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San Francisco Renaissance

Not a single movement, but a constellation of writers and artists active in the San Francisco Bay Area at the end of World War II. Poets associated with the San Francisco Renaissance include Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer, and Michael McClure. Though the poets wrote in different styles and often espoused different aesthetic and political views, all favored the Modernist tradition of innovation, and many were influenced by Charles Olson and the Black Mountain School. Donald Allen’s influential anthology The New American Poets included a section devoted to the “San Francisco Renaissance,” and many claim that by labeling the group, Allen in some way invented it. However, the poets writing in San Francisco at that time were active and influential across many genres, and often read and collaborated with one another.

Sapphic verse

See ode.

Scansion

The analysis of the metrical patterns of a poem by organizing its lines into feet of stressed and unstressed syllables and showing the major pauses, if any. Scansion also involves the classification of a poem’s stanza, structure, and rhyme scheme.

Sestet

A six-line stanza, or the final six lines of a 14-line Italian or Petrarchan sonnet. A sestet refers only to the final portion of a sonnet, otherwise the six-line stanza is known as a sexain. The second stanza of Emily Dickinson’s “The Soul has Bandaged Moments” is a sexain. “Sestina: Like,” by A.E. Stallings possesses several sexains. See also Sestina

Sestina

A complex French verse form, usually unrhymed, consisting of six stanzas of six lines each and a three-line envoy. The end words of the first stanza are repeated in a different order as end words in each of the subsequent five stanzas; the closing envoy contains all six words, two per line, placed in the middle and at the end of the three lines. The patterns of word repetition are as follows, with each number representing the final word of a line, and each row of numbers representing a stanza:

          1 2 3 4 5 6
          6 1 5 2 4 3
          3 6 4 1 2 5
          5 3 2 6 1 4
          4 5 1 3 6 2
          2 4 6 5 3 1
          (6 2) (1 4) (5 3)

See Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “The Complaint of Lisa," John Ashbery’s “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape," and David Ferry’s “The Guest Ellen at the Supper for Street People." Browse more sestinas.

Shakespearean sonnet

The variation of the sonnet form that Shakespeare used—comprised of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, rhyming abab cdcd efef gg—is called the English or Shakespearean sonnet form, although others had used it before him. This different sonnet structure allows for more space to be devoted to the buildup of a subject or problem than the Italian/Petrarchan form, and is followed by just two lines to conclude or resolve the poem in a rhyming couplet. Learn more about sonnet forms here.

Sijo

A Korean verse form related to haiku and tanka and comprised of three lines of 14-16 syllables each, for a total of 44-46 syllables. Each line contains a pause near the middle, similar to a caesura, though the break need not be metrical. The first half of the line contains six to nine syllables; the second half should contain no fewer than five. Originally intended as songs, sijo can treat romantic, metaphysical, or spiritual themes. Whatever the subject, the first line introduces an idea or story, the second supplies a “turn,” and the third provides closure. Modern sijo are sometimes printed in six lines.

Simile

A comparison (see Metaphor) made with “as,” “like,” or “than.” In “A Red, Red Rose,” Robert Burns declares:

                   O my Luve is like a red, red rose
                   That’s newly sprung in June;
                   O my Luve is like the melody
                   That’s sweetly played in tune.

“What happens to a dream deferred?” asks Langston Hughes in “Harlem”:

                   Does it dry up
                   like a raisin in the sun?
                   Or fester like a sore—
                   And then run?
                   Does it stink like rotten meat?
                   Or crust and sugar over—
                   like a syrupy sweet?

Browse poems with developed similes.

Slam

A competitive poetry performance in which selected audience members score performers, and winners are determined by total points. Slam is a composite genre that combines elements of poetry, theater, performance, and storytelling. The genre’s origins can be traced to Chicago in the early 1980s. Since then, groups of volunteers have organized slams in venues across the world. The first National Poetry Slam was held in 1990, and has become an annual event in which teams from cities across the United States compete at events in a host city. For more on poetry slams, see Jeremy Richards’s series “Performing the Academy”. See also poets Tyehimba Jess, Bob Holman, and Patricia Smith.

Soliloquy

A soliloquy is a monologue in which a character in a play expresses thoughts and feelings while being alone on stage. Soliloquies allow dramatists to communicate information about a character’s state of mind, hopes, and intentions directly to an audience. Soliloquies became a dramatic convention in the 1590s and 1600s, when playwrights used the technique to allow characters to reveal important plot points. The opening speech in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is an early example, but the most famous soliloquies in English come from Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet, Macbeth, and Othello. 

Sonnet

A 14-line poem with a variable rhyme scheme originating in Italy and brought to England by Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, earl of Surrey in the 16th century. Literally a “little song,” the sonnet traditionally reflects upon a single sentiment, with a clarification or “turn” of thought in its concluding lines. There are many different types of sonnets.

The Petrarchan sonnet, perfected by the Italian poet Petrarch, divides the 14 lines into two sections: an eight-line stanza (octave) rhyming ABBAABBA, and a six-line stanza (sestet) rhyming CDCDCD or CDEEDE. John Milton’s “When I Consider How my Light Is Spent” and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee” employ this form. The Italian sonnet is an English variation on the traditional Petrarchan version. The octave’s rhyme scheme is preserved, but the sestet rhymes CDDCEE. See Thomas Wyatt’s “Whoso List to Hunt, I Know Where Is an Hind” and John Donne’s “If Poisonous Minerals, and If That Tree.” Wyatt and Surrey developed the English (or Shakespearean) sonnet, which condenses the 14 lines into one stanza of three quatrains and a concluding couplet, with a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG (though poets have frequently varied this scheme; see Wilfred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth”). George Herbert’s “Love (II),” Claude McKay’s “America,” and Molly Peacock’s “Altruism” are English sonnets.

These three types have given rise to many variations, including:

            -The caudate sonnet, which adds codas or tails to the 14-line poem. See Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire.”

            -The curtal sonnet, a shortened version devised by Gerard Manley Hopkins that maintains the proportions of the Italian form, substituting two six-stress tercets for two quatrains in the octave (rhyming ABC ABC), and four and a half lines for the sestet (rhyming DEBDE), also six-stress except for the final three-stress line. See his poem “Pied Beauty.”

           -The sonnet redoublé, also known as a crown of sonnets, is composed of 15 sonnets that are linked by the repetition of the final line of one sonnet as the initial line of the next, and the final line of that sonnet as the initial line of the previous; the last sonnet consists of all the repeated lines of the previous 14 sonnets, in the same order in which they appeared. Marilyn Nelson’s A Wreath for Emmett Till is a contemporary example.

           -A sonnet sequence is a group of sonnets sharing the same subject matter and sometimes a dramatic situation and persona. See George Meredith’s Modern Love sequence, Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, Rupert Brooke’s 1914 sequence, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese.

           -The Spenserian sonnet is a 14-line poem developed by Edmund Spenser in his Amoretti, that varies the English form by interlocking the three quatrains (ABAB BCBC CDCD EE).

           -The stretched sonnet is extended to 16 or more lines, such as those in George Meredith’s sequence Modern Love. 

           -A submerged sonnet is tucked into a longer poetic work; see lines 235-48 of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.

Browse more sonnets. You can also read the educational essays Learning the Sonnet” and The Sonnet as a Silver Marrow Spoon.”

Spenserian stanza

The unit of Edmund Spenser’s long poem The Faerie Queene, consisting of eight iambic-pentameter lines and a final alexandrine, with a rhyme scheme of ABABBCBCC. Later uses of this stanza form include John Keats’s “The Eve of St. Agnes,” Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Adonais,” and Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Lotos-Eaters.”

Spoken word

A broad designation for poetry intended for performance. Though some spoken word poetry may also be published on the page, the genre has its roots in oral traditions and performance. Spoken word can encompass or contain elements of rap, hip-hop, storytelling, theater, and jazz, rock, blues, and folk music. Characterized by rhyme, repetition, improvisation, and word play, spoken word poems frequently refer to issues of social justice, politics, race, and community. Related to slam poetry, spoken word may draw on music, sound, dance, or other kinds of performance to connect with audiences. See Murdoch Burnett, Kevin Coval, and Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz for examples of spoken word performers. For spoken word’s connection with music, see David Browne’s essay “Pop Star Poetics.”

Spondee

A metrical foot consisting of two accented syllables. An example of a spondaic word is “hog-wild.” Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Pied Beauty” is heavily spondaic:

          With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
   He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                   Praise him.

Sprung rhythm

A metrical system devised by Gerard Manley Hopkins composed of one- to four-syllable feet that start with a stressed syllable. The spondee replaces the iamb as a dominant measure, and the number of unstressed syllables varies considerably from line to line (see also accentual verse). According to Hopkins, its intended effect was to reflect the dynamic quality and variations of common speech, in contrast to the monotony of iambic pentameter. His own poetry illustrates its use; though there have been few imitators, the spirit and principles of sprung rhythm influenced the rise of free verse in the early 20th century.

Stanza

A grouping of lines separated from others in a poem. In modern free verse, the stanza, like a prose paragraph, can be used to mark a shift in mood, time, or thought.

Stress

A syllable uttered in a higher pitch—or with greater emphasis—than others. The English language itself determines how English words are stressed, but sentence structure, semantics, and meter influence the placement and perception of stress. See also accentual verse, accentual-syllabic verse, foot, meter, rhythm, and scansion.

Strophe

In Greek drama, the strophe (turning) signified the first section of a choral ode, and was recited by the Chorus as it moved across the stage. The Chorus’s movement back to its original side was accompanied by the antistrophe. Finally, the Chorus stood still to chant the epode, the final section of the ode, which used a new metrical structure. This classic structure is explicitly foregrounded in Ben Jonson’s “A Pindaric Ode.” Strophe came to be synonymous with the stanzas in an ode; see Coleridge’s “France: An Ode.” It has also been used to describe units or verse paragraphs in free verse. See Robert Duncan’s, “A Poem Beginning with a Line by Pindar” and Geoffrey Hill’s “On Reading Crowds and Powerfor examples of this contemporary usage.

Structuralism

A movement of thought in the humanities, widespread in anthropology, linguistics, and literary theory, and influential in the 1950s and ’60s. Based primarily on the linguistic theories of Ferdinand de Saussure, structuralism considered language as a system of signs and signification, the elements of which are understandable only in relation to each other and to the system. In literary theory, structuralism challenged the belief that a work of literature reflected a given reality; instead, a text was constituted of linguistic conventions and situated among other texts. Structuralist critics analyzed material by examining underlying structures, such as characterization or plot, and attempted to show how these patterns were universal and could thus be used to develop general conclusions about both individual works and the systems from which they emerged. The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss was an important champion of structuralism, as was Roman Jakobsen. Northrop Frye’s attempts to categorize Western literature by archetype had some basis in structuralist thought. Structuralism regarded language as a closed, stable system, and by the late 1960s it had given way to poststructuralism.

Sublime

A lofty, ennobling seriousness as the main characteristic of certain poetry, as identified in the treatise On the Sublime, attributed to the 3rd-century Greek rhetorician Cassius Longinus. The concept took hold in the 18th century among English philosophers, critics, and poets who associated it with overwhelming sensation. In A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1757), Edmund Burke identified the sublime as the experience of the infinite, which is terrifying and thrilling because it threatens to overpower the perceived importance of human enterprise in the universe. Aesthetes and writers of the era saw the natural world and its wild, mysterious expanses as a gateway to the experience of the sublime. Romantic poets such as Percy Bysshe Shelley and William Wordsworth were influenced by this notion.

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