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The Ghost of Metre is as Dead as Friedrich Nietzsche’s God

737 words

urnRobert Vas Dias, London Cityscape Sijo (Perdika Press, 2012)

Darius Victor Snieckus, The Slow Wheel (Paekakariki Press, 2012)

Kate Foley, A Fox Assisted Cure (Shoestring Press, 2012)

Wynn Wheldon, Tiny Disturbances (Acumen Publications, 2012)

Piotr Gwiazda, Messages (Pond Road Press, 2012) 

My shelves buckle under the weight of the tomes I’ve collected over the decades. My cats have slept on most, then pushed them behind the treasured tomes—tomes by poets I still read and that still matter to me. W. B. Yeats, Roy Campbell, Wallace Stevens, and Dylan Thomas are always at a hand’s reach, and my cats know better not to lounge on them lest they be banished to the bathroom sink or to a kitchen bowl full of baubles. These books never collect dust, asking to be reread and reread over and over again. Their authors were poets who knew what they were doing, whether they wrote in rhymed iambic pentameter, blank verse, accentuals, syllabics, or verse libre. They all had a sense of line, knew how and when to use enjambments, and all packed a heavyweight punch.

UrnandLightsToday anyone can scribble prose onto a page, give it arbitrary line breaks and call it a poem. Infamously, the minor American poets Robert Creely and Robert Bly got away with doing this, spawning generations of MFA wannabes and imitators. The post-modernist poem, known across the great pond as the McPoem, is not anything that a sophisticated reader could actually admire as he or she would Shelly’s Ozymandias or Roy Campell’s The Zebras. Rather, in our shabby social democratic times, it is a proletarian poem that any poetaster or poetasteress can write and easily get published.

In The Slow Wheel Darius Victor Snieckus offers us images in such punchless prose, though occasionally he attempts to write traditional verse. The results are slapdashedly rhymed free verse, post-modernist verse that refuses to accept that it is doggerel inasmuch as it is overly enjambed to muffle any inadvertent jingling.  Yet one can sense the ghost of William Topaz McGonagall is still very much alive:

At the end of day
I drive the wrong way

(“Fields,” p. 26)

Robert Vas Dias gives us faux-formal strophes in London Cityscape Sijo, as if perversely mocking T. S. Elliot’s advice in the seminal essay Tradition and the Individual Talent. Alas, the line breaks and strophes appear on Mr Dias’ pages as visual adornments, not as key elements in the linguistic structure of his verses:

This summer everyone’s off
to somewhere else than home. Today

two swans fly over our house
towards the west, their wings shoo

the air they wish through, to
get where they know is home.

(“21,” p. 17)

Most certainly the comma after “west” in line two of couplet two ought to be a full stop, if not a semicolon.

In A Fox Assisted Cure Kate Foley provides us flash fiction in sections, narratives dealing with folks with alternative lifestyles. Not surprisingly, the prosody is flat as Virginia Woolf and her Bloomsbury lovers. More prose chopped up into lines to resemble verse.

Wynn Wheldon tries hardest in Tiny Disturbances. One wants to like his poems (after all he begins his lines with uppercase letters), but in the end one cannot forgive the lack of precision and craft. The unintentional laziness palls the reader. Here I quote the final four lines of “Sonnet for Mother’s Day”:

Ah well. What a lot I’ll have to write about
You told me lying in your last bed, legs abloat.
How I’d like to know what you made of it
Now you must know well how the words best fit.

One wonders whether a full stop or semicolon is missing from the end of the penultimate line? “Abloat,” of course is an egregious neologism of a rhyme.

Piotr Gwiazda impresses somewhat in Messages. Aware of his limitations as a non-native speaker, he almost wins us over with his erudition and sense of line. One cannot help but wonder what a very fine poet he would be if he wrote and published only in his mother language.

Every morning we proclaim: “The world is within
my understanding.” What’s stopping us, though?
These marble hands. These limestone eyes.
The boiling earth. The swollen sun.

(“The Golden Age,” p. 10)

As Cleanth Brooks reminds us, poems should be well-wrought urns. I dare say that none of the poems in these collections are well-wrought, let alone memorable. Some only aspire a little more than the rest.


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  1. Peter Quint
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I’m a Keats fan myself. He wrote several lines at the end of “Ode On A Grecian Urn” that have seldom been equaled and never exceeded:
    When old age shall this generation waste,
    Thou shalt remain in midst of other woe than ours.
    A friend to man, to whom thou sayest,
    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
    That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.

  2. Posted March 24, 2015 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Who genuinely considers this poetry? Some of these examples sound like what I write when I am having an off day, and I consider myself dilettante. I suppose next time I should submit to a poetry journal instead of the garbage.

    Bad form goes hand in hand with poor inspiration or having nothing to say. I do not believe this is a coincidence and agree with Hegel that bad poetry is symptomatic of these writers not actually being poets. What is expressed in their writing is the inherently unpoetic.

  3. rhondda
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    I really like this post. It says what I have been thinking about so much modern poetry; that it is complete junk off the top of their heads. Why I could that.
    I’m a poet
    and I know it
    What’s your problem

    I’m poet
    and I know it
    so there.

  4. Posted March 24, 2015 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

    Oh look. . .

    “The results are slapdashedly rhymed free verse, post-modernist verse that refuses to accept that it is doggerel inasmuch as it is overly enjambed to muffle any inadvertent jingling. ”

    … criticism that performs what it describes. I shall assume this was joyously intentional.



    • Leo
      Posted March 25, 2015 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Indeed, Mysti. That’s in-your-face baroque prose.

  5. Proofreader
    Posted March 26, 2015 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    It seems that Edgar Allan Poe’s words could be applied to many modern poets: “His book contains about sixty-three things, which he calls poems, and which he no doubt seriously supposes so to be. They are full of all kinds of mistakes, of which the most important is that of their having been printed at all.”

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