Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Alfred Corn’s “The Poem’s Heartbeat”

I have been neglecting this blog for far too long and now that a new semester at school has been safely launched and is heading out to sea, I thought I would write a little post about Alfred Corn’s beautiful little book The Poem’s Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody put out by Copper Canyon Press. Lacking the fustiness and impenetrability of a technical manual, Corn’s book is extremely rare as it is highly accessible with a wealth of anecdotes, connecting the study of prosody to the way we walk or to waves breaking along a shore-line. I bought this book as I have been meddling with syllabics lately, a subject Corn devotes a whole chapter to in his book, but it is interesting to note that as a teacher of prosody he also has plenty to say about the orthodoxy that disallows free verse or unmetered poetry:

“In free verse’s favor is its imposition of little restraint on the process of direct utterance. Language can be caught at its most spontaneous, with the implication that unconcious forces were more important in producing the poem than conscious ones. Strained syntax, words chosen for rhyme alone, padding out of lines so as to fill out the metrical count, or undue cutting away at the natural texture of speech can be avoided. The implicit stance behind every unmetered poem is that the author found this particular form of expression under no other constraints than the desire to follow where feeling and expression led, without bowing to preconceived, abstract formats devised in earlier eras and under a differing set of conditions from those that gave rise to the present poem. This comes close to saying that imposition of abstract form in a poem always comes at the cost of entire sincerity and authenticity.” (152)

As the above excerpt affirms, this is a great book that sets out a well-balanced argument for the study and appreciation of poetic rhythm in all its myriad forms. I also just bought The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach and The Art of Description by Mark Doty both by Graywolf Press and will be diving into those two books just as soon as I get a chance.