On Poetry Today - A fun Commentary

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  1. #1

    Cool On Poetry Today - A fun Commentary

    Dear boy, I'd like to think that a new dog
    can teach old tricks, that rhyme 's more than Mr. Lear
    and his lim'rick, that meter 's a leapfrog
    to teach the young to hop before they smear
    their new amphibian forms off on roads
    not taken without first understanding the form.
    What instruments we have agree
    The day of his death was a dark cold day. - W.H. Auden

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by Jp View Post

    Now I agree and second TL Murphy but with one small but huge difference. It is rare to find someone who is interested and willing to take the time to learn what made the Great's verse so great. I think this foundation of knowledge is important and should not be so easily cast aside. Free verse has more than proven itself, but in all the great free verse of the world authors (who are not more than one hit wonders) are more often than not aware of what came before and at least taking advantage of some of the wealth that it has to offer.
    Quote Originally Posted by clark View Post
    Free verse is often referenced as a new, open break with traditional structured Form in poetry. In all likelihood it's just the opposite: a return to original free Form. Historians do not know when language began--Noam Chomsky estimates about 50,000 years ago--but early homo sapien must have banded together in groups to survive at all in a world where they were the weakest of land mammals. Talking about successful strategies for finding food would have been an essential means of passing skills from one generation to the next. So STORIES would have been born, stories told around the fire at night as a kind of anecdotal glue to keep the tribe together. Modern speculators do not know the form of those early stories, but we can assert with confidence one thing those pre-history stories were NOT: end-rhymed. End-rhyme is UNnatural in oral tradition. People do not talk in rhyme. Rhyme began at some unknown point as a mnemonic device to help storytellers remember the details of stories. In English tradition, rhyme began with the early medieval troubadours (about 1200--1300 CE??), or minstrels, who went from town to town earning their living by telling tales of interest.

    Many of the greatest works in English are not end-rhymed at all. Our one surviving epic poem, Beowulf (anonymous, probably written about 1000 CE) is written in alliterative verse, not end-rhymed; all of Shakespeare's plays are written in blank verse; Milton's Paradise Lost is in blank verse; many of the longer, memorable poems of the Romantic and Victorian periods are not end-rhymed; then in roughly 1910, HD popularized what was to become modern "free" verse--and that was 110 years ago, so we must shed this idea that free-verse is some kind of bastardization of "proper" rhymed poetry.

    The absence of end-rhyme does not grant license to the free -verse poet to prattle away at will. If anything, his job is 'harder' than his rhyming cousin, because poetry must have rhythm, musicality, and with no end-rhyme to lean on, the modern poet must tissue into his work other means of achieving rhythm. Without it, poetic lines often become little more than chopped-up prose stacked in lines on the page and called "poetry".

    I have pulled this conversation over here because I feel it is more appropriate. I want to begin with the fact that we are both standing on the same side of the fence as I too am pro free-verse, if there is even still such a thing. That being said, my issue is that 50,000 years of language history, a great forgetting, and even greater rebuilding toward something that is more natural is not half as lost to a new 'poet' (or to someone who would even have a passing interest) as where to begin when there is no form. It is not in the facts that metrical rhymed verse stands as something that we should actively teach but in that in that it offers a point on the head of a needle to say, start here!
    Last edited by Jp; May 23rd, 2020 at 07:35 PM.
    What instruments we have agree
    The day of his death was a dark cold day. - W.H. Auden

  3. #3
    IMHO, Free Verse is more for the allusion and for the question. Beowulf was a saga more so than a poem. It was written for a mostly illiterate society to teach, entertain, and explain what was valuable to their society and time. Yes, free verse is harder because it doesn't rhyme, yet ha sthe same responsibility; to teach, entertain, and explain. The rhyme make that easier.
    "Illegitimi non carborundum " Vinegar' Joe Stilwell

    "Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase." Martin Luther King Jr.

    What you learn in life is important, those you help learn, are more important.

    "They can because they think they can."

    "Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools will speak to say something." Plato

    "The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible."
    ​ Mark Twain

    "To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States." George W. Bush

  4. #4
    Pelwrath -- oh boy! Let the games begin! With jp's kick-start and your tantalizing comment--this could be an important discussion. It is 9:30 PM and I have my evening mapped out, so I can only throw a few opening bits into the hopper now and return later, probably tomorrow.

    jp -- the difficulty for a new poet is that free verse = no FORM. Rhyme, at least is a solid starting point. We know that it is an example of . . . something. Yes--one can say, "ok I'm going to write couplets, so every group of two lines must rhyme OR I'l build this poem in 4-line stanzas: even lines rhyme, as do odd lines. OR, I'm going to write a 26-line poem and the last syllable of every line must rhyme with all other last syllables. You can innovate further, but regardless--what you are doing in a poem of any length, usually, is setting up a rhyming pattern. Once you have that plan firmly in your head, you'll find that the configuration of beats (kind of 'feet') and the amount of 'feet' per line will naturally fall into a sameness, a rhythm--da beat is born:

    the stag at eve had drunk his fill
    and rolled the bot -tle down the hill

    So, get a bit technical: you're writing iambic tetrameter and once that beat gets into your creative rhythm, you will tend to keep rolling them out for the span of the poem. The number of feet per line needs regularity for the rhyme to ring true. A piece that began with a pentameter line, followed by a trimeter, followed by a hexameter, then a tetrameter. . . . It could be done, of course, but a concomitant marriage with some kind of 'ragged' content would be essential , otherwise the sound would just be arbitrarily ragged itself, purposeless, and the rhyme would get lost. So if a poem rhymes, it invariably has a pattern of regular beats per line.

    IMO, regular rhymed poetry is much easier to write than free verse. AND it is excellent practice in stressing the critical importance of da beat in all poetry. Da beat is the musicality of poetry. And that reality places a simultaneous great freedom and a great burden on the poets of our era, because the majority of us write free verse, so we must reinvent form with every poem we write! .....more later

    PS -- JP at the end of your post, you said new poets should study and emulate the great masters, both out of respect for our traditions and to learn the old ways so that you really know what you're doing when you choose to join the modern ranks and breakaway from those traditions. When I was studying Milton, the prof made us memorize and be prepared to recite if called on. . .40 lines of Paradise Lost. What an old fart! Were we kindergarten children? How the fuck DARE he . . .mumble . . . mumble. Memorizing those lines was where I absorbed the majesty of Miltonic blank verse and came to understand the huge difference between it and Shakespearean blank verse. And it was a turning point in the beginning of a little understanding I was developing about the nature of poetry.
    Last edited by clark; May 25th, 2020 at 07:35 AM.


    "I believe in nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections and the Truth of the imagination". Keats, ​Letters

    "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls -- it tolls for thee. " John Donne, Meditation XVII

  5. #5
    Thanks for commenting back, Clark. My motives, there always are (right), is the fact in the time I have been gone from this forum (10 years) there seems to be a change among the critics. A change consisting of a new writer dropping into the poetry section and maybe writing something of some worth and looking for direction and is met with answers like to abandon (random examples here) rhyme, amount of feet per line or other past convention. I was reading through the back pages and it seems somewhat to recur, but the problem I am having with this is that I do not think that I would have been able to get a better understanding of what I was interested in without first going down that line. I have also read almost every popular verse in the English language and though it did not take a life time, and some of it was most likely not worth the time I did it out of desire. I think we on the forums should encourage poetry as a whole and let those of interest find their way within it. That means being willing to critique a limerick as a limerick.

    All that said, though, I am very out of practice and my memory is hazy on a lot of matters. I am trying to remember and relearn and grow from where I am now. On the note of my poetry collection, that now sadly is sitting in a storage unit, I have gathered almost every known, I guess you could say... . of note, poets 1970 and before collected work and in those pages I did find many things that were worth while. I just wish I had brought a pen. I always fully intended to collect and read as many volumes of modern poetry as I could, but I have yet to get around to it. Shame, this working thing has got me to the bone lately.
    What instruments we have agree
    The day of his death was a dark cold day. - W.H. Auden

  6. #6
    I have to say that the old masters don’t much interest me, with the exception, perhaps, of Shakespeare, Keats and Donne who were geniuses with a unique quality of expression. My tastes don’t go much further back that Rimbaud. Even Rumi leaves me cold. I find these old guys archaic, obtuse and generally long winded. Modern poets are much more interesting and generally more relevant to our current culture, at least through the 70s and early 80s. Since then, I think poetry has generally suffered in quality and it’s sense of expansiveness. This probably has something to do with the internet and other forms of mass media, although I’m sure there are other factors.

    My point in all this is that end-rhyme poetry (or let’s called in fixed pattern rhyme) is always a function of meter since the pattern can’t be maintained without the metric regularity. I just think that art in general over the last 110 years has moved beyond that kind of rigid expression of romantic form and stodgy Victorianism which impressionism, expressionism, modernism broke out of along with minor movements of minimalism, abstraction, etc. particularly postmodernism, an evolving response to the elitism of high modernism as well as the horrors of world war and characterized by a fragmented pastiche of high and low culture that reflects the absence of tradition and structure in a world driven by technology and consumerism. I believe that these 20th century movements are far more relevant to today’s world than form which reflects a romantic, or classical view of a naive, colonial world-view.

    There’s nothing wrong with classic form, but form in general does not need to be limited to such restricted concepts. It becomes a prescription that really deludes many beginner poets that as long as the prescription is filled, the genre has been mastered. In this way, rigid form, stifles creativity by setting the bar too low. There is much more to poetry than iambic pentameter and end-rhyme, yet 90% of the population doesn’t recognize anything outside of that as poetry. Most of the end-line poetry out there is pure crap. That doesn’t mean it all is and I am particularly intrigued by a well written sonnet, where rhyme is not just heroic couplets, particularly when the poet is skilled with enjambment and writing through the end rhyme so the poem doesn’t constantly fall on a hard “klunk” at ever tenth beat (or whatever). That’s just tedious.
    Last edited by TL Murphy; May 28th, 2020 at 07:14 PM.

  7. #7
    Funny enough that while I definitely enjoyed reading the romantic poets like Keats, I also have little interest in writing anything romantic on the page. Shakespeare has held my interest in both ways. Rumi did nothing for me. Let's think of Walt Whitman and the "new," at that time, poetry that sprang up like leaves of grass, and then think that we have come, again, a long way from there. The distance that separates Whitman from Keats and the distance that separates us from Whitman are the same. Whitman took an over arching metaphor, leaves of grass, and turned into it a new sense of 'being as one' within a new politics. That, combined with his form, made him a formidable force that swept forward change that we are here talking about today. Today, we are in need of that very same thing.

    I have more to say on the matter of rigid expression and its uses as a teaching tool rather than a vehicle to move the spirit of poetry forward than I have time to say right now. I will say that I agree that the past is a bucket of ashes and that the hopeful new poet would have to be able to understand that mastering those bits of poetry does not make up the whole of what poetry has become as an art form. Again we fail to make the distinction in our guidance. Learn this because of this to be able to understand that. If that makes sense. The failure of the average person to recognize poetry as what it is, is not just a modern phenomenon it took a bunch of little magazines with small circulations trading in names like T.S. Eliot to popularize a new poetry before it ever became collected into books. Blast magazine the first that comes to mind. At that time there were many writers witting this new poetry buy the average Joe did not see it. Their poetry, they said, was all end rhymes and no longer held any sway. And then through small sources an audience grew into what the average Joe today thinks is poetry. More on this later.

    And for amusement, (I am not certain of my ability to cite this, so please go to
    http://bostonreview.net/archives/BR23.5/Equi.html and scroll down to the poem pledge.
    Last edited by Jp; May 27th, 2020 at 09:32 PM.
    What instruments we have agree
    The day of his death was a dark cold day. - W.H. Auden

  8. #8
    “Pledge” looks like an n + 7 poem. It’s a fun form and can be pretty hilarious. i’ve written a few and also n&v + 7


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