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  #11  
Old 03-19-2009, 07:17 PM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
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I am very impatient with any attempt to write inorganic poetry which doesn't grow out of the language in which the poem is written. I have absolutely nothing against syllabics, despite my unfortunate introduction to the form or description. I think it's a bit rich to claim the avoidance of predictable beats as a preserve of syllabics. I think all poetry can do that. It always gets questioned here and sometimes it deserves to be but other times it doesn't.
I suspect that a desire to pin down meter like a dead butterfly is at the root of many of poetry's troubles.

I find the Plath poem is strongly dimetric.

I admire Plath. She used language with such freedom.

There is a rather fashionable school of evasive poetry which if laid out traditionally is a conventional metrical poem but artfully uses line breaks — applied after composition would be my guess— in order to seem eccentrically constructed. There's nothing wrong with this but it is tricky and very fashionable. It gets huge applause. Sometimes it deserves it. (Edited back to witter on a bit more) I think the reason that such poems are well received is that they liberate us from the four square reading. We experience the nuances of sound and rhythm which we might miss if the poem were presented as a straight tetrameter or whatever. That is partly the fault of the reader. It is most definiitely why I am opposed to line caps. We have to flow with the poem.

Last edited by Janet Kenny; 03-19-2009 at 07:22 PM.
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  #12  
Old 03-19-2009, 09:05 PM
John Hutchcraft John Hutchcraft is offline
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Examples of good syllabics abound. To the Plath and Dylan Thomas already mentioned I would add, respectively, "Metaphors" and "Fern Hill," the latter being arguably one of the signal poems of the twentieth century.

Richard Wilbur's rhymed haiku are syllabic.

And then there is nearly all of Marianne Moore's body of work.

Say what you will about syllabics, but it seems pretty tough to make the case that their use is any significant impediment to writing a good poem - if, that is, you've got a good poem to write in the first place.

Last edited by John Hutchcraft; 03-19-2009 at 09:09 PM.
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  #13  
Old 03-20-2009, 02:10 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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I don't think modern syllabics can be compared with failed examples from the birth of English prosody--it is rather an experiment in a kind of metrics (measurement) that will, yes, have different rhythms--maybe more free-versey, if you will. Is there a market for it? If we were worried about market, surely we would be in a different business. A good syllabic poem, though, will not have a problem finding a home!

And what is wrong with line breaks on prepositions? Surely we do that all the time (of/love anyone?). Prepositions are vital.

But rather than resisiting the notion of syllabics--and I realize not everyone will be won over--I wish we could focus a little on looking at successful poems in syllabics and seeing how they work and what is useful. No one is suggesting we abandon traditional metrics, just that this is yet another tool in the toolbox. It is fruitful, and it is fun.

I am leary of arguments regarding what is "natural to the language." Prosody is something that grows, after all, from hybridization, from imports--whether it is Latin adopting the dactyllic hexameter Greek system so that we get Virgil and Lucretius; or English adopting hendecasyllabics from Italian and getting decasyllabics; or rhyme borrowed from Latin drinking songs. We borrowed the sonnet, but it has naturalized nicely, even into an English version. If we were writing what was autocthonous to the language, we would be writing alliterative verse. (And nothing wrong with that, either.)

Here's a beautiful syllabic poem (5/7/5 of haiku stanza) that employs rhyme, punctuating the heterometric effect of different line-lengths and rhythms. The haiku stanza is of course perfect for the subject. notice where lines go into hard monosyllables (fact, fact...) or employ wonderful polysyllabic words (bathysphere).

Thyme flowering among rocks

Richard Wilbur

This, if Japanese,
Would represent grey boulders
Walloped by rough seas


So that, here or there,
The balked water tossed its froth
Straight into the air.


Here, where things are what
They are, it is thyme blooming,
Rocks, and nothing but –


Having, nonetheless,
Many small leaves implicit,
A green countlessness.


Crouching down, peering
Into perplexed recesses,
You find a clearing


Occupied by sun
Where, along prone, rachitic
Branches, one by one,


Pale stems arise, squared
In the manner of Mentha,
The oblong leaves paired.


One branch, in ending,
Lifts a little and begets
A straight-ascending


Spike, whorled with fine blue
Or purple trumpets, banked in
The leaf axils. You


Are lost now in dense
Fact, fact which one might have thought
Hidden from the sense,


Blinking at the detail
Peppery as this fragrance,
Lost to proper scale


As, in the motion
Of striped fins, a bathysphere
Forgets the ocean.


It makes the craned head
Spin. Unfathomed thyme! The world's
A dream, Basho said,

Not because that dream's
A falsehood, but because it's
Truer than it seems.
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  #14  
Old 03-20-2009, 02:58 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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And another favorite contemporary syllabic poem of mine, Rhina Espaillat's sinuous "Current" in 11-syllable lines:

Current

Coiled to spring, newly unplugged from the homely
percolator, you watch me with tense nostril-
eyes that rivet like fangs, your small motionless
head malignant and useful, angry god that
reached for me once in childhood through a hairpin
probing the wallís secrets, sudden and smoother
than sex or whisky, a licking all over
by fire, a rod of ice in the marrow.
And afterward I hid night after night, but
ah, you found me in dreams, flicking your quick tongue
lewdly from the safety of familiar things;
you crouch in my walls; you ripple your braid of
muscle among dark leaves in the mindís garden.
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  #15  
Old 03-20-2009, 05:28 AM
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Catherine Chandler Catherine Chandler is offline
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John, My favorite poem in the English language is "Fern Hill." I'm "happy as the grass was green" that you mentioned it in the context of this discussion. All I can give as an explanation is that it is magical and musical. (I used to affectionately call my son "Prince of the apple towns" or "prince" for short when he was a little boy). There is no reason why syllabics cannot be successful. I also love this one by Millay:

Counting-Out Rhyme

Silver bark of beech, and sallow
Bark of yellow birch and yellow
     Twig of willow.

Stripe of green in moosewood maple,
Colour seen in leaf of apple,
     Bark of popple.

Wood of popple pale as moonbeam,
Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam,
     Wood of hornbeam.

Silver bark of beech, and hollow
Stem of elder, tall and yellow
     Twig of willow.
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  #16  
Old 03-20-2009, 05:40 AM
A. E. Stallings A. E. Stallings is offline
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The Millay poem is lovely--and a favorite of mine too--but not a syllabic poem. Rather, it is accentual-syllabic, in trochaic tetrameter, with a dimeter tail at the end of the stanzas.
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  #17  
Old 03-20-2009, 05:46 AM
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Maryann Corbett Maryann Corbett is offline
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Catherine, it strikes me that the Millay poem is syllabic only because it's very tightly accentual-syllabic. It absolutely repeats a pattern of stresses. It's lovely; I find no fault with it. But it scans. For me, the Wilbur poem also mostly scans. By that standard, most of Pope's IP would be considered syllabic, which is surely a mistake.

All of these poems are wonderful; I'm happy to learn about them (and some of them I knew already, like the Wilbur). But they cast grave doubt on the statement that syllabics should resist having a stress pattern.

Editing back: oops, cross-posted with Alicia.
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  #18  
Old 03-20-2009, 06:35 AM
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Janice D. Soderling Janice D. Soderling is offline
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Isn't the Millay poem--as the title suggests--a counted verse. Though the third line of each halves the main count of six words.

As Paul Hoover says in his intro to the chapter on that (Finch & Barnes)

Quote:
Counted verse operates by the number of words rather than the number of syllables and stresses to the line. It is not primarily syllabic and accentual, though it obviously has those features.
May Swenson "Four-Word Lines" is also counted verse. So is, says Paul Hoover, George Herbert's diminishing verse "Paradise". Which indicates to me that a poem can have more than one identifying "form characteristic". Thus, Elizabeth Daryush "Still-Life" is a syllabic sonnet, and Wilber's exquisite "Thyme Flowering among Rocks" is a rhyming haiku-based syllabics verse so beautifully crafted that only the content is noticed. Like a flower that is so lovely that you forget you are holding a flora which will help you identify it.

What this points up, I think, is that in the hands of a master craftsman, the form is a vessel of transparent glass, and though it holds the wine of the poem, it is not what you notice most.

A common fault of the "form tyrants", I think, is that they can pour the most inane content, or twisted logic, or inane rhymes, into a form, and offer that soured liquid as though it were Dom Perignon Brut Champagne.
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  #19  
Old 03-20-2009, 06:51 AM
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Maryann Corbett Maryann Corbett is offline
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Janice, I'm looking at "Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam" and counting seven, eight if the compound counts as two. But I do thank you for the explanation of counted verse.

Alicia, I've got to reply (and I apologize if I sound petulant) about line-end prepositions. In the typical of/love rhyme, we use a structure that moves the object in front of the preposition--

Where is love?
Does it fall from skies above?
Is is underneath a willow tree
that I've been dreaming of?--

so that there's no enjambment. What I object to is enjambing across a prepositional phrase. In IP it puts an ordinarily unstressed word in a stressed position, and such a word is hard to promote. It also focuses line-end pause and focus on a word that doesn't earn them.

When I asked about it above, I wanted to know if writers of syllabic verse argue that the form makes this sort of break an okay thing to do. I don't see it in most of the examples--though maybe there was one in the Plath? (I can't get back to look without losing this post.)
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  #20  
Old 03-20-2009, 06:56 AM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A. E. Stallings View Post
I am leary of arguments regarding what is "natural to the language." Prosody is something that grows, after all, from hybridization, from imports--whether it is Latin adopting the dactyllic hexameter Greek system so that we get Virgil and Lucretius; or English adopting hendecasyllabics from Italian and getting decasyllabics; or rhyme borrowed from Latin drinking songs. We borrowed the sonnet, but it has naturalized nicely, even into an English version. If we were writing what was autocthonous to the language, we would be writing alliterative verse. (And nothing wrong with that, either.)
I think that the adopted forms which work in English are forms which grew in languages with similar stresses. Italian, which owns the sonnet, is essentially stressed in a way that resembles English. I think the sonnet has always been comfortable in the English tongue. I think there is some confused thinking when forms developed in languages which are far removed from English, are fitted onto English.

Here are the words of a much performed 18th century Italian song by Giordani which shows that the "spaghetti" idea is not the norm. I'll mark the metrical breaks according to the musical setting:
Caro mio ben

Ca/ro mio/ ben,
cre/di/mi al/men,
sen/za di/ te

lan/gui/sce il cor,
ca/ro/ mio ben,
sen/za di /te

lan/gui/sce/ il cor
Il/ tuo/ fe/del
so/spi/ra o/gnor

Ce/ssa, cru/del,
tan/to ri/gor!
Ce/ssa, cru/del,

tan/to/ ri/gor,
tan/to ri/gor!
Ca/ro mio/ ben,

cre/di/mi al/men,
sen/za di/ te
lan/gui/sce il/ cor,

ca/ro mio/ ben,
cre/di/mi al/men,
sen/za di/ te

lan/gui/sce/ il cor


Alicia you are comfortable in Greek and English and know whether they can be honestly married in one form. I can only sense it through an impression. Greek sounds much more angular than English to my ear. I spent a lot of time dealing with musical translations and I do know that some languages simply couldn't be metrically or syntactically matched in translation. When Igor Stravinsky set Shakespeare songs his angular unrelated rhythms, though musically interesting in an abstract way, usually cause mirth in anyone who contemplates performing them. "A liLY and A rose."

Last edited by Janet Kenny; 03-20-2009 at 07:41 PM.
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