Sep 13, 2007

It’s` A|bout` Time`` for an Ed`|u|ca`|tion in Pro``|so|dy`

The 92nd Street Y in New York City has announced a class on prosody, the study of poetic meter, to be conducted by New Criterion poetry editor David Yezzi. The New Criterion is the only national general-readership journal that nowadays publishes or extensively discusses what is called formalist poetry (that irritating modern redundancy), and Yezzi is a poet-critic who has done some good work in trying to entice more poets into returning to formalism and the use of logical structures and in informing poetry readers about accomplished or promising formalist poets. He has even written on Yvor Winters a couple times over the past decade, writings that I intend to study closely in the months ahead on this blog. I’d love to hear from anyone about Yezzi’s class once it gets going in October. (Did you notice the sprung rhythm in my post’s title? I did my best making stress marks in my title. Pictured, by the way, is a prosodic read-out of an English sentence spoken in two ways.)

I must disclose that I learned of the class from New Criterion’s blog, entitled “Arma Virumque.” The blog post on Yezzi’s class gives you a link to Tim Steele’s piece on prosody that was published on a year or so ago, which I have also been intending to take a closer look at some time soon. Steele is a poet who has written a great deal of value on the decline of traditional forms in modern poetry. One of the finest books ever written on the subject, Steele’s Missing Measures, I highly recommend. It was recommended to me personally by Janet Lewis, Yvor Winters’s wife, some 20 years ago.

There are many published testimonies from Winters’s students that repeat the opinion that Winters’s teaching on poetic form and prosody was outstanding, even life-changing for some. Many who took classes with Winters believe, as they have said in print, that his greatest achievement was his work in prosody. In his formal writings, you can find most of what he taught -- or so I surmise from studying his students’ writings about his teaching -- in his first book, Primitivism and Decadence, which is reprinted in In Defense of Reason, Winters’s best-known book, which remains in print through the Ohio University Press:

OUP also published Tim Steele’s newer, lighter book on prosody, All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing, which seems intended for a much wider audience than his earlier, more scholarly work. (That title might be passable iambic pentameter but is rather a weak one for a couple reasons, in my opinion.) That book is yet another one (Sheesh!) I have to discuss on the blog.

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