in verse #77 : what is poetic about “Poetry”?

So, having all read the poem, tell me what is verse in Marianne Moore’s poem “Poetry”?  And what is poetic about it?  She must have asked herself the same question, because when she reprinted the poem in her Complete poems, she revised it thus:


I, too, dislike it.
**Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
**it after all, a place for the genuine.[i]

The revisions emphasize concision.

But at what cost?  What is lost?  Well, for one, two of the most famous phrases in Moore’s corpus, if not the corpus of 20th-century poetry:  “beyond all this fiddle” and “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”.

The only structural element I can find in the original poem, the one published in 1920, is in the  Continue Reading →

Being a Restorationist Writer, and the Quest for the Infinite—17

Let’s Do Some Practical Criticism

**I have received some encouragement for continuing my contributions, such as they are, to “the conversation,” maybe by pulling out for further discussion small “nuggets” from what I have submitted before, to bide time while I prepare to say something intelligent about the French poets who created part of the remote C19 and early C20 context of Joseph Smith’s work. So, how about this. I imagine a few of my readers—or my readers, who are few—to be sitting with me at a circular table in a quiet corner of a small café on the Left Bank of the Provo River, a café that serves only Word of Wisdom – approved beverages, sipping our Sutter Home Fré wine (I hope that’s approved; I drink quite a lot of it—antioxidants, you know; also O’Doul’s, which my adult children, who drink Diet Coke and Mountain Dew, call “Bishop’s Beer”) and shooting the breeze about poetry and MoLit. I put before you for comparison and contrast the following two passages from two different authors. What do we see here? I invite observations and thoughts. Continue Reading →

in verse # 31 : dark Satanic mills

If I were to tell you that I was writing a parody bent on displaying a hacker’s mindset, based on Ira Gershwin’s “I got rhythm,” and that it began

I got rhythm                                                                                                                                 Algorithm                                                                                                                                      I got rhythm                                                                                                                                 Who could ask for anything more?

would you revise the title for this post to “dork Satanic mills”?  What if my parody morphed into

I got rhythm                                                                                                                                  Al Gore rhythm                                                                                                                             I got rhythm                                                                                                                                 Who could ask for anything more?

would that incline you to a more charitable view?  Would you even notice the change in rhythm in the second line with the change in wording?

Of course you would, because Continue Reading →

in verse # 28 : the pun is meatier than the surd

Sitting at home alone in bed when I was 13, and unable to go out because I was undergoing the aftermath of rheumatic fever, I entertained myself with old copies of Reader’s Digest.  One of the things I digested thoroughly in the humor columns was puns.  I believe it was in one of those columns[i] that I read an entry from a proud punster who told of a woman who had named her new ranch, which was operated by her sons in her behalf , “Focus.”  Asked why, she replied “It’s where the sons raise meat.”  The author was proud of the fact that this was the only triple pun he knew of.  Now it wasn’t that kind of punning that fed this reader’s disgust with the magazine — it was the right-wing politics and red-baiting, which I was old enough to recognize but too young to understand.  So now I only read the magazine to keep my contempt fresh.  Joseph McCarthy had just recently died, and I had heard him memorialized in an editorial on KSL radio by comparison with the Roman senator Cato, who argued that, for the good of Rome, “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam” — (Moreover, I advise that Carthage must be destroyed.)[ii]  It was the era of the Birch John Society (promoting outhouses) and Walt Kelly’s Jack Acid Society black book, the first piece of political satire I ever bought.[iii]

But when John Pollack talks about puns, he invokes a bigger tent.  Talking about Jewish punning Continue Reading →

in verse # 19 : a hideous and intolerable allegory

One of the books I took with me to Seoul, Randy Lopez goes home,[i] proves that allegory and fable are alive and well in twenty-first century American literature.  Two newspaper clippings I’ve been carrying around since May 8th prove that poetry is still despised in America:  the first is a story about Lance Larsen being named poet laureate of Utah.  It ran on the obituary page of the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah,[ii] but that’s not why it proves that poetry is still despised; that honor belongs to Randy Wright, the Executive Editor of the Daily Herald, who, on the same day’s editorial page, in a column of stuff he salvages from his blog, begins his comment thus:  “I read on the news that Gov. Gary Herbert has named BYU professor Lance Larsen as the state’s fourth poet laureate.  Why the State of Utah needs an official poet, I don’t know, but it all sounds very cultured.”[iii]  Continue Reading →

in verse # 16 : rime royal

In “The horrors of the German language,” chapter 8 of his Words and rules, Steven Pinker reminds us that “no one is biologically disposed to speak a particular language.  The experiments called immigration and conquest, in which children master languages unknown to their ancestors, settled that question long ago.”[i]  After noting that linguists can’t “test hypotheses about cause and effect” in languages by synthesizing them in test tubes and culturing them, but are reduced to comparisons amongst those already synthesized in those great experiments, and available for study, he concludes:

We find different languages because people move apart and lose touch, or split into factions that hate each other’s guts. Continue Reading →

in verse # 15 : the alliterative resuscitation

When alliterative verse came roaring back to life in the mid-fourteenth century, it was more as a Wolfman than as a creature of some demented Frankenstein.

In the century and a half between Laȝamon’s recasting of Wace’s Roman de Brut,[i] known to scholars simply as Brut or Laȝamon’s Brut, and the writing of the first works of the “alliterative revival,”[ii] there are so few surviving instances of alliterative verse that one might have been forgiven for thinking it dead, if one knew of its earlier life at all.  It had served Anglo-Saxon poets well from their advent in England in 449 to their conquest by the Normans in 1066.  All datings of poems and manuscripts from that period are conjectural, and most of the works are dated by the comparison of dialect and vocabulary differences with the best-established dates of prose works, usually the chronicles.  But it’s all scholarly guesswork.

Call it the alliterative resuscitation if you will — a rose by any other name would still have thorns, after all — a mouth-to-mouth kiss from the crone who served as muse to the Beowulf poet.  Some of the earliest works Continue Reading →

in verse # 14 : the alliterative revival

Literary wayfaring in England did not end with the Norman Conquest in 1066.  It forked, one fork following the lead of the French conquerors, the other the lead of the English conquered.  Both of these were excursions into vulgar territory Continue Reading →

in verse # 11 : last of the awdl

To me, turkey has always meant dark meat — the leg and the thigh.  This may be because of an association I made early on between dark meat and the dark lady of the sonnets.  I had no idea who the dark lady was, nor how the lady was dark, nor yet how dark the lady was.  I really didn’t know what a sonnet was, for that matter.  But since dark meat was clearly darker than the meat of the far drier breast we were served — the so-called white meat — I concluded that the dark lady must be darker than another, hypothetical, light lady of the sonnets.  At that time I didn’t know about the fair youth of the sonnets, or I might have made the association with the dork laddy of the sonnets. Continue Reading →

in verse, #1 : in the beginning

I first thought of calling this bloggette “re verse,” after the blogmaster proposed “Poetry Corner,” because I intend to write about verse, not poetry.  “Poetry” is a quality judgment applied to occurences of verse, and some writers deprecate their works by insisting that “This is just verse, not a poem.”  Others make an explicit contrast between “poetry” and “light verse,” as if the former were heavy verse — perhaps analogous to heavy cream in French cuisine:  something to admire for its culinary perfection, but partake in moderation for fear of consequences to one’s health.  But I find neither distinction helpful.

Verse and its proper counterpart prose are contrasting conventions for representing speech — speech clarified, speech refined.  Each can be used in poems, in short or extended narratives, in essays, in dramatic works, in reports, in précis.  They are contrasted primarily in rhythm and compactness:   prose tends to be looser, with rhythms governed by the paragraph, and using little ornamentation; verse tends to be tighter, with rhythms governed by the line, and using repetition emphatically to maintain structure:  devices like rhyme, alliteration, repeating patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables, and, in even the most free of verse, a very tight focus on each word, rather than each sentence.

So I didn’t like the title “Poetry Corner,” but “re verse” was a little cute, even for me.  “In verse,” however, wasn’t such an obvious pun, and describes what I hope to do:  get into verse.  And bring others in, too.  Plus, I don’t like being cornered, even though that’s what it takes to make me write.   Continue Reading →