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Poetry in Notion: What Does That Word Mean Anyway?

By Annie Finch

In last week’s “Ideas” section of the Boston Globe (a section which, btw, is alone worth the price of that excellent newspaper), I came across two references to poetry. One, not surprisingly, had absolutely nothing to do with poetry. It appeared in a review of a biography of novelist Don Barthelme, whom I recall playing in the creative writing band when I was a grad student at U of Houston. The headline dubbed Don a “poet” (“new biography shows Barthelme as prankster, poet, pioneer”) though there was not a single word in the review about him ever writing poetry.


Though the difference between this sort of generalized reference to the art to which I have devoted my life and my own extremely specific idea of what poetry is perpetually astonishes me, I wasn’t too surprised to see it there.

Clearly, the word here was being used, as it has so often been used in the nearly thirty years since I began collecting and stashing away examples (in a dog-eared file called “poetry-anthropology”), to refer in a general way to lyricism, imagination, and creativity. For some reason, poetry seems to have become the stand-in for any kind of pure aesthetic drive in our culture. Poetry in Motion, poetic dancing, poetic architecture, poetic cooking, poetic painting, poetic fashions in clothing, poetic music . . .I’m sure you have seen these uses of the word numerous times.

But what was even more surprising was another review in the same issue, this time of a children’s book written in free verse. The reviewer did something I’ve never seen done before: she quoted a passage of this poetry that was several lines long, with line breaks and all, preceded by a complimentary remark along the lines of, “X’s prose is beautiful and striking.” Why wouldn’t this reviewer use the word “poetry” or “verse” to refer to this poetry?

Clearly neither of these people is thinking of the word poetry in the sense that I, and presumably most readers of Harriet, use it. What do you make of this? Have you also noticed this phenomenon? Do you think it reveals anything about the current state of poetry? It is a cause for concern or no big deal? Does it have anything to do with the matter of audience which has come up in other places on this site?
I’m interested to know what y’all think.

PS It’s now February 2010, and I’ve just heard from Lewis Turco, who points out that I misquoted him in one of my responses to comments on this thread. I apologize for that; Turco is one of the only people I know who has directly addressed the issue of the common confusion between verse and poetry. Not only do I appreciate that he did so; I like how he did so, and I don’t want to misrepresent him. So, for the record, I quote here in full the distinction he made in his email to me, and which he says is the same distinction he has been making for decades:

“VERSE IS METERED LANGUAGE, AND PROSE IS UNMETERED LANGUAGE. ANY OF THE GENRES (POETRY, FICTION, DRAMA, AND NONFICTION) MAY BE WRITTEN IN EITHER OF THE MODES. Thus, there may be VERSE POETRY or PROSE POETRY; VERSE FICTION (epics) or PROSE FICTION (novels); VERSE DRAMA or PROSE DRAMA; VERSE NONFICTION or PROSE NONFICTION.”

—Lewis Turco

Comments (20)

  • On March 26, 2009 at 12:15 am Dawn Potter wrote:

    Hi, Annie–
    I recently wrote an essay about Charlotte Bronte’s novel “Shirley” that deals (among other things) with the way in which the novelist’s authorial voice consciously and belligerently identifies herself as a poet, a term that she evidently takes as analogous to “artist” or “imaginer” rather than “person who writes poetry.” Here’s the passage, which is very odd, even unnerving:
    “It is well that the true poet, quiet externally though he may be, has often a truculent spirit under his placidity, and is full of shrewdness in his meekness, and can measure the whole stature of those who look down on him, and correctly ascertain the weight and value of the pursuits they disdain him for not having followed. It is happy that he can have his own bliss, his own society with his great friend and goddess, Nature, quite independent of those who find little pleasure in him, and in whom he finds no pleasure at all. It is just, that while the world and circumstances often turn a dark, cold side to him—and properly, too, because he first turns a dark, cold, careless side to them—he should be able to maintain a festal brightness and cherishing glow in his bosom, which makes all bright and genial for him; while strangers, perhaps, deem his existence a Polar winter never gladdened by a sun. The true poet is not one whit to be pitied; and he is apt to laugh in his sleeve, when any misguided sympathizer whines over his wrongs. Even when utilitarians sit in judgment on him, and pronounce him and his art useless, he hears the sentence with such a hard derision, such a broad, deep, comprehensive, and merciless contempt of the unhappy Pharisees who pronounce it, that he is rather to be chidden than condoled with.”

  • On March 26, 2009 at 2:29 am Desmond Swords wrote:

    I think when committed poetry lovers come across sloppy labelling, the danger is we may read more into it than is helpful or rewarding for us.
    I’m exactly the same, an armchair guardian and uncompromising critic, (often wrong) and really I couldn’t comment as fully as one would wish without reading the articles, which don’t seem to be online, and so will restrict my responses to the generality of the conundrum you pose Annie – and I would be immensley thankful if you would please forgive any tangenital musings which begin from this uninformed location, rather the exact points of text in the Globe to which you refer.
    ~
    What arrested my eye in Finch’s response to the Globe article, is her “extremely specific idea of what poetry is” – and one which many reading (and certainly responding), I suspect, will also have constructed over the years they have been addicted to dabbling and commentating upon verse.
    My own general theory on what poetry is (in a purely intellectual sphere I afully ccept may change as time and gravity take their course) chimes broadly with Emerson’s wish of bringing men not to him, *but to themselves* – by which he meant we all have our own unique take on the essence of poetic matters and that our definitions are ultimately our own and no others if they are to be the result of genius in its true form of individual self — discovered after examinng the world of intellect and imagination through observation of what’s around us and reading; thus flowing from a centre within us (seeing we we are speaking of Poetry in its fundamental state), our soul perhaps?
    However, bandying around asbtract nouns of such magnitude in a quest to elucidate the originating kernel of verbal Art – on which there is no detached empirical proof or collective agreement beyond an indivdual’s intellectual/emotional impulse, intuitively arrived at and rehearsed toward in critical prose — is not a business to be wrapped in the language of the scientist, but of dreamers and aesthetes whose only measure of success is eloquence and the engagement eyes not our own make when reading what we’ve written. We are here to create sonic beauty, I believe – and to this end the pursuit of elegance and honesty in a voice all our own, is the essential point of poetry:
    “the noble brew in which is boiled
    the true root of all knowledge”
    …a translation original wriiten in an ancient (7C) Irish wisdom tract which addresses the concept and practice of Poetry in the most extremely specific manner and explicates how and what poetry is, from the pov of someone who had (say) 1000 years of oral druidic practive behind them and 100 years of a printed bardic tradition ahead – and which was dead by the time Donne appears.
    But this is adrift from the mislabelling of prose verse and vice versa.
    What do I make of it?
    Not a great deal.
    The lot of a dreamer addicted to arriving at what may be a genuine source within ourselves, is to expect this sort of nonsense Annie. One can jump on such trivial mishaps, of other writers slipping up with clangers of nomenclature, but it is a wasteful road down which to tarry, and better to say nothing or little with grace and move to that which excites or challenges us in our capacity as artists, rather than internet grammarians, I believe.
    Do I think it reveals anything about the current state of poetry?
    Not about the state of poetry per se, only of the writer mislabelling prose verse and vice versa.
    ~
    As I said, this sort of stuff, if concentrated on, can remove our focus from what is truly worthwhile and rewarding to pursue in our search for elegantly wrought prose investigating the unknowable Elusian Mysteries and Homeric source, which in the Irish tradition is found at Segais Well – loosely analogous to the Delphic oracle of Greek myth – not in the sense of it having a similar narrative attached to it as the Delphic oracle, but because it is the ground-zero of Irish poetry and Myth
    And If Seigas Well is the Delphic Oracle, Sidhe Nechtan (faery-mound of Nechtan) assumes the equivalent poetic gravity in the bardic tradition, of the cave housing the oracle, as Segias Well itself is circled by hazel trees whose each individual nut contains all poetic wisdom, and which:
    “cast themselves in great quantities like a ram’s fleece upon the ridges of the Boyne, moving against the stream swifter than racehorses driven in the middle-month on the magnificent day every seven years.”
    If ingested by a human being, this results in the poetic Nivarna and knowledge (in old Irish – eces) transferring itself into us. As it is pagan and pre-Christian, it is a bit like the garden of Eden myth, but as without the guilt and shame of original sin introduced by Christianity.
    The modern Irish word for poetry is *eigse*, which etymologically routes to the Old Irish word for poetic wisdom and *knowing* – eces, which carries a far deeper, more resonant and complex charge than the word English word *poetry* conveys in its contemporary meaning – and is a difficult one to discuss with so few interested in this most poetic and neglected of poetry tradtions.
    This is the danger people like us fall into Annie: our life’s work being considered irrelevant and dull by the less scrupulous page-attenders mislabelling what poetry is and is not.
    ~
    However, returning to the point being made before tying to explain the relevance of Segais Well in the bardic tradition of poetry — that the halting of our attention to address inessential mistakes others less committed than we make when using the word poetry – I am reminded of the response to a question on the AIG bonuses which Ed Henry, a CNN reporter, asked President Obama at the live press conference two nights back.
    The journalist asked Obama a general question and also why he had waited several days to inform the public after finding out about the AIG bonuses. The second question was linked to gossiping of pundits in the all demanding-of-instant-reactions and pervasive TV media, which had been pitting New York attorney-general Andrew Cuomo, against Obama, with the blather firming up to a gathering specualtion that Cuomo was outperforming Obama on AIG.
    Obama responded at length to the first part fo his question, and when asked for the second time why he had not informed the public for several days, the presdient dismissed the inquiry by saying:
    “It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak.”
    And what struck me was the gravity Obama displayed in comparison to Bush. Not being a hostage to the media (which I feel the previous incumbents with all their secrets to hide, had been terrified of for all the wrong reasons) and instantly dismissing an underlying implication, that the three day delay was somehow bad form, (because the media neeeded answers, a winner, a simple binary sideshow of right/wrong good/bad) -pop Idol politics (the show the president’s appearance had cancelled) receded further away in the incremental emergence of a new and infintitely more human axis of reality gradually making itself seen, heard and understood.
    And this sense of not being sidetracked, brings to mind what the kernel of our concern on this matter whould be – that trivial matters will take on an importance beyond their relevance and worth of focus and attention, if we allow it. And in this spirit, I would answer the next question
    It is a cause for concern or no big deal?
    …by dismissing the innacurate mislabelling of the Globe hacks and move swiftly on, seeking out the next point of poetic entry into the question:
    “Does it have anything to do with the matter of audience which has come up in other places on this site?”
    In all honesty, I dunno..
    gra agus siochain
    havin a larf, Flarf from the Guardian

  • On March 26, 2009 at 7:17 am Donald Wellman wrote:

    The meaning of “poetry” like that of “liberty” has been eviscerated by the market. Poetry workers in the United States are seldom compensated with more than token payments for their work. Sometimes they receive trinkets (posters, bookplates, medals), even prizes, but seldom do they receive advances or compensation for the works that they produce. If a poet receives a contract for a work, it often includes an enigmatic compensation formula, perhaps, promising an income of “20% of sales minus cost of production.” Does not this mean that all other production workers and materials vendors will receive salaries for labor off the top and that these will continue to receive 80% of the income from sales. Such formulas are not transparent with respect to royalty accounting. The market assumes that the poet works for the honor of publication in a competitive environment where to have a work selected for publication is comparable to being kissed by an angel, or otherwise blessed, perhaps by a non-profit organization. Administrators and printers will, as they should, receive payment for labor, and even for merit. They are the good people and I do not disagree. I too have led a non-profit poetry publishing and distribution organization and take pride in that record of accomplishment. Still it is the usual assumption that poetry itself does not sell even though there is a whole market-apparatus said to be at its service. In fact, the poet’s name may have a certain fetish value under the current system. There are known poetry stars of international status, but my friends in other countries are frankly shocked that poetry is so little valued in real dollars in the United States. No wonder then that the word “poetry” has, for most purposes, become a synonym for “pretty” or “romantic.” By any material measure, “poetry” is now an essentially empty signifier.

  • On March 26, 2009 at 7:50 am Henry Gould wrote:

    I always thought “poetry” was this rare gummy substance exuded (sort of like sap) from the eyebrows of Edgar Allan Poe, in his sleep.
    “In dreams begin responsibilities”

  • On March 26, 2009 at 7:54 am Henry Gould wrote:

    p.s. sorry, I meant to say “eyelashes”. The eyebrow stuff is prose.

  • On March 26, 2009 at 10:29 am Tom wrote:

    Henry: kudos for spelling Poe’s name correctly!
    I think this is some ado about nothing. It’s just another, and completely acceptable, use of the word “poetry.”

  • On March 26, 2009 at 11:26 am Bill Knott wrote:

    i agree with the general idea that Donald Wellman expresses above with more reasonableness than i could manage——
    here’s something i wrote a year or so ago about the matter:
    *
    The world of Art mirrors the world of Society. Just as the latter is based on hierarchy, on a class system, so is the former.
    And in the world of Art, poetry is the lowest class.
    In the world of Art, poets are the proles, the slaves.
    Just as slaves in the world of Society are bullied and beaten, treated as subhuman, so in the world of Art poets are similarly abused.
    All the wealth/value produced by Society’s slaves is stolen from them by those in the higher classes. The latter grow rich on the former’s misery.
    Every idea or good generated by poet-labor is also stolen, plagiarized by the higher classes of Music, Painting, Film and Prose.
    They prosper on the poet’s back. All their wealth comes from stealing and using what the poet-slave produces.
    *
    As slaves, poets internalize their inferior status. We grovel before the Masters of Music Painting Film and Prose. We become their lickspittles, their toadies, their dogs, obsequiously grateful for the least crumb falling from their fat tables.
    We flatter kiss-ass praise these Masters for their greatness, forgetting that every good every gram of worth they possess, every virtue, was stolen from us.
    *
    From time to time the slaves of Society have risen up against their evil Masters, have rebelled against their oppressors.
    But the slaves of Art, the poets, have they ever revolted against their oppressive Masters?
    Never.
    We have never tried to rip off our chains. We have never protested against the Prosewriters the Filmmakers the Musicmucks the Painters,
    the Masters who daily steal our resources, we have never tried to expose their criminal acts of theft and exploitation.
    No, we never even dream of rising up in fury to confront and attack these overlords whose cabals conspire against our welfare,
    whose cultural institutions and media are designed and operated to keep us in penury and abject submission.
    Whose statutes of power stand ready to cripple and punish and murder us. As they have done so often.
    *

  • On March 26, 2009 at 12:02 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    You sure got that right, Bill.
    Despicable Clip-Artists, all of them. Have you ever noticed how Architects sometimes actually take our Words and put them in so-called LINES across the pediments of their sappy buildings?
    This is an Outrage.
    That is why I am forming a New (TOP-SECRET) organization, called PP –
    for POETRY, PATENTED.
    We must attack this insidious cultural parasitism at its veritable source : which is THE FLAGRANT AND PROMISCUOUS AND DASTARDLY MIS-use and MIS-appropriation of the Word POETRY itself.
    The PP solution : PATENT the word “Poetry”! Impose severe PENALTIES for the UNLAWFUL ENUNCIATION, ENSCRIPTING, OR OTHERWISE USE of this WORD – the USE of which will henceforth and forever be TOTALLY RESTRICTED to BONAFIDE POETS themselves.
    The times demand STRONG MEASURES !!!

  • On March 26, 2009 at 5:02 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    I’ve spent the day delayed on planes to Kansas. People are friendly here. I sold a book of poetry to the woman at the front desk of this hotel. She seems to know what poetry is.
    Speaking of Obama, in The Audacity of Hope he writes that with no commonly-agreed-on idea of an accepted area of truth regarding various issues, all opinions seem equally valid. This is the climate, for example, in which global warming deniers get equal time in the media with the great majority of scientific coneensus, while the icecaps melt.
    I think something similar may be happening to poetry. The audience is lost, the word becomes an empty signifier as Don says, poetry is the most devalued art as Bill says. Of course, poetry is a gift also–Lewis Hyde is right on that score–but it is a gift of a very specific kind, in my opinion. It is a verbal structure built on various kinds of repetition, audible or even conceptual, but repetition, that gives language something of the quality the power of sculpture.
    On the other hand, Dawn’s example seems to show that the word poet was used in this sense much earlier than our own time. The passage quoted doesn’t exclude the meaning ‘poet” in the sense of writing poetry, but I take your word for it, Dawn. I wonder if other examples of that use of the word can be found from the 19th century.
    Viva Edgar Allan Poet.

  • On March 27, 2009 at 12:30 pm liz wrote:

    oh who cares if poetry is not read anymore? let people do what they will. either they will come back around to it or they won’t. whinging on and on about poetry can this or can’t that is a waste of energy. just keep writing poems. and making phone calls if you can’t do that. literary criticism is just another form a literature. long live life.

  • On March 27, 2009 at 7:23 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Dear Liz,
    Well, I care. I care a lot. Poetry is the most wonderful thing in my life, and it makes me sad when others who would love it and enjoy it don’t have a chance to get exposed to it, or are exposed only to kinds that they don’t resonate with. To me, the lack of common agreement about what the word poetry even means–the emptiness of it as a signifier, as someone said–indicates a lack of honor and appreciation of the art.
    I wondered if I was being paranoid, so I posted here out of curiosity to see if others had a different interpretation. I haven’t really seen one. So I take this treatment of the word as part of the same trend that the Newsweek story documents (interestingly, the loss of readership that most affects poetry, according to Newsweek, is among women).
    I know there are people out there—many of them—who love poetry that is memorable and musical, because I talk with them, teach them, meet them, read to them, and see their eyes light up and see them get excited about poetry. So I know how powerful it can be.
    I am not only whining, if that is what this post was, but doing many other things, writing poems and books about poetry, to raise awareness of qualities I have seen potential readers seeking, and not finding often, in poetry–in particular the listening, musical aspect of it–aspects that in my opinion have been left on the side of the road over the last few generations.
    Now that i’ve gotten this one off my chest, I can promise you I will be more upbeat in future posts. I don’t think I have another such longheld concern to air.
    I like the idea of making poetry phone calls. I had a friend who used to call people and leave poems on their answering machines. Those people liked it. They cared..
    Annie

  • On March 28, 2009 at 12:17 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    Liz,
    Obviously, most poets, editors, critics, publishers and teachers care. In my experience, the poets who don’t are those who feel that their work wouldn’t appeal to a broader audience anyway. I do agree that “whinging on and on” about the problem may be a “waste of energy”. For those who do care, it would seem more productive to discuss how to enhance poetry’s profile and appeal to The American Reading Public (TARP), if not The American Public (TAP) in general.
    Annie,
    “Why wouldn’t this reviewer use the word “poetry” or “verse” to refer to this poetry?”
    Perhaps the reviewer doesn’t accept the notion that everything with linebreaks is poetry. Maybe he or she felt that some “integral” aspect of the art form is missing. For example, unlike, say, “In a Station Of the Metro”, most contemporary free verse doesn’t “scan”, even as polyrhythmic, but some of it is unquestionably “beautiful and striking” [prose?] writing.
    Whether we share the reviewer’s expectations/definition is another matter entirely.
    -o-

  • On March 28, 2009 at 1:37 pm Annie Finch wrote:

    Colin, that seems a valid interpretation. I actually came across the use of “prose” to refer to poetry again in the last few days–I will try to remember where it was.
    The only critical precedent I know for this is Lewis Turco, who holds that only metered writing qualifies as poetry. He refers to free verse as “lined lyric prose.”
    Maybe Turco’s phrase would not now be felt to be the insult to free verse that it might have been considered to be in the 1960s. If, somewhere along the line, “poetry” became a term of praise and “prosaic” the opposite, so that it would have been considered a problem to refer to something written in free verse as prose, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore; now, prose poems are the height of literary cool. If the term “prose” is indeed creeping in to describe particular kinds of beautifully-written poetry, that could be why.
    Of course, if we introduce the term “verse” to refer to metered writing, then we are left with verse and prose, and either of them could then be lined or unlined, lyrical or discursive. This would make some nice clear distinctions that might be refreshing. Where would that leave the word “poetry”?

  • On March 28, 2009 at 3:44 pm Jason Guriel wrote:

    Annie, I’m glad you brought this up. I’ve been thinking about a post on the notion of finding the poetry in something – like ballet or baseball, etc. Please stay tuned!

  • On March 28, 2009 at 5:08 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    I will look forward to your post, Jason! Maybe it will even inspire me to dig out that file.

  • On March 28, 2009 at 8:45 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    Annie:
    I wonder if this Eratosphere thread might be the conversation you’re referring to:
    http://www.ablemuse.com/erato/showthread.php?t=3458
    “The only critical precedent I know for this is Lewis Turco, who holds that only metered writing qualifies as poetry. He refers to free verse as “lined lyric prose.”
    Actually, that isn’t Mr. Turco’s position as I understand it. In various posts within that thread he says:
    Any system that does not count SYLLABLES is PROSE, which is what “free verse” is.
    So, you have two broad categories of poets, PROSE POETS, who insist they need a term like “free verse” that has the word “verse” in it in order to justify belonging to the tradition in English that poetry “must” be written in verse (which of course it does NOT– the oldest poetry in the world was written in prose: check out the Bible), and VERSE POETS (which is merely the longest tradition English, not the only one).
    NOTE WELL: “Prose poetry” does not have to be written in paragraphs.

    Lewis isn’t saying that unmetered writing isn’t poetry, only that it is prose poetry as opposed to “verse”. In his nomenclature “free verse” is merely lineated prose poetry. To wit:
    Of course, if we introduce the term “verse” to refer to metered writing, then we are left with verse and prose,
    Verse and prose poetry in Mr. Turco’s idiolect. As you suggest, he isn’t using “prose poetry” in a pejorative sense. For what it’s worth, I find his lumping free verse in with prose poetry interesting, if peculiar.
    This wasn’t the delineation I had in mind, though. The distinction I was making was between free verse and the dreaded “prose with linebreaks”, roughly defined as writing which exhibits too few of the properties that the reader/critic expects in a poem.
    Speaking for myself, I tend to reserve the word “verse” for metered poetry, as my Collins dictionary does. Living as I have in Canada, where the Progressive Conservatives have held power for half its history, the fact that “free verse” is an oxymoron doesn’t bother me in the least.
    -o-

  • On March 29, 2009 at 2:01 am Colin Ward wrote:

    Just to clarify, this entire passage was Lewis Turco speaking:
    Any system that does not count SYLLABLES is PROSE, which is what “free verse” is.
    So, you have two broad categories of poets, PROSE POETS, who insist they need a term like “free verse” that has the word “verse” in it in order to justify belonging to the tradition in English that poetry “must” be written in verse (which of course it does NOT– the oldest poetry in the world was written in prose: check out the Bible), and VERSE POETS (which is merely the longest tradition English, not the only one).
    NOTE WELL: “Prose poetry” does not have to be written in paragraphs.

    Sorry for any confusion my errant bolding might have caused.
    -o-

  • On March 29, 2009 at 4:37 pm Annie FInch wrote:

    Colin,
    I was remembering a passage in the New Book of Forms. I imagine it is the same basic principle as what you’ve described, and I appreciate your clarifying, especially since my copy of New Book of Forms seems to be missing.
    It sounds as if Lew’s definition of poetry is something that is written in lines. If that is in meter, it is verse poetry, and if it is not in meter, it is prose poetry, whether lined or in paragraph form.
    So, the lyricism of the writing has nothing to do with its being poetry–it’s simply the lineation. Is that your understanding of it?
    It is unusual because I guess most people would think of verse as implying lines, as the etymology of the word would indicate, but he is using it to mean meter.

  • On March 29, 2009 at 9:59 pm Colin Ward wrote:

    Annie,
    It sounds as if Lew’s definition of poetry is something that is written in lines.
    Verse poetry is, prose poetry (i.e. what you and I would call prose poetry plus what you and I would call free verse) is written in…well..sentences.
    Personally, I’d prefer the more accurate term “stichs” rather than “lines” but that’s another kettle of fish.
    If that is in meter, it is verse poetry, and if it is not in meter, it is prose poetry, whether lined or in paragraph form.
    Exactly.
    So, the lyricism of the writing has nothing to do with its being poetry–it’s simply the lineation. Is that your understanding of it?
    I’m not sure I understand this question, so if my answer seems like a non sequitur please feel free to rephrase. Lewis did mention what, in his mind, distinguished prose poetry from prose. As far as I could tell, this boiled down to language-independent repetitions (e.g. of words, phrases, referents, etc.) from sentence-to-sentence. Sonics and rhythms, so integral to my idea of lyricism, didn’t seem to play much of a role in his definition of prose poetry. I could be misreading or oversimplifying his stance in this regard, though.
    It is unusual because I guess most people would think of verse as implying lines, as the etymology of the word would indicate, but he is using it to mean meter.
    Well, as long as we’re talking about metrical poetry other than curginas (when the distinction between “stichs” and “lines” becomes crucial), the terms “verse” and “line” are virtually interchangeable. As you say, “verse” has other applications, as detailed here:
    http://www.poeticbyway.com/gl-uv.html#verse
    I don’t remember Lewis discussing the role of the line in what you and I call free verse.
    -o-

  • On April 1, 2009 at 3:32 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Henry Gould,

    You rock.

    I cannot add to this discussion except to say poetry’s identity is best exemplified by this passage, in which all that matters is a certain combination of the dainty with the desire to mock, or have strong opinions. To wit:

    What is Poetry? — Poetry! that Proteus-like idea, with as many appellations as the nine-titled Corcyra! “Give me,” I demanded of a scholar some time ago, “give me a definition of poetry?” “Très-volontiers;” and he proceeded to his library, brought me a Dr. Johnson, and overwhelmed me with a definition. Shade of the immortal Shakespeare! I imagined to myself the scowl of your spiritual eye upon the profanity of that scurrilous Ursa Major. Think of poetry, dear B——, think of poetry, and then think of Dr. Samuel Johnson! Think of all that is airy and fairy-like, and then of all that is hideous and unwieldy; think of his huge bulk, the Elephant! and then — and then think of the Tempest — the Midsummer Night’s Dream — Prospero — Oberon —and Titania! . . . .

    –Edgar Allan Eyelash “Letter To B____”


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, March 25th, 2009 by Annie Finch.