An Author's Assemblage: Brief Notes and Notices

The accumulation of posts to this web page serves merely as an author’s assemblage of brief notes and notices: the collection of informal bits of information, quotations, and observations gathered as one way to display a personal reflection of perceptions on poetry, publication, and related selections of material drawn from my perspectives as a poet or professor of literature and creative writing.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Mark Strand on Measured Verse and Free Verse as Poetic Forms

“I believe that all poetry is formal in that it exists within limits, limits that are either inherited by tradition or limits that language itself imposes. These limits exist in turn within the limits of the individual poet’s conception of what is or is not a poem. For if the would-be poet has no idea what a poem is, then he has no standard for determining or qualifying his actions as a poet; ie, his poem. ‘Form,’ it should be remembered, is a word that has several meanings, some of which are near opposites. Form has to do with the structure or outward appearance of something, but it also has to do with its essence. In discussions of poetry, form is a powerful word for just that reason: structure and essence seem to come together, as do the disposition of words and their meanings.

“It hardly seems worthwhile to point out the shortsightedness of those practitioners who would have us believe that the form of the poem is merely its shape. They argue that there is formal poetry and poetry without form—free verse, in other words; that formal poetry has dimensions that are rhythmic or stanzaic, etc., and consequently measurable, while free verse exists as a sprawl whose disposition is arbitrary and is, as such, nonmeasurable. But if we have learned anything from the poetry of the last twenty or thirty years, it is that free verse is as formal as any other verse. There is ample evidence that it uses a full range of mnemonic devices, the most common being anaphoral and parallelistic structures, both as syntactically restrictive as they are rhythmically binding. I do not want to suggest that measured verse and free verse represent opposing mnemonics. I would rather we considered them together, both being structured or shaped and thus formal, or at least formal in outward, easily described ways.

“Form is manifested most clearly in the apparatus of argument and image or, put another way, plot and figures of speech. This aspect of form is more difficult to discuss because it is less clear-cut; it happens also to be the area in which poems achieve their greatest individuality and where, as a result, they are more personal.” —From “Notes on the Craft of Poetry,” a chapter in Mark Strand’s The Weather of Words (Knopf, 2000)

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