Friday, October 12, 2007


kw: book reviews, poetry

I suppose it is the autistic nerd buried (not so deeply) in me. I am most comfortable with structured poetry. Do you know the old cliché, "It has no rhyme nor reason"? Formerly, "reason" meant structure, or as we would say today, rhythm. The saying is a fair description of "free verse", an oxymoron.

Fortunately, Conversations: poems that talk to other poems, edited by Kurt Brown and Harold Schechter, has verse of all forms, from sonnets and "abba"- or "abab"-rhymed quatrains to blank verse (think Shakespeare soliloquies) and, yes, plenty of free verse. There are a few fence-sitters as well, such as El Hombre by William Carlos Williams:
It's a strange courage
you give me, ancient star:

Shine alone in the sunrise
toward which you lend no part!
Lines of broken anapests alternate with iambic trimeters, and part almost rhymes with star. Actually, it is most nearly a haiku, though the form does not explicitly appear.

The premise of the book is those poems that turn the one-way communication of publishing into a two-way communication (though the first speaker has typically fallen silent long since). The first long section begins Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love", followed by eight replies, riffs, or variations.

Other sections have one or two replies each, by turns in accord, in anger, rebuking, and adoring, and a few humorous takeoffs, such as Ogden Nash's "Very Like a Whale" in answer to Byron's "The Destruction of Sennacherib". Nash begins,
One thing that literature would be greatly the better for
Would be a more restricted employment by authors of simile and metaphor.
and rather thoroughly unmasks every trope in the piece. It would be an outrage were it not so hilarious!

I seldom read a volume of poetry right through, but this was an exception.

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