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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Poetry Critique

    In chronological order, poetry students are advised to:

  1. Learn and practice the fundamentals.

         Start with the terminology, then study scansion and sonics before spending a few months reading the technical articles on Poet Free-For-All's "Blurbs of Wisdom" forum.


  2. Take in a lot of poetry.

         Read or, ideally, listen to as many poems as you can, paying particular attention to the use or absence of technique.


  3. Learn to think critically.

          As you encounter a classical or a critically acclaimed contemporary poem ask yourself:  "What do people like about this piece?"

          As you read any lesser work, including those published in well known literary magazines, ask yourself:  "Why, with so much exposure, did this poem fail to attract any attention from poets, critics or the public?"

Critique

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #40
     Why is critical thinking so important?  For one, you are our first line of defense against awful poety, starting with your own.  Additionally, it can prevent new poets from making a bad name for themselves by submitting their work too early.  The only thing worse than having terrible writing rejected is having it accepted (which can cast a pall on all your subsequent submissions).  Finally and most importantly, critique improves your work markedly, which explains why every one of the last ten Nemerov winners and the authors of all five of the top poems of this century come from the online workshop community.

     The best places to develop objectivity and critical skills are:  Eratosphere, Gazebo and Poetry Free-For-All.  Of these, I'm going out on a limb--terra cognita for any squirrel--in recommending Eratosphere for newcomers, mostly because of its liquidity.  In any event, do not join up and jump in.  Read the guidelines and spectate for a few months.

     When will you be ready to post work and critiques in such a group?  Here is a useful measure:  If your first thought is that people will be mean to you, you are not ready to participate.  Lurk until you understand that informed critique is the greatest gift a knowledgeable poet can offer a neophyte.

The Workshop:

     Regardless of the venue, experience has shown that this common ethos works:

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #73
1.  Never crit the crit.

     Do not critique the critique or the critic.  As the Original Poster (i.e. "OP", the one who wrote the underlying poem), unless you require clarification just say "Thank you."  Do not explain or defend your work.  Do not whine about it or you being attacked or abused.  Do not tell critics that you won't be using their suggestions.

     As a subsequent critic, do not underscore the fact that you are disagreeing with those before you;  just state your case.

2.  Do not be a crapflooder. 

     Post one poem, wait for responses, and do your revisions before you post another.  Patience!

3.  Do not post junk. 

     Check your spelling, syntax, punctuation and grammar.  Take your poem as far as you can develop it before posting it for critique.  If you don't respect your work--including your drafts--how can you expect others to? 

4.  Do not be a freeloader.

     Critique many more poems than you post.  Note that many workshops have a formal quota in this regard.  Exceed it.  Always. 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #79
5.  Unless you intend humor, do not include a trademark or copyright notice (® ©). 

     That is tantamount to screaming "Rookie!" in a crowded workshop.  No one is interested in stealing your work from an area dedicated to making it worth stealing.  Among workshoppers, plagiarists are lower than the scum that forms under mole droppings.

      A second sign of a tenderfoot is...the...overuse...of...ellipses.  Neophytes seem to think these add suspense rather than humor.  Somewhat more experienced poets tend to overuse em dashes--like this.  No one knows why.

     Another giggle trigger is to mention your style.  Unless clumsiness counts, novice poets don't have a style and, while we're on the subject, most experienced poets don't want one.  (Apparently, the human expression "falling into a rut" isn't as sexy as it sounds.)

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #44
6.  Do not complain about insufficient critiques.

     This time would be better spent solving the problem by writing critiques.

      As a newcomer, no one knows your attitude towards criticism yet.  Commenters soon tire of newbies prancing in, reacting badly to comments and exiting in a huff after insulting those who took the time to tell them the truth about their writing.  (Hence the expression:  "Don't announce, just flounce.") 

    Bear in mind that, even in the most advanced open workshop, novices will outnumber experts by hundreds to one.  There is a Catch 22 at work here.  Just as you can't get a job without experience and can't get experience without a job, you can't fully benefit from workshopping without attracting the better critics and that requires work that is at least promising.  Towards this end, write and read a lot of critique¹.  Indeed, reading criticism¹ might teach you even more than reading poetry.

7.  Unless there are factual or continuity errors, concentrate on the writing, not the subject matter.

     A workshop is not the place for debates of any sort but especially not ones that aren't about aesthetics.  [Apologies for the triple negative.]  Many online sites have separate fora for such discussions.

     Avoid the interpretive unless you are trying to point out a lack of clarity.

8.  The critic is doing the poet a favor, not the other way around.

     A workshop is not a showcase.  It should go without saying that you never post a published work unless you hope to revise it for republication (something you should explain up front).

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #80
9.  Footnote "terms and times" only.

     That is, explain expressions and historical or geographical conditions and references to familiarize readers with things that contemporaries would already know.  See any Shakespearean script for examples.  Do not tell us about your motivation or how drunk you were when you wrote your piece.

10. As a critic, if a poem is unsalvageable or perfect do not be afraid to say so.

     When your parents told you that "if you can't say anything good don't say anything at all" they weren't speaking as poetry critics.  Still, it helps to be tactful and polite.

    For the vast majority of poems in between these two extremes don't linger long on your evaluation;  proceed as quickly as you can to suggestions for improvement. 

11.  As they say on PFFA, become one with Scavella's Mantra: 

    "I am probably not as good as I think I am."

12.  Neither the poet nor the critic should ever mention the critic's poetry.

    As a critic, avoid doing a complete rewrite.  Leave most of the detail work to the poet.  Beyond that, all parties should observe our "Laws of Poetry" and John Boddie's adage: 

   "Whether or not critique is constructive depends on how
the author uses it, not on the manner in which it's phrased."



Footnotes:

¹ - Generally speaking, among online workshoppers "critique" addresses the author of an unfinished work with an evaluation and, where appropriate, suggested improvements.  "Reviewing" is an evaluation of a completed product directed at potential end users.  This may be confusing, but the term "criticism" can refer to an academic exercise defining an established work's place in the canon or to any or all of these three types of discourse.



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Signed,

Earl Gray, Esquirrel


Friday, November 22, 2013

Exchange

     One of my Internet buddies and I mail--not email, mind you, but actually mail--each other song lyrics that we think might work as poetry.  The catch is that we don't open the envelope until we are onstage at an open microphone.  He is Canadian so, naturally, I sent him these two:

"Cactus" by Ferron



"Famous Blue Raincoat" by Leonard Cohen



Buffy Ford Stewart and her husband, John
     Unaware that my friend was a fellow Bloodliner¹ , I was somewhat surprised--we[e] squirrels don't like surprises at the best of times and standing on a stage is not a good time for anyone to be taken off guard--when I opened my envelope and read the lyrics to John Stewart's "Strange Rivers", along with the suggestion to omit the last two stanzas "if only to meet the time limit":

There are voices in the mirror
And there are faces at the door
And they open on the rivers
We've never seen before
And are there choices for the Sparrow
Or does he only fly
High above the rivers
Pulling you and I?

There are strange rivers
Rivers that you can not see
And there are strange rivers
Who know our destiny
And there are strange rivers
And we're sailors
You and me

And he could have been a builder
He could have been the one
To turn his dreams to steel
Cathedrals in the sun
And he could have been a builder
But then he bought the gun
There are forces in that river
That keep him on the run

There are strange rivers
Rivers that you can not see
And there are strange rivers
Who know our destiny
And there are strange rivers
And we're sailors
You and me

Did you ever turn the corner
And you wondered why you did
'Cause you haven't been that way, now
Since you were just a kid
And nothing really happened
But then you've got to say
That you wonder what would've happened
Had you gone the other way
There are strange rivers
Rivers that you can not see
And there are strange rivers
Who know our destiny
And there are strange rivers
And we're sailors
You and me

For there are strange rivers
There are strange rivers
And there are strange rivers
There are strange rivers
Oh, there are strange rivers
There are strange rivers

Feel the river
See the river
Be the river

     I thought I'd done rather well until I saw this video:




     I  love  that voice!

     My only criticism is that the performer, one "Hank Beukema", anticipated the next line as he spoke and stopped at the end of unenjambed lines, making it sound too phrasal.  I certainly agreed with my buddy that, as a poem, it is better without the last two stanzas.

     Here is the song, performed by its author, John Stewart:





Footnotes:

¹ - Since one of his earliest albums, "California Bloodlines", the term "Bloodliner" has referred to a John Stewart fan.



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Hypermodernism

From Albert Einstein:

"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

From John Stewart's "Runaway Train":

Blind boys and gamblers
They invented the blues
Will pay up in blood
When this marker comes due
To try and get off now
It's about as insane
As those who wave lanterns
At runaway trains

From "Surviving the Death of Poetry":

"Whether tomorrow's breakthrough verses are retro or hypermodern is for audiences to decide on a piece-by-piece basis."

From Savielly Tartakower:

"Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do. Strategy is knowing what to do when there is nothing to do."



     When you take on the task of reviving a dead or dying pursuit there are three possible approaches:

Ram On!

     Most editors and, therefore, most poets will continue to participate in the Zombie Apocolypse, producing the same "poetry" that has "succeeded" [only in getting published] recently.  The editors are committed to the status quo, even-handedly supporting everything that calls itself an aesthetic (with or without an audience) while catering strictly to subscribing poets.  The more "new voices" they publish the more subscribers they gain.  Brilliant!  Later, though, they complain--sometimes even publicly--about the tedious uniformity, often in the same breath used to remind submitters to read the periodical beforehand so they'll know what the editors want.  This being the very definition of insanity, let's call it "Einsteinophasia".  Don't get me wrong;  I can empathize because I've been there myself. 

     We see what these people are reduced to publishing and can only cringe at the thought of what they must be rejecting.  Nevertheless, a publisher who boards this runaway train rarely chooses to leave it.  Viewers encounter the same stubborn mindset on Gordon Ramsey's "Kitchen Nightmares" reruns, where failing restaurateurs resist serving fresh food, claiming that their existing clientele will prefer the same prepackaged dinners they've enjoyed in the past.  Mr. Ramsay looks around the empty diner and asks:  "What 'existing clientele'?"  The answer amounts to "My buddies, Bob and Jim.  They show up every Thursday for the earlybird special."

     Just to be clear:  this purely experimental approach is entirely logical, but only if it collects feedback, draws conclusions from it and bases subsequent action on it.  The problem is that these "experimenters" ignore their data, learning nothing from generations of abject failure.  As Adrian Mitchell observed, "Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people."

Retro

     Another sensible tack is to go "Old School", emulating what worked when the pursuit was still vital.  In the case of poetry this means verse, often in language that is sophisticated, formal and/or, in some cases, downright anachronistic (e.g. people outside religious colonies had stopped saying "thee" and "thou" more than a century before Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Sonnet 43" in 1850).  "Antiblurb" by A. E. Stallings serves as a breath-taking example: 


Antiblurb.


     A critic might say:  "Add in a little more performance value and modernized themes and you might have something with broad appeal."

Hypermodernism¹

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #102
     A third option is a mixture of the above two:  adding markedly new slants (e.g. High Modernism), structures (e.g. curginas), techniques (e.g. bracketing) and/or technologies (e.g. YouTube) to older paradigms. 

     In 1924 master Savielly Tartakower's chess manual, "Die hypermoderne Schachpartie" ("The Hypermodern Chess Game"), coined the phrase "hypermodern" to describe what he, Richard Réti's "Die neuen Ideen im Schachspiel" ("Modern Ideas in Chess", 1922) and Aaron Nimzowitsch's blockbuster "Mein System" ("My System", 1925-1927) advocated.  Years later the expression was borrowed by artists, writers, sociologists and architects to describe similar movements in other fields.  I have a few quibbles with the first half of the Wikipedia explanation but this part is noteworthy:

"Hypermodernism...has come to have some aspects of modernism filtered through the latest technological materials and approaches to design or composition. References to magic and an underlying flexible self-identity often coupled with a strong irony of statement categorize the movement. Some theorists view hypermodernism as a form of resistance to standard modernism; others see it as late romanticism in modernist trappings."

     Whether we are talking about chess or poetry, aspects associated with hypermodernism include:

  • Subtlety, as opposed to rant or, at the other extreme, obscurity.


  • Tension and restraint, including but not limited to self-restraint.


  • Distance, as opposed to occupying² something directly.


  • Innovation, as opposed to invention [from scratch].³


  • Heracleitian time-sensitivity.

    If the hypermodernism of 2020 is identical to that of 2025 then at least one of them is not hypermodernism.

    Of course, the quintessential hypermodern poem is T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock":





    Are there any contemporary examples?  Only one that I can think of:


Beans (by D.P. Kristalo).


      For convenience, here are the elements in question again:

  •   Subtlety, as opposed to rant or, at the other extreme, obscurity.

        The video makes the context clear.  On the page, this is accomplished by the acrostic.  For other delicate touches click here.


  • Tension and restraint, including but not limited to self-restraint.

         The entire poem is a speaker straining to conceal her anger and its target.  She succeeds in the latter struggle, at least.


  • Distance, as opposed to occupying² something directly.

         Compare the dispassionate tone [before the untargeted venom in the ending] to the stridency you might find at a slam.  While the concern may be distant it is hardly absent.


  • Innovation, as opposed to invention [from scratch].³

         This poem didn't invent diaeresis, the curgina or the acrostic.  It blended them to create a masterpiece.


  • Heracleitian time-sensitivity.

         To fully appreciate the references one requires an understanding of the politics of that country and era.

    The magic is in the technique and poignancy.  If I should meet you in twenty years I might say "Your face was always saddest..." and expect you to finish the line.

    As we saw with High Modernism, Hypermodernism requires mastery of what preceded it.  It is preordained that it will be followed by imitators who don't even understand that, by definition, it cannot be imitated.

    Some will shrug and say:  "Ç'est la vie."

    I say:  "Let the fun begin!"


Addendum

     Missing from Savielly Tartakower's biography is his other occupation;  he was a professional poet from a place where and a time when that wasn't an oxymoron.


Footnotes:

¹ - In "Surviving the Death of Poetry" we encountered the hipster muggle, an artless dodger often barnacled to publishers and editors, contributing nothing of value to the conversation beyond the obscure verbification of the word "gadfly".  (As an aside, I usually avoid "-isms".  In theory, they are convenient baskets.  In practice, they are the esperanto of the hipster muggle¹ with nothing to say and all day to say it. I mentioned Hypermodernism only because, at the time of this writing, pseudointellectuals haven't rendered the term completely meaningless.  Yet.)

² - If it helps and for better or worse, think drones, not armies.

³ - Think "We stand on the shoulders of giants" more than "Make it new."



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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Surviving the Death of Poetry

     If poetry is alive we should be undertaking to reach the public through it.

     If poetry is dead we should be undertaking.



     Poetry, that thing that thrived on the audience's love of it, is dead.  A mode of communication that once rivaled the novel now fights for the same public attention afforded lacrosse--markedly less than curling.  In the last half century it has contributed not a single phrase, let alone an iconic poem, to the public discourse.

     Only two tiny minorities fail to understand this.  Stereotypical hipster muggles will roll their eyes in  exasperation at being told this for the umpteenth time.  Lacking empathy, they cannot imagine how frustrating it is for those who've had to tell them this obvious fact for the umpteenth time.
    
     Far more significant are those who have invested years in the art form and cannot bring themselves to acknowledge how far the stock has fallen.  Editors and teachers, especially, do not appreciate anyone spelling out the obvious because it undermines their prodigious efforts to revive a corpse.  Some reach for the flimsiest argument:  there is more poetry being produced by more people than ever before.  This dodge is beyond lame;  it is from where lame crawls off to die.  Leave aside the technicality that, despite there being more people than ever, there is no audience for any of this stuff.  Deal with the undeniable:  overproduction is, by definition, a problem, not a solution.

     These people are committed and, depending on how many other plain truths they deny, perhaps they should be.

     The question becomes:  How can we reconcile our love of poetry with our realization that it is a dead art form?


     Poetry has been gone for less than a century.  Granted, that lull is unprecedented in any culture, but it is barely an eye-blink compared to the silene stenophylla, a plant considered extinct but resurrected after 31,700 years under the permafrost. 
    
     Perhaps, if we can find enough of poetry's DNA, we can recreate a strain that can thrive in today's ecosystem.

     The paradox is that, in dealing with the death of poetry, we need to allow the death of poetries.  Whatever crackpot strains fail to find fertile ground need to be abandoned, not coddled in artificial environs or needlessly autopsied.  The last half century has taught us what doesn't work.  Let failure be its own post mortem.  Time to concentrate on what succeeds.  Whether tomorrow's breakthrough verses are retro or hypermodern is for audiences to decide on a piece-by-piece basis.  The only safe bet is that they will involve exemplary writing, performance and production.

    Put bluntly, those in denial regarding poetry's passing do the art form no favor. Like Elvis sighters, they trivialize the demise itself.  It was a sharp, painful decline that took place decades before most of us were born.  We are told that "thirteen is colder in the fall."  This was the bleakest of Autumns, made all the more so by not knowing that Winter would be longer than anything seen on "Game of Thrones".

     All of that said, the reincarnation of poetry could occur in the next few months or years.  Without reservation or hyperbole, it promises to be one of the most glorious events in human history.



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Friday, November 15, 2013

The Next Great Poet


     Who will be recognized as the greatest contemporary English language poet in, say, the year 2030?  Let's see if we can put together a composite, beginning with the language used.

Margaret Ann Griffiths
     Here is an interesting phenomenon:  the more linguistically diverse the country the less diverse the English.  The reason is no mystery:  in households where English is not the first language it is often learned on television (e.g. Sesame Street), where the lack of diversity is no accident.  The English spoken in Southern, Northern, Eastern and Western India is more or less identical.  Similarly, that spoken in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (a country known for its vertical mosaic multiculturalism), is virtually indistinguishable from that heard in Victoria, British Columbia (4372 kilometers/2716 miles away), and all points in between.  (In New York state you couldn't travel a tenth of that distance without the accents changing four or five times.)  The most vanilla English on the planet is spoken in the most culturally diverse city in the world:  no, not Paris, not New York, but Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. 

     This homogeneity transcends time, as well.  A 92 year old Torontonian talks almost exactly like a 12 year old Vancouverite.   

     Listen closely to the English spoken on U.S. television and, more and more, by the newer generations of Americans.  Do they sound like Chicagoans?  New Yorkers?  Bostonians?  Midwesterners?  Southerners?  No.  Compare 12-year-olds across America to see whether, when speaking outside their family, they sound more like their grandparents or like Canadians (minus the "Eh?") such as Peter Jennings and William Shatner.

     Whoever the next great poet is or, more accurately, whoever presents that poet's work will sound like Canadians and, thanks to print media domination (to say nothing of programming and scripting languages), spell like Americans.   That is the de facto standard for all public communication in North America and is becoming so for the world at large.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #50
     Nationality?  As recently as 2005, India had one third as many fluent English speakers as the United States, more than the United Kingdom or any other country.  That gap has all but disappeared already.  By 2030, thanks to the Internet, economic opportunites (not limited to Information Technology) and reactions to strict censorship (where even the tamest English language television or movie production is cut to pieces), India will have more anglophones than the United States, Britain, Canada, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand combined.

     Statistically, then, the next great poet rates to be Indian.  There are other factors that will tilt the odds in this direction.  As you know, poetry is dead in English-speaking countries.  Not quite so in India, where the average person can recite whole poems--and not only English ones--composed in the last half century.  This love of verse is reflected in a far more positive approach to prosody.  This fascination is particularly strong regarding rhythm due to the unaccented nature of native Indian languages.

A. E. Stallings
     Gender?  The five greatest poems of this century were all written by women.  The three greatest 21st century poets so far have been women.  I can't think of any reason why this trend shouldn't continue.  Can you?

     When in doubt, predict the present!

     Age?  Writers tend to peak in their thirties or forties.  That sounds about right.  Tomorrow's poet needs to be old enough to respect the craft and have both life experiences and a sense of humor, but not so stereotypically old as to be self-conscious, "out of touch", death-obsessed or technophobic.

     Marketing?  Referring back to the original question, it isn't enough to be the best poet of an era;  one needs to be recognized as such.  Currently, Page poets rarely look beyond their university, let alone their borders.  The Internet tends to denationalize conversations, though, so 2030 will be an entirely different world.  The two keys will be popularity (something that will be determined on sites like YouTube) and geek appeal (easily earned when the competition is focused on substance to the exclusion of form).

     Outside of The Poetry Society (India), awards for poetry in India are few and meager.  Contests are another matter entirely.  While America's Pulitzer, Canada's Governor General Award, the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in Britain and other anglophone countries' honors elicit little interest or participation from the public, the All India Poetry Competition involves entrants of every age and is reported closely by the media there.  Because poetry is relevant to their society--something we videshi can scarcely imagine--an accomplished Indian poet begins with the greatest of all marketing advantages:  a market!  This fact, alone, puts them four generations ahead of anglophone countries.  They enjoy a similar advantage in performance, which never disappeared from Indian society.  Oh, and Indian poets, along with their supporting organizations, are years ahead of their Western counterparts in the use of technology.

     One last thing:  If you are a regular reader here you know that the future of poetry lies in performance contest marketing.  Care to guess where this was invented?



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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Scansion for Experts

The Poetry Paradox: 

    The simpler the concept the smaller the number of poets who understand it.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #75
    To wit, if you comprehend the difference between iambs and trochees you are in a minority of poets.  Knowing what meter is--something that can be described in one word:  "quantification"--puts you in the tiny group of writers who do.  As we will discover shortly, if you understand the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables you are part of an elite but statistically insignificant subset of versers.


     To hear Content Regents, CoraZoners ("Write from the heart!") and advocates of Convenient Poetics speak, one would think that the science of prosody didn't exist.  All of these take relativistic positions, dismissing prosody as antiquated hypotheses, generating little or no consensus among experts.  In truth, only the cutting edge is controversial;  most of prosody is settled, including everything mentioned so far in this series.  Let me illustrate such a non-issue--that is, something that is controversial only to those unfamiliar with the science.

     For the purposes of examining accentual and accentual-syllabic verse we rely on stressed versus unstressed syllables.  For example, consider this line from Robert Frost's iambic tetrameter "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening":

But I | have prom|ises | to keep

     Dictionaries tell us that the third syllable in "promises" has a "secondary stress".  This one comes in a position where we expect an ictus (i.e. stress).  So is it accented, forming an iamb, or is it not?  The consensus is that, while "-es" is uttered with more strength than the adjacent syllables, it is not sufficiently stressed to form an iamb.  This foot is considered to be a pyrrhus.

     This idea that there are different levels of stress even among accented and unaccented syllables gave rise to Otto Jespersen's 1900 "Notes on Metre", establishing 4 levels of stress: 

1.  Weak

2.  Half-weak

3.  Half-strong

4.  Strong.

    The 1s and 2s are unstressed syllables in the binary (i.e. stressed versus unstressed) system, 3s and 4s are stressed.  Thus, where "^" is accented, "~" not, Frost's line would be scanned as:

 ~  ^    ~     ^  ~ ~     ~  ^   - Binary
But I | have prom|ises | to keep - Frost
 1  4    1     4  1 2     1  4   - Jesperson

    For centuries this "1-2" foot has been called an "iambic pyrrhus".  Here is an example of a "2-1" trochaic pyrrhus, spoken, not sung:

~  ^     ~  ~   ~  ^   ~    ^     ~   ^   - Binary
I fell | into | a burn|ing ring | of fire - Sung by Johnny Cash
1  4     2  1   1  4   1    4     1   4   - Jesperson

    Here is another, line 12 from Shakepeare's Sonnet 27:

 ^      ^      ^     ^    ~     ~     ~   ^      ^    ^   - Binary
Makes black | night beaut|eous, and | her old | face new  - Shakepeare
 3      4      3     4    2     1      1  4      3    4   - Jesperson

    The above line makes the point that whatever pertains to unstressed feet applies equally to stressed ones.  Spondees can be perfectly flat (3-3 or 4-4), trochaic (4-3) or iambic (3-4).  As tautologically obvious as it is to say "stressed is stressed", it is here where most people go wrong.  The whole point of Jesperson's 4-level scansion is that stressed/unstressed syllables never have to be equally stressed/unstressed.

    The same is true of molossi (DUM-DUM-DUM) like the following (in a trinary poem):

~   ~  ~    ^     ^    ^     - Binary
It was a | long, cold night  - Verse
2   2  1    4     4    4     - Jesperson

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #56

    As long as all three syllables in the foot are stressed--3s or 4s--it is a molossus. That said, when speakers encounter more than 2 stressed syllables there is a natural tendency--not an obligation but a tendency--to slow down and flatten out the stresses.  To wit, try reciting the last half of the above line with uneven stresses:  3-3-4, 4-3-4, 4-3-3, etc.  Can you see how difficult that is and, in many cases, how unnatural it sounds?

    In Scansion for Beginners you were advised that if anyone asked you to scan a line your response should be to ask to see the entire poem.  Similarly, if anyone asks you which syllables are accented you should ask to hear the poem recited aloud, preferably by the author or an experienced performer.

    I know what you're thinking. 

   "What is 'expert' here?  Anyone who can count up to four can follow this!" 

    As stated up front, "expert" doesn't suggest complexity here.  Quite the opposite.  In this context, it refers to the gulf between your understanding now and that of 99+% of poets.  Kudos!





Friday, November 8, 2013

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Can you imagine not knowing...?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #72
par·a·digm  [par-uh-dahym, -dim] noun

1. Grammar
a. a set of forms all of which contain a particular element, especially the set of all inflected forms based on a single stem or theme.
b. a display in fixed arrangement of such a set, as boy, boy's, boys, boys'.

2. an example serving as a model; pattern. Synonyms: mold, standard; ideal, paragon, touchstone.

3.a. a framework containing the basic assumptions, ways of thinking, and methodology that are commonly accepted by members of a scientific community.
b. such a cognitive framework shared by members of any discipline or group: the company’s business paradigm.



    In "'Kill List': A Bad Poem as Provocation" on the Bark blog, Brett Ortler wrote:

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #74
In October, Josef Kaplan released a poem called "Kill List" via the publishing platform CARS ARE REAL. The poem's premise is pretty simple. A (relatively) well-known poet is named, and then either described as "rich" or "comfortable".

A brief example:

Lanny Jordan Jackson is comfortable.
Jewel is a rich poet.
Josef Kaplan is comfortable.
Justin Katko is a rich poet.

This continues for 58 pages.

The first question: Is it a poem?

     Is this a question?

Answer: Sure.

     Say what?!?

While much conceptual...

     As you know, "ideational" and "conceptual" are fashionable buzzwords among Content Regents.

...poetry wouldn’t be considered poetry by previous generations of poets...

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #69
     ...or any generation of readers, including the current one (if it exists).

...(could you see Goethe reading a translated version of Josef Kaplan’s "Kill List" and considering it a poem?), this doesn’t mean that "Kill List" isn’t poetry.

     Actually, it sort of does.  The only audience poetry has ever had has always rejected dull prose with linebreaks posing as poetry.  This constant has been more reliable than the speed of light.

A wide swathe of poetry (free verse, prose poems) wouldn’t have been considered poetry, but so what?

     My sentiments exactly.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #25
Paradigms shift. 

    "Paradigms!?"  Mind-numbingly dull 58 page directories have paradigms?

Notions of what is and is not art change, and I’ve got no problem with that.

     Nor do I, unless these changes occur only in the minds of failed artists.

Next question: Is it any good?

     Oh, this should be fun.

It’s terrible.

     Yes, but terrible what?  I would say humor but the closest thing to a punch line is the copyright notice.  (Are they really worried about being plagiarized?)

     Seriously, I challenge anyone to read this drivel without asking:  "Can you imagine not knowing the difference between this and poetry?"

While "Kill List" is getting some attention, I’d argue that it’s only because of its provocative title and the fact that it is essentially a long exercise in name-dropping.

     Let me get this straight.  An artless, enervating "long exercise in name-dropping" is accepted as poetry (of all things!) but deemed "terrible" because it's "a long exercise in name-dropping"?  That makes less sense than saying rhyming verse is poetry but that "The Tay Bridge Disaster" is terrible because it's rhyming verse.

In that respect, the poem seems to be as much a marketing ploy as it [is] a poem.

      Yes, much as Chernobyl was a marketing ploy for nuclear energy.