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This book examines the most salient and misunderstood aspect of twentieth-century poetry, free verse. Although the form is generally approached as if it were one indissoluble lump, it is actually a group of differing poetic genres proceeding from much different assumptions. Separate chapters on T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, H.D., and William Carlos Williams elucidate many of these assumptions and procedures, while other chapters address more general theoretical questions and trace the continuity of Modern poetics in contemporary poetry. Taking a historical and aesthetic approach, this study demonstrates that many of the forms considered to have been invented in the Modern period actually extend underappreciated traditions. Not only does this book examine the classical influence on Modern poetry, it also features discussions of the poetics of John Milton, Abraham Cowley, Matthew Arnold, and a host of lesser-known poets. Throughout it is an investigation of the prosodic issues that free verse foregrounds, particularly those focusing on the reader's part in interpreting poetic rhythm.
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"Rigorous--and a pleasure to read."From the Author:
I wrote this book after being frustrated by all the loose, impressionistic, and untheorized comment about free-verse form. Free-verse poets typically claim that, even though they do not use traditional meter and rhyme, their poetry is carefully organized. Critics and handbooks duly repeat the claim. However, just what this organized form might be is a great black hole in criticism. So, I took what seemed to me to be a reasonable approach--I looked carefully at what the poets had to say about their own poetics and asked myself if these statements made any sense. I then asked myself if there were any other ways to understand the form of their poems. This book is a result of my investigation of these questions.
Very early in my research, it became clear that Modernist manifestos on poetry (as well as their various letters, prefaces, and essays) are typically misunderstood because today's readers generally do not appreciate that these statements about poetry are almost always tested for their truth-value and not seen as rhetoric replying to criticism and debates of the day. Further, the comments of poets from the Modern period and afterwards made it clear that there were different kinds of free verse. Free verse theory had been hopelessly confused because theorists tried to describe under one approach a number of different genres (with much different genealogies and central assumptions) of poetry. So the task of my book became to understand statements of poetics in their rhetorical context and to identify and elucidate some of the genres of free verse.
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