Thursday, December 07, 2006

What would a prison be without its wardens?

"If everybody in contemporary verse cultivates rhythm alone, poetry risks declining from an art to a mere activity—an anything-goes pursuit, with poets isolated in small inward-looking schools and composing more and more narrowly on the basis of self-expressive fiat. In such a climate, free verse itself will wither and die. Free verse can be truly free only if it has something to be free from."
-- Timothy Steele, Prosody for 21st Century Poets

Yes, Timothy Steele. "New" Formalists like him (Gioia comes to mind). Not that I've actually read Steele's poetry. (Feel free to accuse me of unfairness...maybe he's actually good!)

One might think, from the quote above, that he's rather simplifying things if he maintains free versifiers cultivate rhythm alone. Makes 'em sound like a bunch of drummers. In the essay, tho, he does concede that excellent poems continue to be written in free verse.

And indeed, his point, in general, is well taken. The limitations of fixed forms and frameworks serve best to help us channel our energies, make them go them farther -- to stimulate fresh expression and more deeply appreciate the nuances & architectonics of poetic (as well as other) language. I like especially his critique of Ezra Pound's critique of meter. There's definitely more to meter than meets the eye, or rather ear. All reasons why I find myself more & more interested in fixed forms these days, while still enjoying the freewheeling qualities of free verse.


Anonymous said...

Here's a nice Steele poem:

Anonymous said...

Interestingly enough, I never feel freer than when I'm working in form.

Brian Campbell said...

Andrew: yes, it has nice moments, but there are a number of things I really don't like about this poem. Would you care for me to do a Simon Dedeo-type critique? I really don't want to show up a most interesting and engaged reader/interlocutor (if my site meter suggests I've suddenly become a hit with the Swiss, I think you're largely responsible!), but it would be worthwhile critical exercise.

Lo: I can relate to that...

Anonymous said...

Meter...? Meter should serve what you want to reveal and express through your poetry,don't you agree...It could also serve the state of mind and talent...the essence of feelings...
I am sorry I am posting a comment without having written everithing on the blog but felt challenged. When I read a poem , the last thing I am thinking about is the meter, it comes after that with the question 'why this meter'. And if I find out that the author has been thinking first about the meter , I might feel betrayed of what he/she is really saying. Has thishappen to strike your mind , ever?
Meter should come naturally.

Best wishes!


Brian Campbell said...

Naturally as artifice can -- when it becomes *second* nature. As all our acquired cultural skills feel natural with time and practice.