The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Those poor new American poets

Posted on: February 16, 2007

A fellow named Glyn Maxwell reviewed Derek Walcott’s latest poetry collection, Selected Poems, in the weekend Guardian. His description of Walcott’s poetry is very evocative–“Always in Walcott posture is evident: the sound the voice makes in walking, sitting, leaning, slouching, stooping; its sound in heat, lust, joy, grief, fatigue”–but it is his opinion of contemporary poetry’s abandonment of metre that raised my eyebrows.

“The 20th century was poetry’s greatest, and beautiful corpuses lie strewn all around, but beneath the singular achievements of this and that poet in each generation there has developed a strong current against form, against grace, against memorability itself – for to dispense with rhyme and metre on theoretical grounds is to oppose memorability. Among new American poets this is virtually an orthodoxy, which is why you haven’t heard of any. To remove metre from verse is to remove time, or the sound of breath upon time, which is to remove the essential soundscape of any lived moment.”

Buuuurn. I’m hoping that a lot of poetry blogs will pick this up and run with it (either way). Or maybe this is an old complaint of which many contemporary poets are wearied. I remember hearing somewhere that in many universities, in the creative writing programmes I’m assuming, they don’t even bother teaching/discussing metres anymore! I guess this follows the same sort of philosophy that judges any novel before the 1950’s archaic and of no use to these burgeoning writers in their classes?

On a side-note the Walcott collection was edited by Edward Baugh whose own work is featured in my Poetry Friday post. He is the preeminent Walcott scholar and in Anglo-Caribbean poetry in general.

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4 Responses to "Those poor new American poets"

Wait a minute… novels published before 1950 actually matter? That’s crazy talk. 😉

I know. I drink that crazy kool aid often.

I think not teaching/learning meter would be a mistake, but I do think there are ways of using meter that aren’t exactly traditional — can’t poets draw on poetic elements that create memorability, as that guy says, without sticking to traditional forms?

I think so, and I don’t think one needs traditional metre to convey grace either. Or against form for that matter. I find the Either/Or camps in artistic discussions unnecessarily rigid.

But I don’t see a need to dismiss older ways of doing things which seems to be a popular theory to take in and poetry and visual art, for instance.

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