An insight in Mike Snider's current post:
If the meter is so variable that it becomes unnoticeable, it cannot affect the way we read or hear the poem. If the meter distorts the poem's language beyond what might be possible in human speech, the effect is risible or boring and probably both.The second sentence is admirably concise about why most 20th century formalist work doesn't work. That cannot in the first sentence is unverifiable, though.
What if there is no such thing as free verse?
Discussions of prosody turn readers into referees.
Deee-Lite: "I just want to hear a good beat/I just want/I just want/I just want to hear a good beat."
20th century reformationist verse emphasizes the length of the line and the words that come before and after the break of the line.
I have the idea that after Christabel poets start fudging line length and stanza length.
Variation in a regular field -- a moment of difference, of insight -- an area of overlap between traditional verse and reformation verse.
The body of work Mike cites in support of traditional verse is not an uncontested and uniform yea vote for "risible or boring" traditional verse. I don't particularly enjoy Stuffed Owl-type exercises in naming and shaming, but if the only way we can have this discussion is to cherry-pick ridiculous lines without respect for context, either in the given work or in the writer's development, then oh well.
Rebecca Wolff called Clark Coolidge an absurdist recently. And I thought: wait. The secret of Coolidge's (of Ashbery's of Yau's of Mayer's of...) work is that unlike, say Tate's (or Simic's or Young's or ...), is that there is no guarantee that he will or won't be goofing on you in any given poem. Civilians at poetry readings have remarked to me a couple times that non-slam non-traditional poetry can be like stand-up comedy without the tension and release tracked by the set-up and punchline of the joke.
Coolidge is a terrific writer, and I don't doubt that I'll end up owning and reading everything he publishes someday, except for the one where the poems were printed on dollar bills crumpled up and hidden inside a pair of shoes. The books that have meant the most to me so far are Own Face, Solution Passage, and Crystal Text. I mean, I love American Ones, Smithsonian Depositions, etc, but in those other three he most goes in and out of normative syntax, sense, and standard (to my ears, anyway) coloring -- patterns of vowel-length, but also of internal rhyme and assonance. The work sounds great even when I'm just hearing it in my head. What am I identifying here -- there's a push-pull, a fort-da in those books.
I enjoy that "almost successfully" in Stevens, too -- always surprised when a poet I admire expresses reserve toward Stevens. The problem often turns out to be Stevens' francophilic diction -- no denying he writes "most spissantly, right puissantly."
Writers who are all push, no pull.
Writers who are all pull.
These categories are turning to sand as I bring them up to the light!
Back to editing the text at hand.
Jordan - #