Archive for March, 2017

29
Mar
17

Notes on Meter and Rhythm: They Aren’t the Same

Sunrise-Sunset Trochee

Each day the sun rises and sets. You can count it, but you can’t set your watch to it, or your metronome. This is my analogy for meter and rhythm. The meter is the sun rising and setting like a trochee.  The trochee repeats each foot, or in the case of the sun, repeats each day. The rhythm is how the sun moves through day. Each day between approximately December 21 through June 21, the sun rises earlier and sets later each day. Its height in the sky changes, too, as well as its angle. On some days, you might not even see the sun, such as when it’s raining, or it might appear brighter than the previous day if there is a clear blue sky today and yesterday it was cloudy. On rarer occasions, the moon blocks the sun. The experience of the sun’s movement changes each day, but it still rises and sets each day. And if you want to consider the week as analogy to the line, then the trochaic heptameter will also have changing rhythms from line to line or week to week.

The meter is a way to measure the bounciness of a poem, and the rhythm is how we move through the poem. This might seem obvious, but The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1993) says, “rhythm is the vaguest term in criticism” (1068), and often I hear or read of meter and rhythm as being the same thing. As a result, I’m trying to make rhythm less vague and to distinguish it from meter.

Meter is a way to pattern stressed and unstressed syllables and to create expectations in the ear, and the poet will rely on those expectations to occasionally alter or delay them to as to create surprise and meaning. This is part of the reason why no two sonnets, for instance, are heard or experienced the same way. Even if both sonnets are in 14 lines of exact iambic pentameter, their rhythms vary. We know this. We feel the difference in the sonnets, and, in part, it’s because of rhythm.

Rhythm is affected by long vowels, short vowels, and consonants, as well as meter. It’s affected by adverbial and prepositional phrases and other grammatical items, such as punctuation. Notice how the rhythm of a sentence changes if there is a question mark at the end. The voice goes through a convoluted rising sound to indicate a question is asked and not a statement made. The pacing changes. Rhythm interacts with tone, pitch, tempo, inflections, pausing, and other auditory and bodily experiences. Rhythm is the experience of moving through metered lines or non-metered/free verse lines.

Compare these two lines:

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? (Romeo and Juliet II, ii, 36)

Hey Reginald, Reginald! wherefore art thou Reginald?

Both lines have the same meter (or patterns of unstressed and stressed syllables), but the rhythm is different. In the beginning of Shakespeare’s line, the long vowels  – o, o, e, o, o, e, o – create dramatic emotion. The reader/speaker is almost forced to emote these lines to express longing, and I feel like I have to raise my right hand above my head when I speak them. In my line that wonders where Reginald is, the emotion is different and the opening moves quicker, despite the similar meter, and instead of wanting to raise my right hand above my head, I want to move both my arms out a bit with my palms facing the audience to suggest confusion. My experience of moving through the same metered lines is different, in part, because the rhythm is different.

In short, meter can be scored and affects rhythm. Rhythm is the experience of moving through the score.

However, meter and rhythm both affect and are effected by the content.//

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This might be too simplistic, but it’s a starting place. Please add to the discussion in the comments if you wish.//

 

19
Mar
17

On Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

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Knowing Knott: Essays on an American PoetMy first encounter with Bill Knott was reading a review copy of The Unsubscriber (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) in a yurt in or nearby Newport, OR. I was dazzled and amazed at his wildness and technique. Next to the collection’s third poem, “Neckognition,” I wrote:

He has mystical line breaks. They do what we try to make them do. Give them a split-end quality. One line is appearance A, the next line changes appearance A into B and into C, until you’re left with A+B+C=an action or event of fluidity. He’s stopped time into discrete parts, but by the stanza’s end, the fluidity of the act is realized. See stanza one. Harmonies in the last stanza.

Here’s the poem:

     In love the head turns
     the face until it’s gone
     into another’s where
     it is further torn

     from its own mirror
     and grows even more
     erased and lost and though
     the former still yearns

     to be his/be hers
     it sees these lovers
     over your shoulder show

     whatever disappears
     can also go as verse
     whose shape’s nape-known now.

This is also a sonnet-variant. I fell in love instantly with this master of forms, language, style, Surrealism, and freedom to explore unlike any other poet, at least any poet I’m aware of, since Gerard Manley Hopkins.

In Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet (Tiger Bark Press, 2017), there are essays from 16 other poets and friends of Knott, who also write about their love for him. The essays are short, and vary in length from three pages to 35 pages, although most tend to be around five to six pages. The essays are mostly filled with anecdotes that portray the complexities of Knott’s personality, his generosity, and self-sabotage at success. There is also some analysis of his poetry in Michael Waters’ essay “What Had Made Us So Whole: ‘The Sculpture’ by Bill Knott” and in Stuart Dischell’s “On Human Stilts,” but mostly the essays are sketches of Knott as complicated human being. The book also includes six color images of his art, as Knott “was as serious about his painting as his poetry” (113), as Robert Fanning notes in “May Eagles Guard Your Grave.”

In Thomas Lux’s essay “Bill Knott: Can My Voice Save My Throat,” Lux asks, “do you think Knott’s self-deprecation, his self-denigration, his self-abnegation, might have anything to do with his childhood?” (84). In the 83 pages prior to this, I was realizing much of Knott’s actions are the classic traits of someone who suffers from abandonment trauma. According to some of the authors with varying degrees of detail, when Knott was young, his mother died giving birth (though Knott “always suspected she might have died during an (then illegal) abortion” (91), then a few years later, his father sent him and his sister to an orphanage because he couldn’t take care of them, and then the father committed suicide. I believe this contributes to what Jonathan Galassi in “(Not) Publishing Bill Knott” identifies as Knott’s “serious self-esteem issues.” For instance, as Star Black in her essay “Loving Bill” points out, Knott:

[s]omehow felt betrayed by his own accomplishments and connections, as if to be a self-published outsider was not quite satisfying, yet to be an insider was fraudulent. Making a decision and then reversing the same decision after he made it was one of his traits. (44)

There are consistent stories throughout the anthology about him pushing away his success (and sometimes pushing away others before they could push him away) as if he wasn’t worthy of it or them, a classic defense move by someone who suffers from the trauma of abandonment.

Perhaps this is why he started to self-publish numerous chapbooks in small print runs, sometimes even only one copy. Knott published at least 11 books of poems with publishers such as “Random House, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the University of Pittsburg Press, Sun Press, and the American Poets Continuum Series at BOA Editions” (Dischell 71), but he was so prolific and printed so many self-published chapbooks that probably no one knows how many books he really released, maybe not even Timothy Liu or John Skoyles who tried to collect everything Knott published.

Knott was a poet’s poet. He was a master of the craft and was always revising, and was even known to put “errata slips into books of his in bookstores” (Lux 85). Despite his constant revisions, Knott’s poems arrive to the reader with the energies and wildness of a first or second draft, which to me is a major accomplishment.

Knowing Knott is a pleasure to read, and can be read in one sitting because it is so engaging and only 114 pages of essays (126 total pages), and it’s very inspirational, too. Prior to reading this collection of essays, I thought Bill Knott was a semi-obscure poet, as not many poets I have met who are my age or younger know of him. After reading this book, I realize how important he was to the generation of poets before me and the generation before them. According to Robert Fanning in Knowing Knott’s last essay, Thomas Lux declared “Bill Knott our greatest living poet. ‘Bill Knott has more talent in his pinky finger [. . .] than Any Poet of his Generation” (115). I believe this book, in some degree, is a calling to future generations of poets to not overlook this poet whose “art lies, in part, in living inside the language, and lies, in part, in viewing it from the perspective of enduring outsider” (Waters 13), and whose poetry is so “hard-core surrealist” that, according to Lux, “If Bill were French and born a few years generations earlier, he would have kicked André Breton out of the [Surrealists] group for being counterrevolutionary” (80). I believe after reading Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet that Knott can teach poets how to be unique, wild, energy driven, as he fully embraced and triumphed in the many forms of poetry, and perhaps more importantly, Knott’s actions will inspire us to be generous members in the poetry community, as he was consistently helping poets with their poetry or helping them financially. In the words of Skoyles, “When we lost Bill, we lost a person with an uncompromising integrity and an enormous compassion for the underdog. [. . .] When we lost Bill, we lost what could be called the conscience of poetry” (97). Knowing Knott will keep reminding us of this and Bill Knott.

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Huff, Steven, ed. Knowing Knott: Essays on an American Poet. Rochester, NY: Tiger Bark Press, 2017. Print.

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The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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