Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cheap Prosody Parlor Tricks - Part II

In Cheap Prosody Parlor Tricks - Part I we saw how a knowledge of scansion can help us predict what sections of a poem or song will be retained in memory. Let's continue the fun with a test my friend conducted during an open mic.

The rules couldn't be simpler. Participants will be presented with four poems--parts of poems in my buddy's 3-minute version--and then be asked whether each one is metrical or not. No, really. That's all there is to it. In fact, to make it even easier, the metrical poem(s) will rhyme and at least one of the works will be familiar to us.

Why not play along? If music will distract you, turn off your volume for all except #2, which is recited. For #1, #3 and #4, feel free to read the poems aloud to yourself as the words appear. In any event, please view each video only once before marking the poem as Metrical or Free Verse.

1. "Studying Savonarola" by Margaret A. Griffiths


2. "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by Thomas Stearns Eliot


3. "How Aimee remembers Jaguar" by Erin Hopson


4. "Beans" by D. P. Kristalo


When you're ready to see the answers, please scroll down past these photos:

"Beans" (iambic pentameter) and "Prufrock" (iambic heterometer) were verse. "Savonarola" and "Aimee" were free verse.

So, how did you fare?

When my buddy did this he had 35 people in the audience but, because it came after a poetry reading, three of them were fast asleep. Let's do the math:

32 / (2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16) = 2

If the audience were stone deaf and guessing blindly, then, two of them should have gotten all four right. By my friend's count there were at least eight MFAs, graduate students or PhDs in the crowd so our minimum expectation should be...what? 8 contestants getting all of them right? 9 out of 32?

No matter. Only one person in the crowd (a PhD, yes, but in History) got all four correct. Ever the diplomat, our hero told those assembled that the purpose wasn't to test people's ear for poetry but to show how the best free verse is virtually indistinguishable from metrical.

For what it's worth, here are the four snippets my friend used in his 3-minute version:

  1. from "Studying Savonarola" by Margaret A. Griffiths

    Say you die, scorched into ashes, say

    you pass from here to there, with your marigold
    eyes, the garden darker for lack of one golden flower,
    would bees mourn, would crickets keen, drawing long

    blue chords on their thighs like cellists?
    Say you disperse like petals on the wind,
    the bright stem of you still a living stroke

    in memory, still green, still spring, still the tint
    and the tang of you in my throat, unconsumed.

  2. from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot

    And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
    The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
    And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
    When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
    Then how should I begin
    To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
    And how should I presume?

  3. from "How Aimee remembers Jaguar" by Erin Hopson

    sink into the spaces between knees, brush bottoms
    of feet. The softest parts pursue something equal
    to spoon, fingers trace patterns over smooth
    and slick terrain. How pliable, the chasm between lovers
    where welcome linen soothes the burn.

  4. from "Beans" by D. P. Kristalo

    September came like winter's
    ailing child but
    left us
    viewing Valparaiso's pride. Your face was
    always saddest when you smiled. You smiled as every
    doctored moment lied. You lie with
    orphans' parents, long

Try this with your fellow poets or students. It's a hoot.

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