The Future of Poetry

futureSo off and on I’ve been getting emails from aspiring young poets. They all suffer from the same flaws—inexperience, mawkish sentimentality, guileless clichés, the urge to tell rather than to show, and a lack of humility. I was no different at that age—and that’s a good thing. A certain arrogance, impatient, defiant self-confidence, and heedlessness is good and necessary when you’re young.  For the record, I’m no less self-confident now, but perspective and a sense of humor have done wonders for my other and sundry sins. Age, ideally, has that effect on us.

I remember being furious with criticism of my poetry.

My first reaction was always to conclude that my critic was a damned fool and couldn’t recognize genius if their lives depended on it. I then consoled myself with the indisputable analogy that I, like Keats and Beethoven, was misunderstood in my own time. (With maturity, I’ve limited my analogy to Keats.) But that kind of youthful anger and indignation is also a good thing if the poet channels it. After a suitable period of rage, I would recognize the kernel of truth in the criticism (and the only thing worse than being criticized is being correctly criticized). The good kind of rage is the kind that makes you determined never to be criticized like that again. That’s the way to improve.

As I’ve written before, the most devastating and corrective piece of criticism I ever received was from Thomas Lux, who said of my youthful poetry: “There’s a difference between writing poetry and writing poetically.” And in the interest of full disclosure, this is the poem that prompted the comment:

Gone are the colorful breezes of summer
Tussling the green grasses thick in the field;
Gone is the orchard’s ample verdure
And the cherry-red ripeness of its yield;
Gone are the pinks of the water Lilly
Adorning the lake’s azure reflection;
Gone the deep lucence of a turquoise sea—
Wistful memories to ease dejection.
··Yellowed are the grasses and brown the trees
Black are the fields and white the drifting snow;
Frosted are the lakes and ice-blue the seas,
Grey are the clouds and metallic their glow.
··The shadings are stark on a winter’s day
··Though budding colors are never far away.

I have a hand-written book full of poems like these—and worse.

At that age Keats was already writing his first masterpieces. I was falling behind. But it’s a lesson every young poet needs to learn—and until they do the advice is like a Zen Koan. What does that even mean? There are other pieces of advice that are like that, one that I just offered a correspondent: “The art of writing about yourself is to not write about yourself.” There’s a lot of experience that goes behind that koan, but the day it makes sense it will strike like satori.

But the coolest thing about the poetry I’ve been getting are the rhymes and rhythms of hip hop. Given the moribund ubiquity of free verse, it’s good to see literary poets once again playing with language. But here’s the challenge: How to combine the rhymes and rhythms of hip hop (where beat and performance drive language and content), with literary poetry in which content shapes the rhyme and rhythm? And how will young poets combine the dense figurative language of literary poetry with the direct and explicit momentum of a hip hop lyric? I hope that some among the youngest generation take it on. He or she will have to have a foot in both worlds, in Eminem and Shakespeare.

I see the potential. We just need a poet with the arrogance, impatience, self-confidence, heedlessness and genius to take it on.

upinVermont | January 22nd 2019

Rhyme & Meter Online: April 19 2009

  • Missed last week. This one is a little delayed.
  • 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



Reading Richard Wilbur’s “Mind”

If a bat becomes lost in your house, don’t cringe in a corner. Here’s something you might not know. If a bat can’t escape from a room after a certain period of time, it will indeed assume that it knows all the obstacles. It has memorized your room. It will stop echo locating and fly and fly and fly – no matter what windows you open. A memory is like an opinion. In a sense, the bat becomes trapped by its own opinion. The bat won’t falter. The bat/mind assumes that it has no need to explore. The most inflexible opinions are the loneliest ones and, as Wilbur tells us at the outset, the mind is like the bat that beats in its cavern all alone…


Got a poem – by heart?

In our second hour today we’re talking with writer Jim Holt about learning poems by heart — and reciting them from memory.  Who needs an iPod, he says, when you’ve got great verse running through your head! We’re hoping our listeners, on the air and online, will bring their own favorites to the party. If you have a great poem you want to recite, from memory (no cheating!), then let’s hear it — call in this morning between 11am and noon Eastern, at 1-800-423-8255, and we’ll try to get you on…


‘Book of Rhymes’ by Adam Bradley: Professor of literature takes us inside the rhythms of rap

Some folks may scoff at the comparison of hip-hop to metaphysical poetry, but Bradley wouldn’t be among them. A literature professor at Claremont McKenna College with a doctorate in English from Harvard, he is keenly attuned to what he calls “the poetics of hip-hop,” the ways that rap both converges with and distinguishes itself from what we traditionally think of as poetry.

Here you’ll find Yeats and Frost alongside Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan, together forming a discussion on meter and accent, scansion and slant rhymes. More important, the old-timers and the new jacks seem to get along just fine: Book of Rhymes, MLA vocabulary or no, takes great joy in the written and the rapped word, and it will leave you listening to your favorite MCs with bigger and better ears than before…


Read Write Believe

Poetry Quote of the Day: Rilke Defends Rhyme

“Do not say anything against rhyme! It is a mighty goddess indeed…


New York Times

Sunday Book Review

“A Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe.” With this sentence the novelist E. M. Forster introduced the Alexandrian Greek poet Constantine Cavafy to the English-speaking world in 1919. Since then, Cavafy’s distinctive tone —wistfully elegiac but resolutely dry-eyed — has captivated English-language poets from W. H. Auden to James Merrill to Louise Glück. Auden maintained that Cavafy’s tone seems always to “survive translation,” and Daniel Mendelsohn’s new translations render that tone more pointedly than ever before. Together with “The Unfinished Poems” (the first English translation of poems Cavafy was still drafting when he died in 1933), this “Collected Poems” not only brings us closer to one of the great poets of the 20th century; it also reinvigorates our relationship to the English language…


All Rileyed Up

Poetry Talk with Ginny Kaczmarek

I like so many different poets for different reasons, and I’m always discovering new ones (or old ones I never read deeply before). I go through phases, too. Lately I’m really into formalist poetry, sonnets, villanelles, rhymes and meter, so I’ve been reading Gwendolyn Brooks, Claude McKay, for their takes on old forms. I love Thom Gunn, who wrote formal, British- proper poetry about biker gangs and his gay lovers and the plague of AIDS in the ’80s. Annie Finch inspires me with her feminist formalist experiments…



Why do Poets write Iambic Pentameter?

Iambic Pentameter originated as an attempt to develop a meter for the English language legitimizing English as an alternative and equal to Latin (as a language also capable of great poetry and literature). Encyclopedia of Spenser – ExtractSince meter was a feature of all great Latin poetry, it was deemed essential that an equivalent be developed for the English Language. But poets couldn’t simply adopt Latin’s dactylic hexameter or dactylic pentameter lines. Latin uses quantitative meter, a meter based on the alternation of long and short syllables…


Poetry By Stacey

Battle of Wills [Extract]

Fighting the urge was becoming too strong,
It had only been days but seemed so long,
Temptation all around, pulling him in,
Would its magnetic power finally win?

Desparately trying to keep occupied,
Pushing the thought to the back of his mind,
But despite everything he tried to do,
A voice screamed ” go on you know you want to…


[Don’t know if this is recent – or just recently indexed – but an interesting post.]

The Politics of Meter: on Traditional Forms
by Catherine Wagner

For decades, traditional patterns have been distrusted by, for instance, the “organic form”/”projective verse” avant-garde, as well as by writers working with nontraditional word-patterns—the Language poets, Jackson Mac Low, Susan Howe, and others. The distrust of verse is widespread. Even my dad tells me he knows that poetry shouldn’t rhyme or be in regular meter anymore. And poets of all stripes still get suddenly bored or nervous when they detect traditional forms. Not very many years ago, some members of the Buffalo Poetics listserv were provoked to anger when Annie Finch joined the list to ask for input on the anthology of forms she was putting together. And after a reading I gave recently in England, a poet (a committed political activist and self-declared member of the avant-garde) congratulated me on my “anti-prosody.” She was certain that what she’d heard meant I was working in ironic opposition to traditional meter. Not so…