in verse #75 : free verse, dear love

Turns out Walt Whitman had a greater influence on fin de siècle American poetics than I had supposed.  It was his plain diction that led Pound to largely forgo archaicisms,[i] and led to the plainspeak of the Cantos, insofar as that exists.  Before going into that, however, let me allow John Tytell to place Pound in the context of this time:

As a young man Pound frequently referred to himself as a genius and at this time saw himself as connected to a great chain of poets whose lessons he could master and who could speak through him in his poems.  Much of Pound’s most successful early work was imitative — he had the best ear among poets of his generation and could mimic to perfection.  Of course he had his own taste and his struggle during the early years of his apprenticeship, from 1908 through 1912, was to forge his own voice.[ii]

This period of apprenticeship, as Tytell dates it, stretches from Pound’s publication of A Lume Spento and A Quinzaine for this Yule in 1908 through The Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti and Ripostes in 1912, or about 245 pages of verse.[iii]    We saw the young Pound expressing the feelings Tytell reports in the poem “Histrion” in my December post.  I bring it back here for its value in illustrating Pound’s self-absorption:

No man hath dared to write this thing as yet, Continue Reading →

in verse #74 : verse wants to be free?

Consider this quotation from Amy Lowell:

The definition of Vers libre is: a verse-formal based upon cadence. To understand vers libre, one must abandon all desire to find in it the even rhythm of metrical feet. One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader. Or, to put it another way, unrhymed cadence is “built upon ‘organic rhythm,’ or the rhythm of the speaking voice with its necessity for breathing, rather than upon a strict metrical system. Free verse within its own law of cadence has no absolute rules; it would not be ‘free’ if it had.”[i]

Photograph of Amy Lowell at Sevenels, by Bachrach, ca. 1916.

The academic tone of this definition matches her tone in the quote from last month’s post on “The Poet’s Trade”.  Lowell “never attended college because her family did not consider it proper for a woman to do so,”[ii] and this definition speaks in the tone of the auto-didact in its statement that “One must allow the lines to flow as they will when read aloud by an intelligent reader.”  As long-time readers of these posts will know, I don’t disagree with the primacy that statement gives to reading verse aloud.  It’s the overall tone, the insistence on an “intelligent reader,” that betrays a certain in-group knowingness I associate with auto-didactism.

I would argue that the better part of that definition is what is quoted in the end, and I haven’t been able to find who is being quoted there, or whether Lowell is quoting herself; but the reliance on “the rhythm of the speaking voice with its necessity for breathing” fits better my understanding of English meter, with its Anglo-Saxon heritage of stress harnessed with its French insistence on a metrical foot, than the first part of the definition.  And the statement “Free verse within its own law of cadence has no absolute rules” is perfectly descriptive of most of the verse of my contemporaries that Continue Reading →