Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Problems in Poetry

Modern poetry has lost its bearings. One can't even call many published poems poetry anymore. They read more like prose arranged to fit a visual pattern, and perhaps are more like a form of word art now. They lack any rhyme or meter or internal poetic structures such as alliteration, assonance or consonance. The verses and stanzas seems unconnected to their clause or sentence structures, as visual word patterns govern.

Here's an example from a poem in this quarter's Paris Review: I quote the last line and first line of two stanzas.

From stanzas #1 to #2 -
against a stranger. Looming

looming up through

From stanzas #2 to #3 -
the Thames, at once

murky and aflame, I watched

Now why is the stanza broken there - intra sentence? Normally one would pause reading in such a break. But from the words and thoughts, there is no reason or rational or even emotion to cause a pause. My last clause [bold, italics] was more poetic that than the poem, having both alliteration and rhyme. Much modern poetry seems to be just prose arranged in a visual pattern, like crappy modern art.

Poetry should be the best words in the best places. Poetry is anchored by how it sounds when read or spoken, not how the words look on a page. Thus much "modern" poetry is not poetry at all.

An original modern poem like T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land contains much intricate rhyming and is littered with poetic devices, as well as meanings and allusions. Prose can have meanings via metaphors or allegory and make allusions for emphasis, but it's still prose until structured with poetic devices to sound good when read.

Calling a bunch of words of prose arranged on a page, a "poem", does not make it a poem. Poets: learn some prosody and read your poems aloud. If it sounds like a poem, it's a poem. If not, you're just writing visually artistic prose.

Word of the Day

"Caesura" - noun (plural caesuras) [$10] Prosody
Caesura means 1. (in Greek or Latin verse) a break between words within a metrical foot; 2. (in modern verse) a pause near the middle of the line. [shown on a page as the second part of the line being dropped down to the next line]
Here's an example from Wordsworth's famous poem, Tintern Abbey (I put in underlines to fill the space as the blog editor automatically strips out spaces beginning a line):
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.
___________________Nor perhance
If I were not thus taught, should I the more
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:

There's a reason for that break: the prior thought/sentence ends and a new one begins midline. It's a real pause in the reading, not simply a visual construct.
Sentence: Too many modern poets use caesura for visual reasons when the construct should be confined to aural purposes.

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