The Body of Poetry
Essays on Women, Form, and the Poetic Self
Publication Year: 2005
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Series: Poets on Poetry
The red canoe slaps forward slowly through muddy-gold water. I let my eyes idle down its side. Althea is almost asleep—I’ll need to hold her the rest of the way home. All four of us are calmer as we turn, pushed deeper into our own thoughts by bending light and gathering shadow. I settle in. My eyes slip over the water. ...
A Horse with Two Wings
A Horse with Two Wings: A Note on Criticism and Poetics
Pegasus, the winged horse of poetic inspiration, was a child of the Gorgon Medusa and the sea-god Poseidon. But Pegasus was not born until Medusa was beheaded by Perseus; the winged horse waited inside his mother until that ruthless sword approached her, Bashing in the open sunlight, slicing off her head ...
When I began work on a critical study of the changing connotations of iambic pentameter in American poetry, I didn’t expect that I would devote so much attention to dactyls. In free verse from Whitman, Stephen Crane, and Eliot through Anne Sexton and Audre Lorde, I noticed the consistent presence of triple rhythms, usually falling triple rhythms. Studying these ...
Metrical Subversions: Prosody, Poetry, and My Affair with the Amphibrach
Meter is the gift that poetry gives me before words, through words, and after words. To hear meter is for me the most intimate part of reading and writing a poem, because it is impossible for it to be translated or told; it can only be experienced as the waving form of words and syllables carrying their own spine of ...
Langpo, Pomo, Newfo
Does the fact that a poet is challenged by writing in an old form rather than by inventing a new form make any key change in the experience of writing or reading? Is Joan Retallack’s procedural elegy “AID/I/SAPPEARANCE,” where several letters of the alphabet disappear from each stanza until only the letters y and o remain, a form just as much as a ghazal is a form? It’s certainly ...
Omniformalism: A Manifesto
We are ravenous for poetic beauty, and we won’t shy away from the sources that nourish us. We are ready for Omniformalism, for a rich and wide poetics, liberated from the camps of the defunct poetry wars. These are our desires: ...
The Body of Poetry
The Body of Poetry
Since Romanticism, the dominant movement of poetry has consisted of a continual thrust to transcend the defining physical limitations of the art, from Wordsworth’s jettisoning of “poetic” diction in favor of a language like that of a “man speaking to men,” through the transcendence of meter in the free-verse revolution ...
Walk with Me: On Poetry and Music
In the sense that I am one of those poets who whisper and mutter lines aloud to themselves as they work, I have always “performed” my poems. Even before I wrote them down, I was a child who loved to hypnotize herself by singing little songs over and over. I remember one day discovering that, if I whispered ...
Passion in Translation: Louise Lab
Louise Labé is a deeply, and paradoxically, passionate poet. Her elaborate metaphors and frank self-reflection in the face of intricate feelings are as heroic, in their own context, as Emily Dickinson’s. Her passion, her courage, her playfulness, and her pain reflect struggles not only of the emotions but of the spirit. The paradox in her work is that she is not a metaphysical poet or a ...
H. D., “Imagiste”?
With their allusive language and attention to verbal music, H. D.’s poems are evidence that an artist who adheres too strictly to a reigning dogma or school is less likely to accomplish great things than an artist who uses the dogma creatively. A “complex” of qualities, to use the Imagist ...
Technology and Inspiration: Introduction to A Poet’s Craft
No other art besides poetry has had such a mythology attached to its sources of inspiration. Painters have no myth of Helicon, the sacred spring whose water brings inspiration. Dancers have no Pegasus to ride, composers no Mount Parnassus to climb. Everyone knows that “the Muse” is a poet’s companion. Why do ...
Repetition pulls the reader down from the vicarious bardic literary perch and into the preliterate, the childlike, the prehuman body. Repetition is oral-based, undermining the primacy of the written over the heard and reminding the eye, disconcertingly, of the ear’s primacy. It is too easily pleasurable, thus childish, evoking the dangerously tempting certainties ...
How to Create a Poetic Tradition
Every source available to me as a young poet said that Dickinson was a hermit with no community, self-made or at least miraculously born like Athena. The greatest woman poet in the history of our literature had no mother, no sister. Like her loneliness, her spinsterhood, her supposed neuroses, it meant that she was ...
The Heart of Phillis Wheatley
Phillis Wheatley’s use of her race for its poetic connotations has a sentimental cast; like a nineteenth-century woman writing a poem explicitly in her capacity as a mother, Wheatley allegorizes herself and her public role for emotional purposes. The device adds a completely different feeling to the poems in which it appears ...
Unnecessary Burdens: Cooper, Gl
Here are three new books by ambitious and influential poets who suffer under burdens. It may be a poet’s responsibility to suffer no more than is absolutely necessary, but deciding how much suffering is necessary is, alas, probably not up to the poet. The burdens evident in these books are common ones, important ones in our culture. ...
Carolyn Kizer and the Chain of Women
It is the mark of a certain point in a young writer’s development— arguably the onset of true literary maturity—when she looks up from the eclectic, sprawling collection of classic and contemporary influences she has been ostensibly pulling together for herself for many years, takes a long breath, and is ...
My Teasdale Talisman
Like a classic haiku, Sara Teasdale’s “Water Lilies” is disciplined by the restraint which opens overlapping meanings. The sight of the water lilies, their scent, the shadow of the mountains could all mean so many things: a remembered encounter, a secret, perhaps an erotic experience, maybe a female-centered ...
Female Tradition as Feminist Innovation
Even at this late-postmodernist moment, when self-defined innovative poetry needs to build on a long tradition of previous self-defined innovative poetry, such poetry still defines itself in opposition to tradition. With an inheritance of genuine innovation, of poets who did everything they could to be different ....
Confessions of a Postmodern Poetess
Like many contemporary writers, I And the Romantic poetic construct of the Axed, central self and its point of view to be extraordinarily limited. Whether or not one accepts the Buddhist insight that the true self is a non-self, unconnected to transitory thoughts and emotions, if we look closely we are not likely to perceive our selves as discrete entities. ...
My parents’ stairs had fading green carpet on which shafts of sun took their own time. The windows directed quiet light where beams of dust were welcome. On the window seat, the slow pillows kept their places in their softened pockets of air. Cats moved more deliberately here than elsewhere. ...
Stein the Romantic, Mallarm
Like people, writers can belie their surfaces. Case in point: Gertrude Stein and Stephan Mallarmé. On the surface, Stein’s usual practice destroys the commonly accepted nature, the syntactic and referential powers, of her linguistic materials. On the surface, Mallarmé’s usual practice preserves syntax, allusions, coherent images, and other ordinary linguistic qualities. ...
Victorian Voice-Making and the Contemporary Poet
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ambitious and ingenious verse novel Aurora Leigh is as much the autobiography of a real poetic voice as it is that of a fictional poet. Aurora Leigh’s extreme importance even for Emily Dickinson, a poet whose aesthetic was so very different from Barrett Browning’s, testifies that as the “autobiography” of a female ...
Confessions of a Postmodern Poetess
What image of poetic endeavor is now most universally despised? The consumptive man in his garret? The dilettante heiress who supports other writers? The hermit spinster? The prosperous professional who writes on the side? The woman with three names who muses piously on love, Bowers, and the deaths of mothers ...
A Many-Sounding Sea
Dactylic Meter: A Many-Sounding Sea
Since Homer and perhaps much earlier, before written poetry, the dactylic meter has rolled through Western literature like a “polyphlosboiou thalassa” (many-sounding sea), to use a phrase of Homer’s. The ancient dactylic poems have been a touchstone for poets for centuries, yet few have attempted the meter in English. Rarer in English poetry ...
A Rock in the River: Maxine Kumin’s Rhythmic Countercurrents
Clearly, Maxine Kumin stands out among poets of her generation in her facility with iambic pentameter. Less obviously, she is also rare among contemporary poets—of any generation—because of the strength and eloquence of the passages in triple meter that also occur consistently in her work. Important passages ...
The Ghost of Meter Revisited
Since the publication of my controversial argument in The Ghost of Meter, the idea of the metrical code has not fitted easily into existing critical approaches. The metrical code occupies an unusual position amid overlapping contemporary schools of poetics, prosody, literary history, and literary theory. I would like ...
Making Shattered Faces Whole: The Metrical Code in Audre Lorde
The powerful traditions and conventions associated with meter have always exerted pressure on certain poets. This pressure is evident from Emily Dickinson’s avoidance of iambic pentameter in favor of the hymn stanza, to Walt Whitman’s use of dactylic rhythms (except in certain cases where he used iambic pentameter ...
In Defense of Meter
Most of the more interesting general critiques of contemporary metrical verse try to discredit it on artistic grounds. The commonest claim is that clearly perceptible meter sounds “singsong” and crude in contrast with subtler rhythmic patterns such as breath rhythm or thought or phrasal rhythm. A corollary criticism is that meter ...
For those of my readers who haven’t kept up with prosodic history, there is a line of often distinguished thinkers (the best-known members are Sidney Lanier and Edgar Allen Poe) who have decided, each in their turn, that English-language poetics needs a complete overhaul—and that no one else is qualified to ...
Forms of Memory
Often a poet’s strength seems to result from, or at any rate to accompany, the reconciliation of two opposing qualities. Frost’s warmth and his surly bitterness are one well-known example. Think also of Eliot’s lyric transports and his dry cynicism; Millay’s self-denial and her sensual exuberance; Stevens’s childlike ...
John Peck’s Hypnagogic Poetry
Based on my informal surveys, John Peck is one of the few contemporary poets to have earned a true cult following. Although too difAcult to appeal to an audience of general readers, he is a crossover phenomenon, his work respected and enjoyed by poets from wildly differing aesthetic schools. His voice is opaque ...