The late Judson Jerome wrote an iconoclastic little book, The Poet's Handbook (1980), that contains a lot of general wisdom in addition to good specific counsel.

On poetry as metrical writing:

Metrical means measured. A measure, or predetermined form, forces a poet to pick and choose, polish, twist, to manage these contortions with grace. It is the tug-of-war between form and content that makes the art of the poem. Prose lies flat on the page. Poetry (good poetry, that is) stands up off it, rounded like a piece of sculpture, because of its imposed form. (Introduction, "How to Use This Book")

On who is a poet:

It helps to stop worrying about what you are and concentrate on what you do. If you think of a poet as a person with some special qualifications that come by nature (or divine favor), you are likely to make one of two mistakes about yourself. If you think you've got what it takes, you may fail to learn what you need to know in order to use whatever qualities you may have. On the other hand, if you think you do not have what it takes, you may give up too easily, thinking it is useless to try. A poet is someone --- you, me, anyone --- who writes poems. That question out of the way, now we can learn to write poems better. (Chap. 1, "From Sighs and Groans to Art")

On accentual syllabic meter:

This book cannot teach you how to write great poetry: that's up to you. But it can help you write competent poetry, and there is no greatness without at least minimal competence. Shakespeare's contemporaries, many of them excellent dramatists and moving poets, lacked his greatness. But perhaps even more critically, they lacked his competence --- precisely in such relatively neutral passages as the one quoted above. They did not have the mastery of meter to get through such necessary material with sustained dramatic power and music. Ponder those pyrrhics, those theoretical accents. They may liberate your tongue. (Chap. 5, "Lisping in Numbers")

On stylistic freedom versus anarchy:

Our problem as poets is to reawaken a sensitivity to the forms of poetry, and this may require a more conservative practice than that of the great poets who broke new metrical ground in our century. For readers to catch subtleties, they first have to hear the obvious. We have to find a compromise between stiff artificiality and careless conversational ease. ... Freedom itself is a meaningless and empty concept. ... Modernist poets, for all their freedom, no longer speak to a wide audience; they seem to have drifted away from the music of language and not to have developed modes that can sustain narrative and dramatic poetry or deal comprehensibly and effectively with major themes. It is a challenge I hope you will respond to with creative force. (Chap. 6, "Getting the Beat")

Happy Shakespeare's Birthday today!

(see ^zhurnal IambicHonesty2 (27 April 2001) and IambicHonesty3 (6 May 2001))

Monday, April 23, 2001 at 05:59:19 (EDT) = 2001-04-23


(correlates: Lowly, Lowly Cook, ConfucianHomilies, CloserToFine, ...)