OK, soapbox time. Maxed out. Had my fill of the effulgence of tone deaf poetry lately.
Most poetry written today exhibits a tin ear on the part of the poet and dooms it from the get go.
The problem with much poetry today as practiced by contemporary “poets” is that it has divorced itself from its traditional “tools,” tools reinvented and modified in every age to suit the times and zeitgeist, essential tools which make poetry have an actual impact on the reader, which make a lasting impression on the reader. Yes, which allows the poems to survive and become part of our cultural heritage.
Somewhere along the line in the 20’s and 30’s wannabe poets got the idea that “free verse” was a license to slap down any psychological eructations that occurred to them in short stubby lines–or interminably long lines– and call it poetry. Most of it is DOA today, but hordes keep trying to make a lasting impression without taking the time to listen, time to hear the inherent music necessary in the birthing of real poetry.
No, it doesn’t have to rhyme or follow a strict stanza scheme, but language has musical qualities when managed by a talented poetic mind. And these rare types listen to the sound of the words in their head and get them down on paper in a way that make their thoughts “sing.”
Prosody. It’s what make poetry pleasurable. It’s what makes a poem memorable. It’s the verbal “music,” the appropriate sounds and pacing to the subject the poem is dealing with.
The rhythm, the beat, the pace, sounds soft or hard. Fancy terms have been invented for its elements: meter, stanza, rhyme schemes, assonance, dissonance, enjambment, run on lines, alliteration, fricactives, plosives … ad nauseum.
Every great age of poetry from Homer onward has had it favored “forms,” forms involving all of these elements, but which the talented poet doesn’t have to think twice about because it comes naturally to him or her. It’s in the bones and psyche. When he or she writes the right melodic combinations just happen.
It helps though to know the terms, elements and why they matter.
The term lyric (as in lyric verse and the lyrics of a musical piece) dates from the ancient Greeks when poems used to be sung to the accompaniment of the lyre. Today in poetry lyric refers to any short poem whatever the rhyme scheme (if any, usually not), meter (beats and stresses in a line) or stanza form.
Most “poets” today write easily dismissed lyrics, whether they know it or not. Most haven’t a clue about the tools of their trade, known in aggregate as prosody:
In linguistics, prosody (pronounced // PROSS-ə-dee, from Greek προσῳδία, prosōidía, [prosɔːdía], “song sung to music; pronunciation of syllable”) is the rhythm, stress, and intonation of speech. Prosody may reflect various features of the speaker or the utterance: the emotional state of the speaker; the form of the utterance (statement, question, or command); the presence of irony or sarcasm; emphasis, contrast, and focus; or other elements of language that may not be encoded by grammar or by choice of vocabulary.
I have volumes of examples to prove my points here but this is enough for now.
I will close with a Seamus Heaney ditty that masterfully uses all the musical tools without any conscious thought or obvious stanza scheme:
for Philip Hobsbaum
Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for
Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger
Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots
Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.
Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills
We trekked and picked until the cans were full,
Until the tinkling bottom had been covered
With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned
Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered
With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.
We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn’t fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they’d keep, knew they would not.
Source: Death of a Naturalist (1966
More to come :)