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

Sunday, March 16, 2014

In Circles

     As you may know, there are five types of poetry, distinguished by what tools are or are not employed to make them memorable:

1.  Metrical -  Sonics (e.g. alliteration, consonance, assonance, hard versus soft and/or long versus short sounds), rhythms and, most importantly, the quantification of something (e.g. alliterations, feet, beats, syllables, etc.).  Meter dominates commercial poetry but is far less common in poetry books and 'zines.

2.  Free Verse - Sonics and rhythms without quantification.  After brief successes with monorhythms in the 1920s and polyrhythms in the 1930s, free verse soon gave way to arhythmic variations.  Today, less cautious speakers refer to all non-metrical poetry synecdochically as "free verse".  In truth, very little contemporary poetry qualifies.

3.  Prose Poetry - Sonics, but neither rhythm nor quantification.  Given that, as far as we know, ancient languages were not accented, the earliest poetry could not have been rhythmic as we anglophones define the term, at least.

4.  Pre-Prosodic Poetry - None of the above (i.e. no repetitions of sounds, rhythms or quantifications) but a basic level of congruity.  Prose, absent any vestige of poetic technique or form.  A cursory glance at most poetry being published today establishes this as the dominant form--as it was before mnemonics were developed to commit verses to memory.  Hey, we've come full circle!

5.  Computer Generated Poetry - Randomly generated text,¹ lacking not only sonics, rhythms and quantification but coherent design as well.  Many will disregard Computer Generated Poetry because of its silliness but note how difficult it is to distinguish this inchoate writing from the Pre-Prosodic Poetry in the "bot or not" Turing Test.

      Computer Generated Poetry isn't remarkable because it can speed up the "100 monkeys with 100 typewriters trying to produce Shakespeare" process from 100 years to less than 100 nanoseconds.  It isn't noteworthy because it can inspire human poets to produce masterpieces or because no less than two of the five greatest poems of this century were flukes.  No.  It is significant because, in the absence of a market, this emulation is the closest facsimile of how poetry came into being originally.  Consider the similarities:

      You hit a button and the computer produces some text offerings.  You consign most to oblivion by ignoring them.  No quota is implied.  When you see something you like you deem it a poem and you save² it.

      Were you a prehistoric cave dweller, you would hear dozens of stories and consign most to oblivion by ignoring them.  No quota is implied.  Were you to see something you like you'd deem it a poem and save² it [in memory].³

      Voilà!  Once again, we've come full circle!


¹ - From "12 Things Poets Get Backwards - Part II":   "These poetry generators are an excellent source of inspiration.  Try loading Poem Generator with your own word lists.  Your results may amuse and amaze you.  'Language is a Virus', 'Goth-o-matic', 'Jelks' and 'Random Line Generator' are alternatives."

² - As in saving it for future use and as in saving it from oblivion.

³ - By contrast, a modern editor would read thousands of submissions deemed as poems by their authors, pick the best [or least awful] of the lot and, having gathered enough pieces to form a book or periodical, publish them.  Rejected pieces might be saved [by their authors, at least].

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Earl Gray, Esquirrel

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