Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Monday, December 24, 2012

Exactly so--

As I spent most of the afternoon singing passages of The Messiah, and most of the evening taking an accidental nap (no doubt from all that focus on notes and dynamics and so on), I failed to post on what is now yesterday. And so I leave you with a thought and tumble (deliberately this time) back into bed...
I think there does persist, however, a basic misunderstanding about rhyme and the use of rhyme. Rhyme is not an “ornament”—it is essential to a rhyming poem; without it, the poem would not have happened. That is, the poet does not “know” exactly what the poem is going to say and “translate” it into rhyming verse—or shouldn’t, in my book. On the contrary, it is the strange dream-logic connections of the rhymes themselves that lead the poem forward, perhaps into territory the poet herself had not intuited. Rhyme is a method of composition. 
                           --Alicia Stallings
Read the interview here.

4 comments:

  1. When I read that Ben Jonson used to write out his poems in prose and then versify them, adding in the meter and the rhyme, I thought to myself, "So that's what makes his poetry so forgettable!" I bet he didn't write his best lyrics that way, though. No matter what he says.

    (I had to turn my spam filters back on too. Boo.)

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  2. Oh, that is interesting! Although there are several of his poems that I like very much.

    You can't believe poets about how they compose, can you? Because it's not the same afterward... Like Poe writing about of "The Raven" in "The Philosophy of Composition."

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  3. I'm seized by a sudden conviction that it was actually Samuel Johnson who did that, which seems much more likely in every way (more in character, more in keeping with the times, and a biographical detail of the sort that abounds about Johnson and is rare about Jonson.) But yes, in any case, poets' accounts of their own creative process are never to be trusted :-)

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  4. Off "The Poetry Foundation": This kind of facility in poetic composition was characteristic of Johnson, whether he was writing original poetry or translating, just as he later wrote prose with incredible speed. He could effectively organize and even edit in his mind; he later explained to Boswell that in composing verses, "I have generally had them in my mind, perhaps fifty at a time, walking up and down in my room; and then I have written them down, and often, from laziness, have written only half lines." The manuscript of The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749) reflects this practice, for the first half of many lines is written in different ink than the last half.

    They mention that the first 70 lines of "The Vanity of Human Wishes" were composed in his head. So if he composed heroic couplets in his head, I can't imagine that he versified prose...

    Figure it out and tell me! XD

    I think Yeats sometimes worked that way--starting with prose, and versifying afterward. Didn't seem to hurt him!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.