frustration would only be compounded by being ignored (or so I decided rightly or wrongly). Orr writes that  no one questioned “the im­plicit premise that greatness isn’t something American poets can take for granted”. And this was the very last thought that occurred to me. As everyone politely corresponded, my very first thought was this:  Why in the hell doesn’t anybody just say: ME! I want to be Great! I am a Great Poet!

As far as I recall, no one (not even respondents in later issues) claimed those laurels. So far, though I’ve searched the Internet, there is still no one who has said, in defiance: Me! I want to be a Great Poet! I remain dumbfounded.

But I understand.

In college, many years ago, I wandered outside with another poet. Just the two of us. It was midwinter. We leaned into a recess of a stone facade. He was a kind of rival-poet. In the dark, the two of us alone, I wanted to confess. I shared with him something I’ve never shared with anyone else since then – until this post.  I said to him:

“I want to be a Great Poet.”

“Not me,” he said. “I just want to be recognized. A professorship in Chicago would be nice.”

I felt like a fool.

I once asked a Chinese co-worker what the Chinese equivalent of Red Riding Hood was. What was their most popular folk tale? There was a tree full of monkeys, she said. One day one of the monkeys decided to see the world. He climbed to the topmost branch and slowly, carefully, poked his head through the canopy. And then she said to me: That was the monkey shot by the hunter.

I get it.

Today, I’m that monkey.

Since nobody at Poetry Magazine had the nerve, desire or arrogance, I’ll be the one.

I’ll not only climb to the top of the tree but I’ll take a flying leap.

I am going to be among the greatest of English Language Poets.

Orr quotes poet David Wojahn as noting that Lowell was “probably the last American poet to aspire to Greatness in the old-­fashioned, capital-G sense.”

He was. (Past Tense.)

And Orr quotes Donald Hall as writing: “It seems to me that contemporary American po­etry is afflicted by modesty of ambition — a modesty, alas, genuine . . . if sometimes accompanied by vast pretense.” What poets should be trying to do, according to Hall, was “to make words that live forever” and “to be as good as Dante.”

I’ve met Donald Hall. I’m not afflicted by a modesty of ambition. I have been afflicted by an absence of opportunity and a slow, methodical creativity. I don’t write quickly. I write each word and line as though it were my last. I can’t fathom how other poets can produce book after book (though I don’t slight them for it). I don’t write quickly.

I know that there will be many who read my poems and dismiss them. I respect that and expect it.

Orr writes: “[A Great Poet] is somebody who takes himself very seriously and demands that we do so as well. Greatness implies scale, and a great poet is a big sensibility writing about big things in a big way.”

Yes. And that’s exactly what I do.

I want to produce work that is “exquisite in its kind”. I want to write poetry that is memorable and that, once heard, is hard to shake loose.

And to all this I add one more thought:

I don’t want to be the “best poet” or the “greatest American poet”. If you are a poet and are reading this: I want you to be a Great Poet too. I’m not out to be a better poet than you or any other poet. No. I am out to be better than myself. And that’s going to take a lifetime…

So.

And I’ve said as much in my Poetry.

Just to be clear. To David Orr, to Poetry Magazine, and to any and all:

I am going to be among the greatest of English Language Poets.

And to any and all: Write (G)reatly!


Vermont Poetry Newsletter February 23 2009

[The Vermont Poetry Newsletter is not issued by me but by Ron Lewis, by whose permission I post this.]

Vermont Poetry Newsletter
Your Poetry & Spoken Word Gateway in the Green Mountain State
February 23, 2009 – In This Issue:

  1. Newsletter Editor’s Note/Notes to Otter Creek Poets
  2. Writing Assignments/Suggestions/Exercises/Prompts
  3. John Engels Memorial Reading
  4. Tony Hoagland Reading in Arlington
  5. New Vermont Lit Journal – The Queen City Review
  6. 2 Publications for Sale by PSOV
  7. Killington Arts Guild Anthology for Sale
  8. St. Michael’s College Visiting Writers Reading Series
  9. “Picture That Poem” Exhibit at SPA
  10. Love and the Night Sky Poetry Contest
  11. New Yorker Magazine Article on John Updike
  12. New York Times Article “The Greatness Game” by David Orr
  13. This Week’s Review: Adrian Blevins
  14. Did You Know? David Budbill – Honorary Doctorate
  15. Ponderings – Funny Vermont Poem
  16. Poetry Quote (Dante)
  17. US Poets Laureate List
  18. Failbetter Poem
  19. Linebreak Poem
  20. American Life in Poetry Poem
  21. Vermont Poets Past and Present Project
  22. Vermont Poet Laureates
  23. Contact Info for Publisher of VPN: Ron Lewis
  24. Year-Round Poetry Workshops in Vermont
  25. Other Poetry Workshops in Vermont
  26. Year-Round Poetry Writing Centers in Vermont
  27. Poetry Event Calendar

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About the Vermont Poetry Newsletter Network

  • The Vermont Poetry Newsletter Network is made up of people of all backgrounds, ages and skills who appreciate the craft of poetry and want to promote it in the beautiful state of Vermont. The network consists of a free e-mail list, an eventual web site, workshops, open mics, poetry performances and other literary events.  The network provides opportunities to meet local poets, talk about and enjoy poetry, and motivate and inspire yourself in whatever writing projects you are involved.

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1.)

Dear Friends of Poetry:

Some of you are still using my old email address of sshortpt@verizon.net or sshortpt@myfairpoint.net, but I’d like all further correspondence to go to my new permanent email address of:

vtpoet@gmail.com

Don’t forget to support your newest additions to Vermont literary magazines, Bloodroot and Queen City Press.  The people behind these sparkling gems have tried very hard to improve the literary world we now enjoy in Vermont.

National Poetry Month (April) is right around the corner.  David Weinstock of the Otter Creek Poets is now asking for suggestions for guest speakers, guest poets, and other events in celebration of the art and its special month.  They writing group has four Thursdays to plan for, April 2, 16, 23 and 30. (April 9 is the first night of Passover.) If you have any interesting program ideas for us to mull over, please let me know and I will pass them on to David.  If you’re a poet and would consider providing a reading or program to the group, again, contact me.

I have begun my new job as the General Manager of Rutland Natural Food Market: The Co-op.  In fact, I’ve already completed my first week of training, with one more to go before the store is handed off to me.  The Vermont Poetry Newsletter is roughly a 6-8 hour exercise for me, so I will be producing it every other week from this date forward.  To put it together and publish it more often than that would simply not be as enjoyable for me, and I fear is that the newsletter might outwardly show that.  I want it to be a source of enjoyment and enlightenment for all of us!

Ron Lewis
VPN Publisher
247-5913

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2.)

THIS WEEK’S WRITING ASSIGNMENT/SUGGESTION/EXERCISE:

EPILOGUE

Those blessèd structures, plot and rhyme—
why are they no help to me now
I want to make
something imagined, not recalled?
I hear the noise of my own voice:
The painter’s vision is not a lens,
it trembles to caress the light.
But sometimes everything I write
with the threadbare art of my eye
seems a snapshot,
lurid, rapid, garish, grouped,
heightened from life,
yet paralyzed by fact.
All’s misalliance.
Yet why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.
We are poor passing facts,
warned by that to give
each figure in the photograph
his living name.

–Robert Lowell,  Day by Day © 1977

ASSIGNMENT: SAY WHAT HAPPENED.

In this late poem, which probably refers to Vermeer’s painting “Officer and Laughing Girl,” American poet Robert Lowell tries to move beyond techniques that no longer serve him and put his faith in clear vision and straight reporting.
Assignment:

1. Start with a sharp, clear, external vision: a memory, a photograph, or a painting.
2. Pray for the grace of accuracy.
3. Say what happened.

(PS: Gracing this assignment was the 1655-1660 oil painting by Jan Vermeer, Officer and Laughing Girl.)

David Weinstock
Feb. 19, 2009

LAST WEEK’S WRITING ASSIGNMENT/SUGGESTION/EXERCISE:

ASSIGNMENT: JUST-SO STORIES, or, HOW THINGS GOT THIS WAY.

The oldest stories we know are an attempt to explain how the world got the way it is. Genesis contains several stories of creation, including a flood story that may have come from earlier Babylonian sources.
Kipling wrote his whimsical Just-So stories about How the Elephant Got His Trunk, and How the Camel Got His Hump.

WRITE ONE YOURSELF: Take something, anything, about the world, or your life, and write a poem or story that tells how things got that way. Feel free to remember, feel free to invent.

HINT: Keep the poem free of apologies, winks, or other tip-offs that you don’t really mean it, because you do.

David Weinstock
02/12/09

Good luck!

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3.)

  • Don’t miss this very important event!  (. . . nor the reading listed immediately after this one!)
  • Please note the change of time for this event (from a 7:00 start, to 7:30)

John Engels Memorial Reading

Wed, Mar 11: Hoehl Welcome Center, St. Michael’s College, Colchester, 7:30 p.m – 9:00 p.m.  John Engels Memorial Reading.  In memory of longtime English Department member (and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet), John Engels (1931-2007) the Department has established an annual  poetry reading. Poet, novelist and essayist David Huddle will give this year’s reading.  The first reading, in 2008, featured former Vermont Poet Laureate Ellen Bryant Voigt.  The English Department Reading Series invites poets, fiction writers, theater troupes, filmmakers, and the like to campus to give readings, talks, performances, screenings etc. In the last few years for example, they’ve hosted the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, novelists including Julia Alvarez, Russell Banks, and Pulitzer-Prize winner E. Annie Proulx, and poets including Pulitzer-Prize winner Louise Gluck, Chase Twitchell, Joy Harjo, and Galway Kinnell. Students are invited to these events, free of charge, and often have the chance to meet and talk to those visitors.  Sponsored by the Lecture Series.

Vermont had a few losses in 2007 and 2008, which were also losses to the entire poetry community.  John Engels, a professor for 45 years at St. Michael’s College, was one of those great losses.  For those of you lucky enough to have clutched a copy for yourself and read through “Remembering John Engels,” you will believe yourself a friend of John’s, as an admirer of his words.  I feel fortunate to have been been both a poet friend of his, as well as a friend of the stream, both of us maintaining a love of fly fishing and fly tying.  If you want to connect or reconnect with John Engels, I would invite you to come to this event, which is sure to be one of those incredible poetry moments.
Directions: FROM EXIT 15, INTERSTATE 89:

Main Entrance – Hoehl Welcome Center

Bear right off of exit 15, Interstate 89. Stay in right lane and follow Route 15 through two lights. After second light bear right into “jug handle” and go through intersection to campus.

The Office of Admission is located in the Hoehl Welcome Center on the left, with visitor’s parking at the entrance.

Attention GPS Users:  If you are using a GPS to direct you to the Office of Admission, please use the address, “One College Parkway Colchester, VT.”  After turning into campus onto Campus Road, bear left, take a left at the stop sign, follow the road through campus going straight through a second stop sign and you will see the Hoehl Welcome Center on the right.

South Entrance

Bear right off of exit 15, Interstate 89 and get into left lane. At first set of lights, take left into parking lot. McCarthy Arts Center is on your right. Ross Sports Center is on the left at the back of the parking lot.

The Hoehl Welcome Center is located at the main entrance of the College, near the College chapel and Alliot Student Center.  If you’ve been on campus, but are unsure where the Welcome Center is, go to this site: http://www.smcvt.edu/tour/campus/hoehl.htm in order to take a virtual tour taken outside of the big bay windows of the Welcome Center.  Seeing this, you should be able to ascertain the correct location of the building for the reading.  See you there!

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4.)
Tony Hoagland coming to Vermont this Friday!!!

Thu, Feb 26: Arlington Memorial High School, Mack Performing Arts Center, 7:00 p.m.  Poet Tony Hoagland.  Tony will be reading from his book, “What Narcissism Means to Me.” The event is free and open to the community. On Friday, February 27, Hoagland will meet with students in the AMHS Poetry class to share stories of his life’s work.  A professor at the University of Houston, Hoagland’s published works include A Change in Plans, Talking to Stay Warm, History of Desire, Sweet Ruin, Donkey Gospel and What Narcissism Means to Me, which was a finalist for the National Books Critics Circle Award.  Hoagland has said that “if I were going to place myself on some aesthetic graph, my dot would be equidistant between Sharon Olds and Frank O’Hara, between confessional (where I started) and the social (where I have aimed myself).”  Hoagland is the recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s 2005 Mark Twain Award in recognition of his contribution to humor in American poetry.  The Poetry Foundations’ Stephen Young says of Hoagland’s writings, “There is nothing escapist or diversionary about Tony Hoagland’s poetry.  Here’s misery, death, envy, hypocrisy, and vanity.  But the still sad music of humanity is played with such a light touch on an instrument so sympathetically tuned that one can’t help but laugh.  Wit and morality rarely consort these days; it’s good to see them happily, often hilariously reunited in this winner’s poetry.”  Arlington Poetry and English teacher Hank Barthel invited Hoagland to speak.  “Tony Hoagland’s poetry speaks to young and old alike.  I heard him speak at the Dodge Poetry Festival, and knew he would bring to AMHS an excitement and attitude that the community can appreciate.”  The recipient of two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and a fellowship to the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Hoagland has received numerous accolades for his work including the 2008 Jackson poetry Prize, James Laughlin Award, Brittingham Prize in Poetry and O.B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize, recognizing a poet’s contribution to teaching as well as to his art.  His Poems and critical writings have appeared in such publications as Poetry Magazine, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, American Poetry Review and Harvard Review.  For more information about Hoagland’s poetry reading, contact Hank Barthel at barthelh@bvsu.org or 375-2589.

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5.)

New Vermont Lit Journal
The Queen City Review

Burlington College’s Queen City Review, whose inaugural issue is labeled as Fall 2008, is a true Vermont gem, as much as is our fall foliage, or a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.  The founding editor, Heidi Berkowitz, who teaches in the college’s Interdisciplinary Studies program and coordinates its writing center, sent me three complementary copies, and I cherish each one.  Dartmouth lecturer Kevin McCarthy, who oversees the poetry, has gone out of his way to make ensure there are no loose gems in this first collection.  The familiar names, or at least they should be familiar to anyone who follows poetry closely, ring out clearly: poetry slam champ Geof Hewitt, fast-rising star Oregonian Matthew Dickman (he was just declared the winner of the 2009 Kate Tufts Discovery Award for his first book All-American Poem, which also won the APR/Honikman First Book Prize, and the inaugural awarding of the May Sarton Award from the American Academy of Arts & Sciences), and several others, including some nice surprises.  Between the lovely color cover, drawn by Aaron Mitton, and its last many brief bios, is a collection that will keep you entertained to the point of energizing you to submit your best unpublished work to them, or pick up your writer’s journal and get to it!  This is a lit journal that I will be glad to share with my close fellow poets, but one they will grudgingly give back to me.

Ron Lewis

Submission Guidelines

The Queen City Review is a yearly journal of art and literature and accepts the work of new and established writers and artists in the areas of poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, memoir, photography, and fine art, as well as essays and criticism on all aspects of the aforementioned. They seek to publish high quality work that ranges broadly in topic and genre.

All submissions and queries should be emailed to:queencityreview@burlington.edu by April 20, 2009.
Their submission period is rolling and accepted writers and artists will be notified by email. All submissions must be in English, formatted in WORD or RTF, and previously unpublished. Please submit no more than three poems at a time, fiction and screenplays under 5000 words, and photography and artwork in JPEG format. Simultaneous submissions are also acceptable as long as they are notified immediately if the manuscript or artwork is accepted for publication elsewhere. Be sure to include phone, address, and e-mail contact information.

The Fall 2008 issue is on sale now. The 2009 issue is slated to come out in early autumn.

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6.)

Support your state poetry association!
PSOV (Poetry Society of Vermont)
Has 2 current books available for sale

1) The Mountain Troubadour – 2008 – Curl up with 44 pages of interesting, award-winning poetry from a wonderful group of poets.  This book is only $8 (+$1 to mail).  To get yourself a copy, call or write to Betty Gaechter, 134 Hitzel Terrace, Rutland, VT 05701, 773-8679.  This little booklet may be just the thing to get you involved with the PSOV for a lifetime of friendships.

2) Brighten the Barn – 60th Anniversary Anthology – 1947-2007 – An Anthology of Poems by Members of the Poetry Society of Vermont.  99 pages of quality poetry; that’s a lot of beautiful poetry for only $12.  If you get it through me (Ron Lewis), it’s only $12.  If you want it shipped to you, the PSOV wants an extra amount to cover tax and shipping ($0.72 + $3.00).  This book retails for $15, but a reduced price is now in play to unload the few remaining copies.

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7.)
KILLINGTON ARTS GUILD POETRY BOOK

Order Form

What one reviewer said about A Gathering of Poets:

“This is a lyrical collection that I will return to read time and again.  Vermont’s striking landscape permeates many of the poems and creates a frame for insightful questions about the paradoxical nature of our lives, here and else- where.  With a great range of subject and technique, they do what poetry does best:  they help me see the exquisiteness of everyday things.”

Ray Hudson, author, Moments Rightly Placed: An Aleutian Memoir

A Gathering of Poets-A Vermont Anthology, 22 poets,  80 pages, 9 x 6, fully bound, color cover by  watercolorist Maurie Harrington based on nature and Killington with pen sketches.

Available pre-publication to the poets and to members of the Killington Arts Guild for
$9.00 plus $2.00 postage (may be purchased at the April 15th KAG meeting for $9 but must
be ordered in advance).  Afterwards, books will retail for $12.00 each plus postage from KAG and at stores and lodges in the area for $12.00 plus tax.

Please send me ___ copies of  A Gathering of Poets for the pre-publication price of $9.00.

Please mail them to me for $2.00 each___ or I will pick up the books in Killington on
April 15th___.and not pay postage.

I  am willing to help with distribution _____.

Name_________________________________

Address_______________________________

Email/Phone___________________________

Call (802) 786-9920 or (802) 422-3824 for more information.
Return this order form with a check made out to KAG, P.O. Box 784, Killington, Vt. 05751

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8.)

St. Michael’s College

THE DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH PRESENTS
Visiting Writers, Spring 2009

FEBRUARY 10.

Poet Verandah Porche will read from her work. 4 pm, Farrell Room.

FEBRUARY 11.

Verandah Porche returns for a workshop titled Told Poetry/Shared Narrative. 5-7 pm, the Center for Women and Gender. Open to students, faculty, and staff. Space limited; email kswartz@smcvt.edu to reserve. Cosponsored by the English Department and the Center for Women and Gender.

FEBRUARY 27.

Novelist Valerie Miner will read from her new novel After Eden. 12 noon, Farrell Room. Cosponsored by the Center for Women and Gender and the English Department.

MARCH 3.

Poet David Cavanagh will read from his work. 4:30 pm, Farrell Room.

MARCH 11.

Poet, novelist, and essayist David Huddle will give this year’s John Engels Memorial Poetry Reading. 7 pm, Hoehl Welcome Center. Sponsored by the Lecture Series.

All readings are free and open to the public.
For more information, call 654-2536.

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9.)
Talking Pictures

“Picture That Poem,” multi-media show examining the relationship between visual imagery and poetry.

Main Floor Gallery, Studio Place Arts, Barre. Through February 28.

By Marc Awodey

The nexus of poetry and visual art encompasses more than vivid verbal imagery. “Picture That Poem,” at Studio Place Arts in Barre, demonstrates how diverse and thought provoking the two arts’ links can be.
SPA is known for strongly curated theme shows, and a great idea makes for a fascinating group exhibition. “Picture That Poem” is built on a fresh notion that gave artists plenty of room for creativity in addressing the call for entries, which requested visual art “utterances” and the poems that inspired them.

Read the rest of the article here.

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10.)

Most poets I know have some poems dedicated to the topic of the night sky.  Being an amateur astronomer myself, I can’t help but write about all the wonders I see through my telescopes.  I happened across a very interesting poetry contest in Maine that some of you might want to explore further.

The Southworth Planetarium at the University of Southern Maine presents:

AMOR ET ASTRA: A Poetry Contest on the theme “Love and the Night Sky.” Deadline April 1, 2009.
Love comes in many forms, and there are no restrictions – the love in the poem might be for a parent or a place, a friend or even for the sky itself. (Adult poets are asked to keep their poems PG-rated.) Prizes will be given in the following age categories: Grade 4 and younger; Grades 5 through 8; Grades 8 through 12; Adult. Winning poets will receive: An invitation to read publicly Friday, May 1, at “Beltane Fires,” one of three annual poetry events held at the planetarium; a commemorative booklet of poetry from the contest. (By entering the contest, you agree to permit Southworth Planetarium to publish your work in this booklet.) How to enter: Each poet enter up to three poems. The entry fee, which benefits educational programs at the planetarium, is $2 per poem or three for $5. Poems will not be submitted for judging until the fee is received. All entry fees must be submitted by check or money order to the address below. Please indicate clearly name of the poet. Poets may submit work electronically to: starpoetry@branchbrookmedia.com in Word, Rich Text Format (RTF), plain text or in the body of an e-mail. Poets may also submit work on paper to: Poetry Contest, c/o Southworth Planetarium, P.O. Box 9300, Portland, ME 04104-9300. Questions, contact Planetarium Manager Edward Gleason, egleason@usm.maine.edu, Jane Raeburn, jane@janeraeburn.com.

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11.)

New worker magazine article on John updike

POSTSCRIPT JOHN UPDIKE
by Adam Gopnik FEBRUARY 9, 2009

John Updike (1932-2009) once said that his first publication and nearly sixty-year-long relationship with this magazine was the great professional event of his life—no, he called it the ecstatic event of his professional life—and he never tired (for younger writers, it was inspiring to see how he never tired) of seeing his prose in Caslon type, his name for all those decades appended to, or, later, preambling, a story or a review in these pages. It was part of the great good luck of this magazine that he needed, or indulged, us, and that his appetites and ambitions matched the dreams of the editors…

Read the rest of the article here.

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12.)
ON POETRY

The New York Times
Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Great(ness) Game

By DAVID ORR

In October, John Ashbery became the first poet to have an edition of his works released by the Library of America in his own lifetime. That honor says a number of things about the state of contemporary poetry — some good, some not so good — but perhaps the most important and disturbing question it raises is this: What will we do when Ashbery and his generation are gone? Because for the first time since the early 19th century, American poetry may be about to run out of greatness…

Read the rest of the article here.

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13.)
THIS WEEK’S REVIEW
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 22, 2009
Poetry That Seizes the Heart and the Funny Bone in a Single Gasp: Adrian Blevins

David Orr’s article in today’s New York Times bemoans the lack of (identifiable) “Great Poets” in today’s writing pantheon. It’s worth reading; my husband Dave and I heard Donald Hall and Liam Rector say much the same thing a couple of years ago at Plymouth State University (NH). I don’t buy the premise — I think that in 25 years, there will be a handful of today’s poets that are consistently held up as the finest, deepest, most rewarding to read. But our vision of that time may be fuzzy…

Read the rest of the article here.

POSTED BY BETH KANELL; for more Blogs, go to http://kingdombks.blogspot.com

(Beth Kanell is from Kingdom Books, which is a specialty mystery, poetry and fine press shop in Vermont.  Beth Kanell, Co-Owner with her husband Dave, is a published author and regularly reviews books for the Vermont Review of Books.  Kingdom Books offers mostly first editions, many signed, and often hosts author events.)

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14.)

Did You Know?

Vermont’s very own David Budbill received an honorary doctorate recently!

An Excerpt from

ON RECEIVING AN HONORARY DOCTOR OF HUMANE LETTERS FROM  NEW ENGLAND COLLEGE

Henniker, New Hampshire
27 January 2009
by
David Budbill

I
I never thought I’d be in a situation like this, not to mention seen in public in a get-up like this. I never thought I’d be a doctor of anything, except maybe Dr. of Nothing, of Emptiness…

Read the rest of the post here.

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15.)

“Ponderings”

Vermont Poem

It’s winter in Vermont
and the gentle breezes blow
seventy miles an hour
at thirty-five blow;
Oh how I love Vermont
when the snow’s up to your butt!
You take a breath of winter air
and your nose gets frozen shut.
Yes, the weather here is wonderful
so I guess I’ll hang around.
I could never leave Vermont
cause I’m frozen to the ground!!

This poem was forwarded to the Vermont News Guide by Doreen Mach.  Hey, we can’t write serious poetry all the time!

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16.)

‘Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.’

Poetry Quote by Dante

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17.)

Poets Laureate of the U.S.A.

  • A Net-annotated list of all the poets who have served the Library of Congress as Consultant (the old title) or Poet Laureate Consultant (the new title). Biographies & general reference sites are linked to the poets’ names — for the recent Laureates these are our own poet profiles with book-buying links at the bottom. Many of the other linked biographies are pages from the Academy of American Poets’ Find a Poet archive, a growing & invaluable resource. If there is no general information site about the poet, we have searched the Net for sample poems or other writings or recordings & listed those below the poet’s name.

Joseph Auslander 1937-41
Allen Tate 1943-44
Robert Penn Warren 1944-45
Louise Bogan 1945-46
Karl Shapiro 1946-47
Robert Lowell 1947-48
Leonie Adams 1948-49
Elizabeth Bishop 1949-50
Conrad Aiken 1950-52 (First to serve two terms)
William Carlos Williams Appointed to serve two terms in 1952 but did not serve — for more on this & other Laureate controversies see the history in Jacket magazine.
Randall Jarrell 1957-58
Robert Frost 1958-59
Richard Eberhart 1959-61
Louis Untermeyer 1961-63
Howard Nemerov 1963-64
Reed Whittemore 1964-65
Stephen Spender 1965-66
James Dickey 1966-68
William Jay Smith 1968-70
William Stafford 1970-71
Josephine Jacobsen 1971-73
Daniel Hoffman 1973-74
Stanley Kunitz 1974-76
Robert Hayden 1976-78
William Meredith 1978-80
Maxine Kumin 1981-82
Anthony Hecht 1982-84
Robert Fitzgerald 1984-85 Appointed and served in a health-limited capacity, but did not come to the Library of Congress
Reed Whittemore 1984-85 Interim Consultant in Poetry
Gwendolyn Brooks 1985-86
Robert Penn Warren 1986-87 First to be designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
Richard Wilbur 1987-88
Howard Nemerov 1988-90
Mark Strand 1990-91
Joseph Brodsky 1991-92
Mona Van Duyn 1992-93
Rita Dove 1993-95
Robert Hass 1995-97
Robert Pinsky 1997-2000
Stanley Kunitz 2000-2001
Billy Collins 2001-2003
Louise Glück 2003-2004
Ted Kooser 2004-2006
Donald Hall 2006-2007
Charles Simic 2007-2008
Kay Ryan 2008-Present

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    18.)

    failbetter.com

    Once Upon a Time
    By Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet

    there was a girl who started reading
    and couldn’t stop. Holed up
    with a stack of books, she laid them out
    where the other girls had dolls, heads…

    Read the rest of the poem here.
    failbetter.com is an online journal that publishes original works of fiction, poetry and art

    Sign up in order to get their online newsletter: http://failbetter.com/29/AboutUs.php

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    19.)

    Linebreak is an online journal with a bias for good poetry. Here is a poem from their web site this week:

    Mother’s Day Omen
    by Michelle Bitting

    Come, love, undress me anyway,
    let your fingers fly
    to my ruddy buttons,
    my lips to your opened
    underworld….

    Read the rest of the poem here.

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    20.)

    American Life in Poetry: Column 204

    BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006
    Memories form around details the way a pearl forms around a grain of sand, and in this commemoration of an anniversary, Cecilia Woloch reaches back to grasp a few details that promise to bring a cherished memory forward, and succeeds in doing so. The poet lives and teaches in southern California.

    Anniversary

    Didn’t I stand there once,
    white-knuckled, gripping the just-lit taper,
    swearing I’d never go back?
    And hadn’t you kissed the rain from my mouth?

    Read the rest of the poem here.

    American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2008 by Cecilia Woloch. Reprinted from “Narcissus,” by Cecilia Woloch, Tupelo Press, Dorset, VT, 2008, by permission of Cecilia Woloch.  Introduction copyright (c) 2009 by The Poetry Foundation.  The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.  We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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    21.)


    KEEP PAST VERMONT POETS ALIVE!  I’M SOLICITING YOUR HELP:

    POETS OF VERMONT PAST AND PRESENT PROJECT

    I’m looking for a copy of:

    1) The Literature of Vermont: A Sampler, University Press of New England, Arthur W. Biddle and Paul A. Eschholz, Editors, 1973
    2) Poets and Poetry of Vermont, by Abby Maria Hemenway, 1858
    3) “Driftwood,” a poetry magazine begun in 1926 by Walter John Coates
    If you have any books of poetry, chapbooks, or just poems written by Vermont poets, dating 1980 and earlier, famous or not, I’d like to know about them.  I’m beginning a project that deals strictly with Vermont poets, from Vermont’s past, with summaries of the poets themselves, a portrait photo or drawing of the poet, along with a small sampling of poems.  If you think you can help, you probably can!  Please contact me by replying to this newsletter.

    Ronald Lewis

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    22.)

    VERMONT POET LAUREATES

    1) Robert Frost – 1961
    2) Galway Kinnell
    3) Louis Glück
    4) Ellen Bryant Voigt
    5) Grace Paley
    6) Ruth Stone

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    23.)
    If you ever have a need to contact me, here’s how to go about doing so:
    Ronald Lewis:
    Phone: 802-247-5913
    Cell: 802-779-5913
    Home: 1211 Forest Dale Road, Brandon, VT 05733
    Email: vtpoet@gmail.com

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    24.)
    YEAR-ROUND POETRY WORKSHOPS IN VERMONT

    BELLOWS FALLS

    1) Great River Arts Institute – See details elsewhere in this newsletter

    2) Poetry Workshop at Village Square Booksellers with Jim Fowler (no relation to owner Pat). The goal of this course is to introduce more people to the art of writing poetry and will include a discussion of modern poetry in various forms and styles. Each week, the course will provide time to share and discuss participant’s poetry. Students should bring a poem and copies to the first class. The course will be limited to 5 to 8 students to allow adequate time to go through everyone’s poetry contributions and will meet in the cafe at Village Square Booksellers. James Fowler, of Charlestown, New Hampshire, has a Masters Degree in Environmental Science with a major in Nature Writing. He was the editor of Heartbeat of New England, a poetry anthology. Fowler has been widely published since 1998 in such journals as Connecticut Review, Quarterly of Light Verse, and Larcom Review. Fowler is a founding member of the River Voices Writer’s Circle, and a regular reader at Village Square Booksellers-River Voices Poetry Readings. The fee for this 6 week Workshop is $100, payable to Mr. Fowler at the first class. Pre-registration for the Poetry Workshop is suggested and may be made by calling Village Square Booksellers at 802-463-9404 or by email at vsbooks@sover.net or jfowler177@comcast.net.

    GUILFORD

    The Guilford Poets Guild, formed in 1998, meets twice a month to critique and support each other’s work. Their series of sponsored readings by well-known poets which began at the Dudley Farm, continues now at the Women and Family Life Center.

    MIDDLEBURY

    1) The Otter Creek Poets offer a poetry workshop every Thursday afternoon, from 1:00 to 3:00 in the basement meeting room of the Ilsley Public Library, 75 Main Street, Middlebury. This workshop, the largest and oldest of its kind in the state, has been meeting weekly for 13 years. Poets of all ages and styles come for peer feedback, encouragement, and optional weekly assignments to get the poetry flowing. Bring a poem or two to share (plus 20 copies). The workshops are led by David Weinstock. There is considerable parking available behind the library, or further down the hill below that parking lot. For more information, call David at 388-6939 or Ron Lewis at 247-5913.

    2) The Spring Street Poets. This group is by invite only and consists of six members, Jennifer Bates, Janet Fancher, Karin Gottshall, Ray Hudson, Mary Pratt and David Weinstock.

    NORWICH

    This group meets on the first Sunday of every month at the Norwich Library, 6:30 p.m.

    PLAINFIELD

    The Wayside Poets share their poetry publicly from time to time. They meet at the Cutler Memorial Library, 151 High Street, Plainfield. Members include Diane Swan, Sherry Olson, Carol Henrikson and Sarah Hooker. You can contact them through Sherry Olson at: solsonvt@aol.com or 454-8026.

    STOWE

    There is another poetry workshop happening in Stowe, but unfortunately I know nothing much about this group. If you do, contact me!

    WAITSFIELD

    The Mad River Poets consists of a handful of poets from the Route 100 corridor. More on this group in the future.

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    25.)
    YEAR-ROUND POETRY WRITING CENTERS IN VERMONT

    WHITE RIVER JUNCTION

    The Writer’s Center is for serious writers and nervous beginners. It’s for procrastinators who could benefit from regular deadlines – and for the prolific who could benefit from quality feedback. It’s for anyone with a manuscript hidden in a drawer, or a life story or poem waiting to be written. It’s for people who don’t know where to start or how to end. And for writers who are doing just fine on their own, but would like the company of other writers.  The Writer’s Center is for anyone who is writing or wants to write.  One of the Center’s consultants is April Ossman (www.aprilossmann.com).  Founded by Joni B. Cole and Sarah Stewart Taylor, the Writer’s Center offers instruction and inspiration through a selection of workshops, discussions, and community. We would love to see you – and your writing – at The Writer’s Center!  For more info, http://www.thewriterscenterwrj.com/.

    UNDERHILL

    Women Writing for (a) Change supports the authentic experience of women who honor themselves through creative writing.  Our community supports reflection as we move into our questions and awaken to change.  Participants enhance expressive skills, strengthen their voices, deepen themselves as women as writers for positive change in all spheres of life.  Creative writing in all genres is our shared vehicle.  Women Writing for (a) Change is for women who, 1) dream of writing for self-discovery, for personal or social healing, 2) hunger for creative process in their lives, 3) yearn to explore their feminine voice, 4) crave reflective, space, and 5) are in transition.  For more information, go to their web site at www.womenwritingVT.com/ or contact Sarah Bartlett at either 899-3772 or sarah@womenwritingvt.com.

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    26.)

    POETRY EVENT CALENDAR

    • Below please find the most current list of poetry happenings in Vermont for the near future.  Please be aware that these events can be found on Poetz.com, but there is usually additional information that is typed here that would be cumbersome to place on Poetz.com.  Please note all events are Vermont-based unless they are of extreme importance or happen to lie just outside our borders.  If you would like to save on paper and ink, please just highlight what you need, or perhaps only events for the coming month, and print that information.

    Poetry EventJan 27-May 10: More Than Bilingual: William Cordova and Major Jackson.  Another Language, Another Soul.  What happens when two languages and two fine arts mingle?  Although Peruvian-born visual artist William Cordova and African-American poet Major Jackson come from divergent backgrounds, both artists find inspiration and common ground in music, literature and the urban aesthetic. The fluency with which they navigate cultural signifiers and media, results in a shared visual multilingualism. The two artists have long admired one another’s work; the Fleming Museum is pleased to bring them together in a collaborative venture for the first time.  Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont Campus, 61 Colchester Avenue, www.uvm.edu/~fleming.

    Wed, Feb 25: Peabody Library, Route 113, Post Mills.  Reception and book signing by the authors of the literary magazine, Bloodroot.  Bloodroot Literary Magazine is a nonprofit publication released each December. Their mission is to provide a journal of high production values and quality material by established and emerging authors.  The 2009 issue of Bloodroot features cover art by Christy Hale and poems, short stories and creative nonfiction by 28 outstanding authors, many of them familiar names here in Vermont – Regina Brault, Carol Milkuhn and Nancy Means Wright.  The book is scheduled to be out and about in mid-December 2008.

    Thu, Feb 26: Arlington Memorial High School, Mack Performing Arts Center, 7:00 p.m.  Poet Tony Hoagland.  Tony will be reading from his book, “What Narcissism Means to Me.” The event is free and open to the community. On Friday, February 27, Hoagland will meet with students in the AMHS Poetry class to share stories of his life’s work.  A professor at the University of Houston, Hoagland’s published works include A Change in Plans, Talking to Stay Warm, History of Desire, Sweet Ruin, Donkey Gospel and What Narcissism Means to Me, which was a finalist for the National Books Critics Circle Award.  Hoagland has said that “if I were going to place myself on some aesthetic graph, my dot would be equidistant between Sharon Olds and Frank O’Hara, between confessional (where I started) and the social (where I have aimed myself).”  Hoagland is the recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s 2005 Mark Twain Award in recognition of his contribution to humor in American poetry.  The Poetry Foundations’ Stephen Young says of Hoagland’s writings, “There is nothing escapist or diversionary about Tony Hoagland’s poetry.  Here’s misery, death, envy, hypocrisy, and vanity.  But the still sad music of humanity is played with such a light touch on an instrument so sympathetically tuned that one can’t help but laugh.  Wit and morality rarely consort these days; it’s good to see them happily, often hilariously reunited in this winner’s poetry.”  Arlington Poetry and English teacher Hank Barthel invited Hoagland to speak.  “Tony Hoagland’s poetry speaks to young and old alike.  I heard him speak at the Dodge Poetry Festival, and knew he would bring to AMHS an excitement and attitude that the community can appreciate.”  The recipient of two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and a fellowship to the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Hoagland has received numerous accolades for his work including the 2008 Jackson poetry Prize, James Laughlin Award, Brittingham Prize in Poetry and O.B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize, recognizing a poet’s contribution to teaching as well as to his art.  His Poems and critical writings have appeared in such publications as Poetry Magazine, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, American Poetry Review and Harvard Review.  For more information about Hoagland’s poetry reading, contact Hank Barthel at barthelh@bvsu.org or 375-2589.

    Sun, Mar 1: Plymouth State University, Smith Recital Hall, Johnson, NH, 7:00 p.m.  Poet C.D. Wright.  2008 – 2009 Eagle Pond Author’s Series.  A compelling and idiosyncratic poet, C.D. Wright has twelve collections including Rising, Falling, Hovering (2008), a weaving of deeply personal and politically ferocious poems;  Deepstep Come Shining and Cooling Time.  Her collaboration with photographer Deborah Luster, One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana was awarded the Dorothea Lange-Paul Tayor Prize.  Her new and selected poems Steal Away was on the shortlist for the Griffin Trust Award.  She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is the Israel J. Kapstein Professor at Brown University.  Free.  (603) 535-5000 to reserve spaces.
    Tue, Mar 3: Farrell Room, St. Michael’s College, 4:30 p.m.  David Cavanaugh.  Local poet David Cavanaugh will read from his work.

    Wed, Mar 4: Monkey House, 30 Main Street, Winooski, 8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.  Poetry Reading.  A new place for poets to read and hear new work.  This is a continuing series happening on alternate Wednesdays.

    Thu, Mar 5: Middlebury College, Abernathy Room, Axinn Center, 4:30-6:30.  Richard Chess was born in Los Angeles. He spent most of his childhood and youth in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He is the author of three books of poetry, Third Temple (2007), Chair in the Desert (2000), and Tekiah (1994). His poems have appeared in many journals as well as several anthologies, including Best American Spiritual Writing 2005 and Telling and Remembering: A Century of American-Jewish Poetry.  An award-winning and much-sought after teacher, he is professor of literature and language at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.  He directs UNCA’s Center for Jewish Studies as well as UNCA’s Creative Writing Program.  He has been a member of the low-residency MFA faculties at Warren Wilson College and Queens College.  He served for a number of years as writer-in-residence at the Brandeis Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, California.  He is now assistant director of The Jewish Arts Institue at Elat Chayyim, located at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center, where he will be teaching creative writing in a two-year training institute that begins in August of 2007.  He is poetry editor of Zeek: A Jewish Journal of Thought and Culture.  He lives in Asheville with his wife, Laurie, and son, Gabe.  His two step-daughters, Alice and Margaret, are currently pursuing their careers elsewhere.  For more info, 443-5276.
    Thu, Mar 5: Parima, 185 Pearl Street, Burlington, 8:45 p.m. -10:00 p.m.  Poetry Jam.  This is a continuing series, happening on alternate Thursdays.

    Fri, Mar 6: Outer Space Café, FlynnDog Gallery, 208 Flynn Avenue, Burlington, 7:00 p.m.  Poet’s Night.  Join in the growing popularity of this continuing series!

    Sun, Mar 8: Warming hut log cabin at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, 54 Elm Street, Woodstock, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Winter Readings in the National Park.  Join a park ranger in sharing short stories and poetry about winter at the ski shelter warming cabin. Bring your own stories and poetry to share or just listen to others readings while enjoying the warmth of the cabin’s woodstove. Hot chocolate will be provided.  Cost: $5.00 trail pass from the Woodstock Inn & Resort Nordic Center.  For info, Tim Maguire at 457-3368 X22 or Tim_maguire@nps.gov.

    Wed, Mar 11: Hoehl Welcome Center, St. Michael’s College, Colchester, 7:30 p.m – 9:00 p.m.  John Engels Memorial Reading.  In memory of longtime English Department member (and Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet), John Engels (1931-2007) the Department has established an annual  poetry reading. Poet, novelist and essayist David Huddle will give this year’s reading.  The first reading, in 2008, featured former Vermont Poet Laureate Ellen Bryant Voigt.  The English Department Reading Series invites poets, fiction writers, theater troupes, filmmakers, and the like to campus to give readings, talks, performances, screenings etc. In the last few years for example, they’ve hosted the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, novelists including Julia Alvarez, Russell Banks, and Pulitzer-Prize winner E. Annie Proulx, and poets including Pulitzer-Prize winner Louise Gluck, Chase Twitchell, Joy Harjo, and Galway Kinnell. Students are invited to these events, free of charge, and often have the chance to meet and talk to those visitors.  Sponsored by the Lecture Series.

    Vermont had a few losses in 2007 and 2008, which were also losses to the entire poetry community.  John Engels, a professor for 45 years at St. Michael’s College, was one of those great losses.  For those of you lucky enough to have clutched a copy for yourself and read through “Remembering John Engels,” you will believe yourself a friend of John’s, as an admirer of his words.  I feel fortunate to have been been both a poet friend of his, as well as a friend of the stream, both of us maintaining a love of fly fishing and fly tying.  If you want to connect or reconnect with John Engels, I would invite you to come to this event, which is sure to be one of those incredible poetry moments.

    Sat, Mar 14: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

    Wed, Mar 18: Monkey House, 30 Main Street, Winooski, 8:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.  Poetry Reading.  A new place for poets to read and hear new work.  This is a continuing series happening on alternate Wednesdays.

    Thu, Mar 19: Parima, 185 Pearl Street, Burlington, 8:45 p.m. -10:00 p.m.  Poetry Jam.  This is a continuing series, happening on alternate Thursdays.

    Thu, Apr 2: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Rosanna Warren to read.  Rosanna Warren was born in Connecticut in 1953. She was educated at Yale (BA 1976) and Johns Hopkins (MA 1980). She is the author of one chapbook of poems (Snow Day, Palaemon Press, 1981), and three collections of poems:  Each Leaf Shines Separate (Norton, 1984), Stained Glass (Norton, 1993, Lamont Poetry Award from the Academy of American Poets), and Departure (Norton, 2003).  She edited and contributed to The Art of Translation:  Voices from the Field (Northeastern, 1989), and has edited three chapbooks of poetry by prisoners. She has won fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, ACLS, The Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Lila Wallace Readers’ Digest Fund, among others.  She has won the Witter Bynner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Lavan Younger Poets’ Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and the Award of Merit in Poetry from The American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2004. She is Emma MacLachlan Metcalf Professor of the Humanities at Boston University.

    Sun, Apr 5: Plymouth State University, Smith Recital Hall, Johnson, NH, 7:00 p.m.  Poet Wesley McNair.  2008 – 2009 Eagle Pond Author’s Series.  Wesley McNair is the recipient of fellowships from the Rockefeller, Fulbright, and Guggenheim Foundations and a United States Artists Fellowship to “America’s finest living artists.” Other honors include the Robert Frost Prize; the Jane Kenyon Award for Outstanding Book of Poetry (for Fire); the Theodore Roethke prize from Poetry Northwest; the Pushcart Prize and the Sarah Josepha Hale Medal.  McNair is currently Professor Emeritus and Writer in Residence at the University of Maine at Farmington.  Free.  (603) 535-5000 to reserve spaces.

    Sat, Apr 11: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

    Mon, Apr 20: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Eric Pankey to read.  Eric Pankey is the author of six books of poetry: Reliquaries, Cenotaph, The Late Romances, Apocrypha, Heartwood and For the New Year. Among his awards are a Guggenheim Fellowship, a NEA Fellowship, the Academy of American Poets’ Walt Whitman Award, and an Ingram Merrill Grant. His work has appeared in many journals, including Partisan Review, The New Yorker, Triquarterly, DoubleTake and The New England Review. He teaches at George Mason University and lives in Fairfax, Virginia.

    Thu, Apr 23: Middlebury College, Robert A. Jones ’59 Conference Room, 4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.  A talk by Adina Hoffman, on her new book, My Happiness Bears no Relation to Happiness: Poet Taha Muhammad Ali and the Palestinian Century, (Yale University Press), the first biography of a Palestinian poet, and the first portrayal of Palestinian literature and culture in the 20th Century. Sponsored by the Program in Jewish Studies, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, and the Middle East Studies Program.  For info, 443-5151, E-mail: schine@middlebury.edu.

    Wed, May 6: Shoreham Historical Society, Shoreham.  David Weinstock, Director of the Otter Creek Poets, will be reading from his collection of poetry.  More details as I learn them.

    Sat, May 9: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

    Thu, May 14: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Michael Harper to read.  Michael S. Harper was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1938. He earned a B.A. and M.A. from what is now known as California State University, and an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. He has taught at Brown since 1970.  Harper has published more than 10 books of poetry, most recently Selected Poems (ARC Publications, 2002); Songlines in Michaeltree: New and Collected Poems (2000); Honorable Amendments (1995); and Healing Song for the Inner Ear (1985). A new poetry collection, Use Trouble, is forthcoming in fall 2008 from The University of Illinois Press.  His other collections include Images of Kin (1977), which won the Melville-Cane Award from the Poetry Society of America and was nominated for the National Book Award; Nightmare Begins Responsibility (1975); History Is Your Heartbeat (1971), which won the Black Academy of Arts and Letters Award for poetry; and Dear John, Dear Coltrane (1970), which was nominated for the National Book Award.  Harper edited the Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown (1980); he is co-editor with Anthony Walton of The Vintage Book of African American Poetry (2000) and Every Shut Eye Ain’t Asleep: An Anthology of Poetry by African Americans Since 1945 (1994), and with Robert B. Stepto of Chant of Saints: A Gathering of Afro-American Literature, Art, and Scholarship (1979).  Harper was the first poet laureate of Rhode Island (1988-1993) and has received many other honors, including a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Award. Harper is also a Phi Beta Kappa scholar, an American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellow, and the recipient of numerous distinctions, including the Robert Hayden Poetry Award from the United Negro College Fund, the Melville-Cane Award, the Claiborne Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the Black Academy of Arts and Letters Award.

    Mon, Jun 1: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Eamon Grennan to read.  Eamon Grennan was born in Dublin in 1941 and educated at UCD, where he studied English and Italian, and Harvard, where he received his PhD in English. His volumes of poetry include What Light There Is & Other Poems, (North Point Press, 1989), Wildly for Days (1983), What Light There Is (1987), As If It Matters (1991), So It Goes (1995), Selected and New Poems (2000) and Still Life with Waterfall (2001). His latest collection, The Quick of It, appeared in 2004 in Ireland, and in Spring 2005 in America. His books of poetry are published in the United States by Graywolf Press, and in Ireland by Gallery Press. Other publications include Leopardi: Selected Poems (Princeton 1997), and Facing the Music: Irish Poetry in the 20th Century, a collection of essays on modern Irish poetry. His poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in many magazines both in Ireland and the US.  Grennan has given lectures and workshops in colleges and universities in the US, including courses for the graduate programs in Columbia and NYU. During 2002 he was the Heimbold Professor of Irish Studies at Villanova University. His grants and prizes in the United States include awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Guggenheim Foundation. Leopardi: Selected Poems received the 1997 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, and Still Life with Waterfall was the recipient of the 2003 Lenore Marshall Award for Poetry from the American Academy of Poets. His poems have been awarded a number of Pushcart prizes. Grennan has taught since 1974 at Vassar College where he is the Dexter M. Ferry Jr. Professor of English.

    Sat, Jun 13: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

    Thu, Jul 9: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Michael Ryan to read.  Michael Ryan has published three collections of poetry, including In Winter, Threats Instead of Trees, has been a finalist for the National Book Award, and God Hunger, as well as A Difficult Grace: On Poets, Poetry, and Writing, and the memoir Secret Life. His work has appeared in Antaeus, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, New Republic, and elsewhere. Ryan has been honored by the Lenore Marshall Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, and a Guggenheim. Ryan is Professor of English and Creative Writing at UC, Irvine.

    Sat, Jul 11: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

    Mon, Jul 27: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Doreen Gilroy to read.  Doreen Gilroy’s first book, The Little Field of Self  (The University of Chicago Press, 2002), won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares.  Her second book, Human Love, was published by the University of Chicago Press in October 2005.  Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Slate, TriQuarterly and many other magazines.

    Sat, Aug 8: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

    Mon, Aug 17: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Cole Swensen to read.  Cole Swensen is the Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Denver. She is the author of five collections of poems, including Try (University of Iowa Press, 1999), winner of the 1998 Poetry Prize; Noon (Sun and Moon Press, 1997), which won a New American Writing Award; and Numen (Burning Deck Press, 1995) which was nominated for the PEN West Award in Poetry. Her translations include Art Poetic’ by Olivier Cadiot (Sun & Moon Press, Green Integer Series, 1999) and Natural Gaits by Pierre Alferi (Sun & Moon, 1995). She splits her time among Denver, San Francisco and Paris.

    Thu, Sep 3: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Marge Piercy to read.  Marge Piercy has published 17 books of poetry, including What Are Big Girls Made Of, Colors Passing Through Us, and most recently her 17th volume, The Crooked Inheiritance, all from Knopf. She has written 17 novels, most recently SEX WARS in Perennial paperback now.  Her memoir Sleeping With Cats is also in Harper Collins Perennial.  Last spring, Schocken published Pesach for the Rest of Us.  Her work has been translated into 16 languages. Her CD Louder We Can’t Hear You Yet contains her political and feminist poems. She has been an editor of Leapfrog Press for the last ten years and also poetry editor of Lilith.

    Sat, Sep 12: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

    Thu, Oct 1: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Pattiann Rogers to read.  Pattiann Rogers has published ten books of poetry, a book-length essay, The Dream of the Marsh Wren, and A Covenant of Seasons, poems and monotypes, in collaboration with the artist Joellyn Duesberry. Her 11th  book of poetry, Wayfare, will appear from Penguin in April, 2008.   Rogers is the recipient of two NEA Grants, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a 2005 Literary Award in Poetry from the Lannan Foundation, and five Pushcart Prizes.  In the spring of 2000 she was in residence at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Study and Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy.  Her papers are archived in the Sowell Family Collection of Literature, Community and the Natural World at Texas Tech University.  She has taught as a visiting professor at various universities, including the Universities of Texas, Arkansas, and Montana, Houston University, and Washingon University.  She is currently on the faculty of Pacific University’s MFA in Writing Program.  Rogers has two sons and three grandsons and lives with her husband in Colorado.

    Sat, Oct 10: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

    Tue, Oct 20: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Major Jackson to read.  “Jackson knows the truth of black magic. It is a magic as simple as the belief in humanity that subverts racism, or the esoteric and mystical magic of making jazz, the music of hope and love.” —Aafa Weaver.  Major Jackson is the author of two collections of poetry, Hoops (Norton: 2006), a finalist for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literature-Poetry. and Leaving Saturn (University of Georgia: 2002), winner of the 2000 Cave Canem Poetry Prize and finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award.  Poems by Major Jackson have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Boulevard, Callaloo, Post Road, Triquarterly, The New Yorker, among other literary journals and anthologies. He is a recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and has been honored by the Pew Fellowship in the Arts and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. He has received critical attention in The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor, Parnassus, Philadelphia Inquirer, and on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.  Jackson is an Associate Professor of English at University of Vermont and a faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars. In 2006-2007, he was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

    Sat, Nov 14: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

    Tue, Nov 17: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet Sebastian Matthews to read.  Sebastian Matthews is the author of the poetry collection We Generous (Red Hen Press) and a memoir, In My Father’s Footsteps (W. W. Norton).  He co-edited, with Stanley Plumly, Search Party: Collected Poem s of William Matthews. Matthews teaches at Warren Wilson College and serves on the faculty at Queens College Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing. His poetry and prose has appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Georgia Review, New England, Review, Poetry Daily, Poets & Writers, Seneca Review, The Sun, Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review and The Writer’s Almanac, among others. Matthews co-edits Rivendell, a place-based literary journal, and serves as poetry consultant for Ecotone:
    Re-Imagining Place.

    Sat, Dec 12: Village Square Booksellers, 32 The Square, Bellows Falls, In the Café, 2:00p.m. – 4:00 p.m.  Open Mic River Voices Poetry Reading on the second Saturday of each month.  The session is open mic, with individuals reading their own poetry or poems from their favorite poet.  Listeners are welcome to attend.  Light refreshments are served.  To reserve a place at the table, e-mail vsbooks@sover.net or call (802) 463-9404.

    2010:

    Mon, Feb 22: Vermont Studio Center, Johnson, exact time not yet determined.  Poet David Shapiro to read.  David Shapiro (born January 2, 1947) is an American poet, literary critic, and art historian and . Shapiro has written some twenty volumes of poetry, literary, and art criticism. He was first published at the age of thirteen, and his first book was published at the age of eighteen. Shapiro has taught at Columbia, Bard College, Cooper Union, Princeton University, and William Paterson University. He wrote the first monograph on John Ashbery, the first book on Jim Dine’s paintings, the first book on Piet Mondrian’s flower studies, and the first book on Jasper Johns’ drawings. He has translated Rafael Alberti’s poems on Pablo Picasso, and the writings of the Sonia and Robert Delaunay. Shapiro has won National Endowment for the HumanitiesNational Endowment for the Arts fellowships, been nominated for a National Book Award, and been the recipient of numerous grants for his work. Shapiro lives in Riverdale, The Bronx, New York City, with his wife and son.

    Again, if you become aware of an event that isn’t posted above, please let me know. My apologies if I have left off anything of importance to any of you, but it can always be corrected in the next Vermont Poetry Newsletter.

    That’s about it for now. Again, keep your eyes peeled for poetry events.  I hope this email finds you all with good health and sharp pencils.

    Your fellow Poet,

    Ron Lewis

    Milton & Blank Verse (Iambic Pentameter)

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    • Revised & improved April 12, 2009.

    The Creation of Eve

    Milton’s blank verse is exceedingly conservative and easy to scan. It’s a testament to Milton’s skill as a poet john-miltonthat his beautiful language and careful phrasing triumphs over his monotonous meter – in many cases subtly disrupting it without violating it. It’s a miracle, really. (For an example of a poet who didn’t pull it off, read Spencer’s Fairy Queen.) It was as if the experimentation of the Elizabethans, let alone the Jacobeans, had never occurred. Milton came of age in an exceedingly conservative era- poetically. Meter, in those days, was as dominant then as free verse now, and as unadventurous. Just the fact that Milton wrote blank verse (when everyone else was writing heroic couplets) was an act of defiance.

    Most of the trouble surrounding Milton and scansion (for modern readers) comes down to differences in pronunciation – some of it has to do with historical changes; and some, if you’re American, has to do with differences in British and American pronunciation (especially problematic when reading Chaucer).

    I cooked up a table that, with its “scientific” terminology, gives you an idea of Milton’s metrical habits and preferences. I haven’t gone line by line to exhaustively prove the accuracy of my table, but I can assert, for example, that Milton (despite claims to the contrary) never wrote a trochee in the final foot. Here’s an extract, to that effect, from my review of M.L. Harvey’s Book Iambic Pentameter from Shakespeare to Browning: A Study in Generative Metrics (Studies in Comparative Literature):

    A more egregious example of misreading, due to changes in habits of pronunciation and even to present day differences between the continents, comes when Mr. Harvey examines Milton. Words like “contest” and “blasphemous” and “surface” (all taken from Paradise Lost) were still accented on the second syllable. “Which of us beholds the bright surface.” (P.L. 6.472 MacMillan. Roy Flannagan Editor.) Mr. Harvey, offering an example of a “very rare `inverted foot’” (the credit for its recognition he gives to Robert Bridges) gives the following line: “Of Thrones and mighty Seraphim Prostrate (P.L. 6.841) In fact, Robert Bridges and Mr. Harvey are both mistaken in reading the fifth foot as inverted and one need not be a seventeenth century scholar to recognize it. Webster’s International Dictionary: Second Edition, in fact, provides the following pronunciation key. (pros [stressed] trat [unstressed]; formerly, and still by some. Esp. Brit., pros [unstressed] trat [stressed]). Any laboratory of Americans, nearly without fail, would also misread this line, and so the danger of overwhelming empirical evidence!

    On to my table… Each division represents an equivalent foot in an Iambic Pentameter line.

    Milton's Metrics

    The Scansion

    Here is one of my favorite passages, already alluded to in a previous post – Iambic Pentameter Variants – I. To simplify matters, I haven’t marked any of the Iambic feet , I’ve only marked variant feet or feet that, for one reason another, might be read incorrectly.

    Milton Scansion: Book 8

    Elision

    Elision, a standard practice in Milton’s day and more or less assumed whether marked or not, eliminates the vast majority of Milton’s “variant” feet.

    still-glorious

    Glorious, if treated as a three syllable word, would make the second foot Anapestic, not criminal,  but if you can elide, you  should.

    body-enjoyest

    This elision might make some metrists squirm. Given just how conservative metrical practice tended to be in Milton’s day, I would be inclined to elide these two vowels. Given how Milton can barely bring himself to so much as use a feminine ending in the final foot, I seriously doubt he expected readers to treat this foot as an anapest. My advice is to elide it.

    The final example of elision, above, is the word Spirits. Interestingly, Milton seems to treat this word opportunistically. In line 466, for example, he treats spirits as a two syllable word. In other lines, throughout Paradise Lost and in the latter line, he treats the word as a monosyllabic word. This sort of inconsistency in pronunciation is found as far back as Chaucer, as with his pronunciation of the word sweete – sometimes one syllable, sometimes two. Such inconsistency is permitted once one has obtained a poetic license.

    Reading with the Meter

    Modern readers may sometimes be tempted to read as though they were reading prose. Sometimes, though, poets play the line against the meter, wanting us to emphasize certain words we might not otherwise. That’s the beauty of meter in poetry. Milton, as with all the great poets, was skilled at this sort of counterpoint:

    mean-or-in-her

    In the line above, the modern reader might be tempted to stress the line as follows:

    Mean, or in her summ’d up, in in her containd

    This would be putting the emphasis on the words in. In free verse, ok, but not Iambic Pentameter and especially not with a metrically conservative poet like Milton. Milton wants us to put the emphasis on her. Maybe the line above doesn’t seem such a stretch? Try this one:

    bone-of-my-bone

    Any modern reader would put the emphasis on Bone and Flesh:

    Bone of my Bone, Flesh of my Flesh, my Self

    But they would be missing the point of Milton’s line – the closing my Self! That is, it’s not the Bone or Flesh that amazes Adam, it’s that the Bone and Flesh are of his Bone and of his Flesh. His Self! This contrapuntal exploitation of the meter is a master stroke and to miss it is to miss Milton’s genius. If it’s read in this light, stressing the prepositional of might not feel so strained or artificial.

    Pentameter at all costs!

    Milton’s obeisance to the demands of Iambic Pentameter aren’t always entirely successful.

    amiable

    This, to me, is a reach, but it’s probably what Milton intended and even how he pronounced it. Practice it with studied e-nunc-i-a-tion and the line may make a little more sense. An alternative is to read the line as Iambic Tetrameter.

    tetrameter-amiable

    Given Milton’s metrical squeamishness, I seriously doubt that, in the entirety of Paradise Lost, he decided, for just one moment, to write one Tetrameter line. There are other alternative Tetrameter readings, but they get uglier and uglier.

    That said, ambiguities like these, along with the examples that follow, are what disrupt the seeming monotony of Milton’s meter. His use of them defines Milton’s skill as a poet. Roy Flannagan’s introduction to Paradise Lost (page 37) is worth quoting in this regard:

    Milton writes lines of poetry that appear to be iambic pentameter if you count them regularly but really contain hidden reversed feet or elongated or truncated sounds that echo meaning and substance rather than a regular and hence monotonous beat. He builds his poetry on syllable count and on stress; William B. Hunter, following the analysis of Milton’s prosody by the poet Robert Bridges in 1921, counts lines that vary in the number of stresses from three all the way up to eight, but with the syllabic count remaining fixed almost always at ten (“The Sources” 198). Milton heavily favors ending his line on a masculine , accented syllable, with frequent enjambment or continuous rhythm from one line to the next… He avoids feminine feet or feet with final unstressed syllables at the ends of lines. He varies the caesura, or the definitive pause within the line, placing it more freely than any other dramatist or non-dramatic writer Hunter could locate (199). He controls elisions or the elided syllables in words most carefully, allowing the reader to choose between pronouncing a word like spirit as a monosyllable (and perhaps pronounced “sprite”) or disyllable, or Israel as a disyllable or trisyllable.

    Extra Syllables: Milton’s Amphibrachs (Feminine Endings & Epic Caesuras)

    The amphibrach is a metrical foot if three syllables – unstressed-stressed-unstressed. In poets prior to the 20th Century it is always associated with feminine endings or epic caesuras. In the passages above, Milton offers us two examples, one in the second foot (by far the norm) and one in the first foot.

    second-foot-amphibrach

    This would be an epic caesura. The comma indicates a sort of midline break (a break in the syntactic sense or phrase). Amphibrach’s, at least in Milton, are always associated with this sort of syntactic pause or break. Epic Caesuras and Feminine Endings are easily the primary reason for extra syllables in Milton’s line. Anapests make up the rest, but they are far less frequent and can be frequently elided.

    first-foot-amphibrach

    This would be a much rarer Epic Caesura in the first foot. Notice, once again, that the amphibrachic foot occurs with a syntactic break, the comma.

    Differences in Pronunciation

    If you just can’t make sense of the metrical flow, it might be because you aren’t pronouncing the words the same way Milton and his peers did.

    pronuncation-1

    Most modern readers would probably pronounce discourse and dis’course. However, in Milton’s day and among some modern British, it was and is pronounced discourse’.

    pronuncation-2

    Adam & EveThis one is trickier. In modern English, we pronounce attribute as att’ribute when used as a noun and attri’bute when used as a verb. Milton, in a rather Elizabethan twist, is using attributing in its nominal sense, rather than verbal sense. He therefore keeps the nominal pronunciation: att’tributing.

    The arch-Angel says to Adam, as concerns Eve:

    Dismiss not her…by attributing overmuch to things Less excellent…

    It’s phenomenally good marital advice. In other words. Don’t dismiss her by just tallying up her negative attributes, to the exclusion of her positive attributes. There is more to any friendship, relationship, or marriage than the negative. Think on the positive.

    Metrical Ambiguity

    Some of Milton’s metrical feet are simply ambiguous – effectively breaking the monotony of the meter. In the example below, one could read the first foot as trochaic or as Iambic:

    ambiguous-feet

    |Led by|

    or

    |Led by|?

    I chose a trochaic foot – the first option. If this foot had been in the fifth foot (or the last foot of the line) I would have read it as Iambic. Milton doesn’t write trochaic feet in the fifth foot. In the first foot, however, trochaic feet aren’t uncommon and in this instant it seems to make sense. I don’t sense that there’s any crucial meaning lost by de-emphasizing by.  Perhaps the best answer, in cases of metrical ambiguity, is to consider at what point in the line the ambiguity is occuring.

    Similarly, I read the following line as having a spondee in the fourth foot:

    ambiguous-feet-2

    One could also read it as trochaic or iambic. Iambic, given the metrical practice of the day, is far more likely than a trochaic foot – especially, given Milton’s practice, this close to the final foot. I scanned the foot as spondaic. Spondaic feet, in Milton’s day, were considered the least disruptive variant foot and so were acceptable at just about any point of the line.

    My Favorite Passages

    The passages excerpted above just about cover every metrical exigency you will run into in reading Milton. The other reason I chose them is because they’re, well, juicy. I love them. I especially like the following lines for their sense of humor (and, yes, Milton does have a sense of humor).

    like-folly1

    What boyfriend or husband hasn’t had this experience? No matter how rational we think we are, all our intellectual bravado crumbles to folly – men are from Mars, women are from Venus.

    Did Adam & Eve have sex? Why, yes, says Milton, but it wasn’t pornographic. That came after the fall:

    pure-love

    Lastly, and most importantly, is there sex in heaven (or do we have to go to hell for that)? Milton gives us the answer:

    angels-and-sex

    If you enjoyed this post and found it helpful, comment! Let me know. And if you have further questions or corrections, I appreciate those too.

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