Thursday, August 4, 2011

Meaning & The Structure of Rhyme - Part IV - A Sensible Reply to Scarriet

The traitor in our midst. What is in the eye of the beholder? Shall we call it beauty, or some amalgam of traits all can agree upon? Thomas Graves this week launches a formal response to my previous three-part post on the failure of rhyme, as a method of verse composition, to inspire genius, since the end of the last century. What would happen, you ask, had Modernism as we know it, never occurred? If Ezra and T.S. and Wallace and Marianne and Hilda and J.J. and Gerty and the denizen of Oxford, Mississippi never been born?

Would we, today, still be writing polite, ginger, balanced rhyming quatrains? Could the developments in physics, astronomy, genetics, psychology, philosophy, aesthetics, archeology, philology, medicine, anthropology, linguistics have happened, without exerting some secondary influence upon the vagaries of prosody? The explosion of knowledge and information which has occurred since then would suggest an equivalent convulsion in the arts, and that's precisely what has happened.

Tradition is generally something which we transmit from generation to generation as training. Once upon a time, there was no such thing as rhyme, just as there was no such thing as poetry. The history of "poetry" is the history of inventions, the accretion of stylistic presentations, codified into numerical, visual and aural convention(s). Each successive progression of poetic practice was accomplished through a deliberate (or accidental) augmentation of the original conception (form). Academies, by their nature, base their curricula upon the accomplishments and residuum of the past. The accumulation of knowledge in the arts is, by way of its examples, the record of artifacts tuned to a certain resonance. It may be that there is no literal "progress" in the arts, but the progression we see as the chronology of man's efforts through time lends some credence to the notion that hierarchies of value and syntheses of meaning should be attained. T.S. Eliot once said that we can "change the past," that is, we can alter our sense of the meaning--even the actual events--of the past, simply by changing our attitude about what it means, and--through archeology, for instance--verify or de-mystify certain assumptions we may have previously held. History, in the time of early Greek civilization, was the most "persuasive" interpretation of events in the past; truth, or what actually may have taken place, was not a value to them. Often, the illusions we have about the past are based on half-truths, or partisan "interpretations" of events or artifacts. In other words, how something actually came to be, or was fashioned, may be different than what/how we prefer to believe.

For at least the last fifteen centuries, in the English speaking countries, at least on the evidence of what survived the ravages of time, culture accepted the idea that rhyme was a necessary component of poetry, that rhythmic lines that didn't rhyme, lacked some crucial quality--were not, in fact, what we might "call" "poetry." The story of how this happened is shrouded in obscurity, but we do know that important poems were written, under the assumption of this concept, as far back as the late Middle Ages. In other words, it may be said that the concept of poetry as a sequence of fixed intervals, marked by variations of end-rhyme schemes, had already become a cliché by the 14th Century. Why?

The concept of the "echo" of tangent syllabic sounds, emphasized by being placed at the end of a line of fixed length, strikes me as a novelty. What proof might be brought forward to support the "inevitability" of rhyme as a natural occurrence in the development of poetic forms? The frequency of such tangent sounds as a quantity of linguistic occurrence is variable with respect to the potential for clear meaning in any sequence of language.

Meaning usually seems at odds with any artificially imposed system of arrangements of abstract sound patterns. There's a natural tension between the need to express meaning through the precision of the signified (the right words in the right order), and the requirements of the formal artificial order of rhyme-schemes. Why should the ability to appropriate ornamental (rhymed) words be accounted as superior to the precise use of meaning (sans rhyme)?

For at least that last 20 generations, poetry has been taught as a phenomenon whose chief characteristics are rhythmic lineation and end-stop rhyme. Granting that there's a fairly primitive and simplistic tendency to appreciate the chiming recurrence of sounds, it might be remarked that the inculcation of rhyme-habit to students of the art--particularly children--might be adjudged a form of brain-washing, as intentional as the memorization of multiplication tables. But mathematics and music, which use principles and languages which have none of the signification that words embody, are much better suited to the rote inculcation of laws, rules and formulae than language ever is.

In one sense, the alteration which I'm suggesting here has already happened. Modernism triumphed over the traditional approach to the composition of verse circa 1920, and never looked back. And yet, the divisions in literary doctrine have continued to contend across the spectrum of possible approaches, and poetry of the pre-Modernist sort has continued to exert an attraction to practitioners of the art. This may be attributable to the reactionary continuity of regard, or--as I am suggesting--the predisposition towards a form which informs our training of the immature mind (i.e., nursery rhymes, standard religious texts, and the "established canon of literary archetypes.")

Meanwhile, Tom Graves over at the Scarriet website has mounted a broadside against my assertion regarding the obsolescence of rhyme. This disagreement is in good cheer, and we welcome the compliment of honest opposition. Tom seems most concerned about the connection between rhythm and rhyme:

Let’s cut right to the chase: Faville singles out rhyme as an object of contempt without taking rhythm into account--even after I pointed out in my first response to his essay that to rhyme nicely one must use rhythm nicely.

Let's ask what is the relationship between rhythm, as the scansion of any given line, or set of lines in a poetic sequence, and the frequency of rhyme, either "internal" or end-rhyme? Is it not possible to have a perfectly symmetrical syllabic measure without having any rhyme at all? Or, to put it differently, what is it about rhyme that even involves us in the question of rhythm? An iambic line, for instance, doesn't require an end-rhyme to fulfill its measure. In what sense is a rhymed end-word more meaningful than an unrhymed one? Aside from the congruent echo--between two words whose relationship may have no other evident connection--of similar sound--what, exactly, does the echo-sound achieve that the rhythmic performance doesn't? I simply fail to understand this point.

Arguments have been brought forward to suggest that the artificial requirement of strict formal structure is a way of forcing invention, and there is no doubt that making oneself choose or find words which rhyme, in preference to words which are undoubtedly better suited in terms of the meaning of a particular sentence (assertion) may enable the creation of different or ingenious employments. But setting up such artificial barriers to the perfection of statement or assertion seems a particularly synthetic test of the perfection of expression which is the greatest value we place on language. Powerful expression is a combination of precision of usage, combined with happy (inspired) invention. This happiness suggests unlikely, or previously non-existent coinages. Chance and originality. A seizure of inspiration.

The value we place on the potential of language does not in any way support a whole dismissal of either the monuments of rhymed poetic convention, nor does it suggest that any tool we might employ to exploit the various potentialities of language (including tangent, coincident sound), is no longer of any further use.

"Verse depends on rhythm, line, meter, stanza, an undercurrent of meaning, and even more fundamental things like unity, limit, duration, and variety."

This sounds reasonable enough, unless you're willing to accept that "verse" might be comprised of other combinations of use (and definition). Why is it that verse should "depend on" rhyme? How broad must our definition of poetry--or writing, or composition--be, to fully comprehend all the kinds of invention which the last 100 years have seen?

"Rhyme is the icing on the cake, or the percussion in a symphony orchestra, or the glint in a beautiful eye. To weigh against rhyme is the mark of a dour theorist, indeed. Shall we censor what can make language charming?"

"Faville, with single-minded, modernist glee, having no understanding of the rationale or the history of what he dismisses—”traditional forms”—pursues the general, well-worn path of loosening our collective mental grip on “the poem,” towards any number of holy grails: freedom, realism, social justice, prose-variety, prose-insight, prose-seriousness, prose-acrobatics, prose-morality, and prose-dignity. But what the modernists have done, starting with the exceedingly clever R.W. Emerson, was not to chuck “the poem,” but to transfer its properties (and more) in a mysterious manner to whatever prose-pursuit happened to be going on at the time, whether it was Yvor Winters yapping about “moral form,” or the Imagistes’ slightly Westernized haiku, or Eliot’s morose pastiches with footnotes, or the Iowa Workshop’s “the poem is my diary!” or Ashbery’s Dr. Seuss-for-grownups-minus-the-rhyme."

Aside from the fact that none of this is quite true, including the charge that I have no understanding, I have never advocated the "prose-fication" of "the poem"--and in fact have attacked concepts of prose-poem as being cannibalizations of what the rigors of poetry ordinarily require. (Reference my discussion of Silliman's The Alphabet for verification.) Or, to my supposed preference for Ashbery's latest animadversions (reference my The King of Camp's New Clothes, Stupid!). Nor have I been a defender of the Iowa Writers' Workshop; in fact, I have attacked the principle of the workshop system, in Lewis Turco & The Workshop System - A Test.

"You’ll sound like Shelley which means you’ll sound old-fashioned, so stop is the philosophy in a nutshell."

Well, really, Tom. My point was never that rhyme is old-fashioned--which, of course, it undoubtedly is, without any doubt--or that rhyme should not be employed--which is rather like inveighing against engaging in games of chance. The larger elephant in the room, I would offer, is the desirability (or not) of repeating what Pope and Tennyson accomplished within this very tradition. There is nothing about Pope's or Shelley's or Tennyson's accomplishments which would suggest either that they failed in their attempts to exploit rhyme, or that we should disabuse those attempts, or stop reading them, or not, if we choose, attempt to imitate them--though with the full realization that imitation is not a fully creative act.

"What modernists like Faville need to understand is that “the Poem” requires a length, and that mere fact brings us to the question of how we divide that length, which inevitably encompasses issues like the line, rhythm, meter, stanza, and finally, rhyme—mundane material considerations whichgood poets bother with and bad poets do not."

The question thus raised is how "that length" might be "divided." So my question is, fully logical, in what way does "division" necessarily imply anything about the number of lines, the number of syllables (and their variance), and the possible use of assonance, onomatopoeia, rhyme, etc.? Which form of such "issues" might take precedence, or be interpreted in a way that more nearly fits your preconception of them?

In what sense does an appreciation of the values of rhymed verse suggest that more examples of it should be essayed? Poe's The Raven has been done. Should we attempt to make another? What is it about The Raven that makes it an interesting poem? Is The Raven a good poem, then, and if so, why? Finally, if The Raven is indeed a work of genius, is that genius a prompt to imitation or emulation? Ultimately, privileging the technique of Poe's The Raven, as if these were THE ultimate, and crucial components of ALL POEMS, NOW AND FOREVER, seems a quite narrow application of the potentials of ANY future poetry.

Pound said that poetry should be "at least as well written as prose." What that means, or should be understood to mean, is that a poetry which inconveniences itself to the degree that it sacrifices eloquence and good sense, in order to fulfill the narrow requirements of a novelty known as rhyme, or numerical arrangements of syllables or numbers of lines (stanzas), does not deserve to be called truly creative. A subservience to predetermined arrangements of any form signifies an obsequious capitulation to expedient, false "problems" which are nothing more than trite games--such as juggling, memorizing lists, solving square roots on the fly, walking on your hands--or any other similar mental or physical "feat" of daring or derring-do. Some will have the knack, while others will not. The ability in and of itself neither signifies a value in the conventional sense, nor suggests that it can facilitate effective writing.

Rhyme is okay. Rhyme is just fine. But let's put it in its place. Would there ever be--on any terms you might like to posit--a reason to entertain another Alexander Pope? I've offered that Louis Zukofsky could certainly have been a poetic genius "in any time." I have no doubt that LZ could have written couplets as dignified and inspired as those by Pope. But to have done so AFTER Pope had done so, really begs the question. There's only one Pope, and only one Zukofsky.


Addendum [8/7/11]:

Tom Graves sends us a lengthy response to our post in the comment box, which I've broken up for inter-linear rejoinders here:

"Ezra Pound may be one of the worst prose writers of all time; The jingle-jangle of Byron in his long poems is better "prose" than Pound's "prose;" nor was Pound by any means the first to ask that poetry be a well-written as prose---but it's absurd that Pound even gets to ask it---"

Well, ask it he did, or, rather, command it. The statement is useful, irrespective of who said it. Pound's having done so doesn't detract from its meaning, or its persuasiveness. English prose had fallen into a sorry state by the end of the 19th Century. Henry James's sentences had become unreadable. Fin-de-siecle over-ripe decadence. French naturalism. The novels of Dreiser. Proust. The names of the poets of that day are lost to us now, because their work was too horrible for posterity to contemplate. Harriet Monroe, the editor of Poetry, was publishing doilies and dingbats. Pound wrote to her to try to bring her to her senses. Ezra himself had yet to achieve much of consequence, but he knew bad writing when he saw it. He looked to the immediate past: Browning, Tennyson, Swinburne; Whittier, Lowell, Longfellow. He didn't much like what he saw. How could a new tradition be started? He looked to the Continent, and to earlier eras. The rest, as they say, is history.

What I think Ezra was saying was that--to paraphrase myself from above--a poetry which inconveniences itself to the degree that it sacrifices eloquence and good sense, in order to fulfill the narrow requirements of crabbed schemes of formal arrangement (& rhyme), does not deserve to be called truly creative. Awkward phrasing, trite assertion, "decorative" effects, don't deserve the name of poetry. Though you may disagree about the extent to which he achieved success in his own work, you can hardly disagree about how awful "poesy" had become in America by 1910.

"Modernism was in fact a pretentious dumbing-down; this idea that everything changed around 1910, or 1920, and Pound and Eliot were inevitable revolutionary cogs in a scientific movement' is fatuous."

Actually, I didn't say anything like this. Someone--was it you?--remarked that Eliot, though writing what would be come to be seen as one of the crucial examples of Modernism (The Waste Land), was himself actually very traditional in his taste and poetic principles. As far as either of these figures being "inevitable" that is a question which is beyond the scope of my essay. Convulsions were occurring throughout the arts. Some of them would prove important, others would quickly die out. But neither Pound nor Eliot could be accused of having argued against the poetic masterpieces of the past--both privileged examples of past practice, against the "excesses" of late Victorian verse (its over-refinement, its effete airs).

The Raven was just one of many things Poe produced, and Poe anticipates the loosening of verse in his Essays (see my reply to Conrad at Scarriet for just one example)."

I probably wouldn't even have mentioned Poe, except that you brought him up. Poe argued for the narrative epic as the highest form of verse expression. Where did that lead? Clearly, Poe would have preferred to write an epic poem, but he seems to have been incapable of doing so. He may have died before he had the chance. If you believe Poe's The Raven to have been an example either of success, or a demonstration of one of his principles, it might help if you made that clear.

"Invention builds on the Past because the Past discovered something timeless;"

Here we have a clear disagreement. The mere use of the word "timeless" suggests a massive wall of presumption which had better be deconstructed, prior to its application in any sensible argument. The Past doesn't acquire an inviolability simply through age. What happens "makes the world" (Creeley) but we have no higher obligation than to decide for ourselves what to keep, and what to ignore, what to appreciate, what to disdain. The Past is not sacred. We must discriminate amongst the artifacts left to us, and not accept them all as "timeless" masterpieces. Time as a value is meaningless.

"Invention doesn't always dicard the Past"

We can't "discard" the past in any case. It won't go away. We don't have that power.

"in the case of Modernism, Eliot & Pound discarded the genius Poe (and the Romantics)."

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that neither one found the Romantics sturdy enough for their taste. The tug-of-war between classic and romantic has been going on for a good long while. I think Pound and Eliot, in their separate ways, were attempting to draw attention to what they felt had been unjustly neglected (in the case of Eliot, for instance, Donne and the Metaphysicals--or in the case of Pound, the Troubadours, the Chinese, and Cavalcanti).

"As for rhyme, it's a wonderful way to define a line for the ear;"

Again, I'm unclear on what you mean by "define." How does a rhyme define a line? It's a potentially interesting assertion, but it needs some explanation. If you mean emphasis, or familiarity, or congruence...? Also your use of the phrase "a wonderful way" leaves me breathless with anticipation; I could quote you tens of thousands of "wonderful" unrhymed sentences (or "lines"). What does this prove, either way? Perhaps we should define wonderful.

"I happened to catch Barbara Streisand singing a really slow semi-standard with a jazz trio and the repetition of the rhyme-sound took so long to land...well, let's just say I was thankful, and I had a 'they don't write songs like that anymore!' moment."

It might help to know who the lyricist was. I've commented before about the dangers of comparing music and poetry, and this is probably a perfect example. We all admire songs of various kinds. Poetry set to music does not in any way legitimate or validate the characteristics of what I've been discussing. A poem set to music doesn't improve the writing. The clearest proof of that is to read pure song-lyrics without the notes, and see what works and what doesn't, apart from the settings. Noel Coward wrote hundreds of song lyrics; is any of that great poetry? Mad dogs and Englishmen, go out in the mid-day sun.

"Look at Pope---a jingle-jangler, and yet one of the most quoted poets for his 'meaning.' "

Is Pope's success at appropriating meaning to rhyme--which I will for the purposes of argument here, agree about--a necessary proof of the superiority of rhyme as a medium for expression? Or could it be an application of a verbal skill and acumen to a formal trick (or feat)? Understand that I in no way denigrate Pope's skill, or his success, by asking this question.

"nothing said [by Poe] about [verse] since [1848] has been an advance, unless you count 'let's write prose and call it poetry' or 'let's visualize prose and call it poetry' but this has nothing to do with verse and rhyme, does it?"

You've jammed a number of assumptions here into a couple of sentences, and I'm not quite sure what you mean, but I believe that Poe, like Pound, wanted to erect a standard of practice which would yield better products. He called what he thought of as bad poetry "Quietist"--which implies a certain lack of spleen, of effect, of force. Silliman appropriated this term, a century and a half later--somewhat inappropriately, in my view--to characterize what he considers the lesser efforts of 20th Century traditional poetries in America and the English-speaking countries.

With hindsight, we can understand Pound's frustration. Eliot's preferences are another matter entirely, and should not be conflated with Pound's provocations. Eliot's poetry, as a demonstration of Modernist principles, is certainly easy to accept, but his critical positions and interests (including religion) are harder to integrate. In many ways he seems a throwback. I think if you look at the main force of both men's writing about literature--rather than politics or religion or history etc.--you'll end up with a rather "anti-" modernist point of view. Is that ironic, or what??


Conrad DiDiodato said...


while sympathetic to the 'pro-rhyme' cause, I'm not too terribly impressed with the quality of the 'Scarriet' reply (where I've feebly weighed in).

Stick to your guns: you do have a defensible position, given with the usual Faville panache.

"The Compass Rose" is an acquired taste:))

Anonymous said...

Ezra Pound may be one of the worst prose writers of all time; The jingle-jangle of Byron in his long poems is better "prose" than Pound's "prose;" nor was Pound by any means the first to ask that poetry be a well-written as prose---but it's absurd that Pound even gets to ask it---Modernism was in fact a pretentious dumbing-down; this idea that everything changed around 1910, or 1920, and Pound and Eliot were inevitable revolutionary cogs in a scientific movement' is fatuous. The Raven was just one of many things Poe produced, and Poe anticipates the loosening of verse in his Essays (see my reply to Conrad at Scarriet for just one example). Invention builds on the Past because the Past discovered something timeless; Invention doesn't always dicard the Past, though it did with more profit before Modernism--- for in the case of Modernism, Eliot & Pound discarded the genius Poe (and the Romantics). As for rhyme, it's a wonderful way to define a line for the ear; I happened to catch Barbara Streisand singing a really slow semi-standard with a jazz trio and the repetition of the rhyme-sound took so long to land...well, let's just say I was thankful, and I had a 'they don't write songs like that anymore!' moment. Look at Pope---a jingle-jangler, and yet one of the most quoted poets for his 'meaning.' If you remove the charm-factor of repetition, Poe scientifically 'got' verse in 1848 and nothing said about it since has been an advance, unless you count 'let's write prose and call it poetry' or 'let's visualize prose and call it poetry' but this has nothing to do with verse and rhyme, does it?


1000 Names of Vishnu said...

Tom Graves? Brady, as in Bunch, Sir F.

the Truth (or at least conceptual sense) lies somewhere between F-ville's chi chi modernism and Brady's praise of the quaint Poe-ish jangles. Then, per Ezra Pound,the game--the dead Ahht of poesy, or some such-- was mostly over by WWI (actually Stendhal, IIRC). You can sort of detect the scent of the rotting corpse reading someone like Assburied. Heh

Curtis Faville said...


I've written a reply to your last comment as an addendum to the original post.

Curtis Faville said...

I see that you managed to move the discussion to a consideration of Pound and Eliot, and the meaning of their careers in terms of Modernism's perceived excesses or errors.

But it's not irrelevant. They fought these same battles a century ago.

1000 Names of Vishnu said...

Tom Brady, CF. Like Brandy, without an "n". But he's sort of important and can refer to hisself in the 3rd person (ne c'est pas, Tom?),as he does on the big Scarr.

Poet Im not (grazi a Dios) but I don't think Tom has read Pound that closely. His early poems (had from Dover for like $0.75) often rhyme, but he was not taking the Roomantics as a model--mo' like ...Shakespeare, IMHE (and metaphysicals, Villon, italianos, etc). And Browning. He's a bit of a thespian, IMHE. I don't have a handy ...rating criteria, but hardly minstrelsy. His Villon stuff seems quite wild IMHE--as if in a brothel, with the corpses of his amigos tarred, hanging on the road, many french/latin allusions. Not exactly daffodillies.

And Pound's prose was not so poor either, Tom (per "Literary Essays"). Quite informed--linguist, historian, bit of an economist, and amateur scientist. And composed, and played a variety of instruments. Pound probably was a bit pretentious, at least initially, but not a fool. Ah don't quite understand your beef, which sounds a bit...political IMHE, but you're sort of offbase. I wager EP had perused enough Merican stuff as well--praises Steven Crane once.

Charles Shere said...

1) Do you consider blank verse — much Shakespeare, for example — prose, since you argue that until recently poetry was thought to require rhyme? Did the Elizabethans really believe that blank verse "lacked some crucial quality — [was] not, in fact, what we might 'call' 'poetry'"?

2) Was it "desirable" for Pope to repeat in his subsequent poems what he had "already accomplished" within his tradition in his earlier work? If so, why should we not respect W.H. Auden, when he writes
Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.

Curtis Faville said...


In answer to your question--

1) Yes. Blank verse can be very effective in the right hands. I do think that Milton, for example, wished to put rhyme in its place. He wrote both kinds of poetry, with the greatest skill, but he recognized rhyme as a monstrous eccentricity--which I quoted in my first one of these pieces. It's hard for me to understand why more intelligent minds haven't followed his line of thinking. Shakespeare was also a master of both. No one "thinks" in rhyme, it requires a good deal of "tinkering" and adjustment. Good blank verse may attain to the condition of impressive rhetoric, without exhibiting any rhyme at all. The best speeches in Shakespeare's plays are much better than the best of Pope's rhymed poems. Why? Because they speak the language through effective meaning, rather than through decoratively arranged (artificial) design.

2) The progress of a single poet's career is a separate question. Time may have moved more slowly in Pope's time. Certainly there was less change over the course of a single life then. Did styles take longer to mutate then? Rhyme, in Pope's time, was a ruling fashion. A "pretty" effect carried to absurd lengths.

Auden wrote rhymed and unrhymed poems. He was very skillful, both at archly over-emphasized rhyme, and "quiet" naturally phrased poems whose rhyme was unobtrusive. On the other hand, Auden was not an innovator; and the progress of his career was not upward. By the end, he was babbling doggerel.

Perhaps it's a matter of mood. Rhyme seems a pretense which occasionally overcomes the limitation of its method. Beethoven's rhetoric occasionally sounds overbearing, though always persuasive--if that distinction can be made.

As a youth, I read and enjoyed Auden's poems, especially his sonnets. Macao was a favorite.

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Bill Knott, the poet, is irate because John Ashbery has not been nominated for the Nobel Prize. Well. There you go.

Apparently, birds of an unintelligible feather tend to flock together.

Curtis Faville said...


Somehow that doesn't compute. I would never figure Knott as an Ashbery fan. They come from such different places.

No accounting for it.

Ashbery lost his way about 30 years ago, in my opinion. I liked his very abstract works.

Knott wandered off into the woods circa 1966, and never was seen again. Except by rumor. I've been communicating with someone by that name, but I have no third party verifications.

1000 Names of Vishnu said...

Had Tom Scarriet paid more attention to Pound's literary epistles, he'd note that Pound granted Pope's genius and Swift, et al (but ..thought it..antiquated--or ancien regime shall we say)--and granted Lord Byron's genius for that matter. Tom's got a swing, but alas he's using a whiffle bat and jus' catching air.

Auden was evil. Like most Anglos. See Nietzsche on the proper treatment of British liter-rarry types (m or f).

Anonymous said...


I think we've started a blog war, you and I. This little comment box is too small, and I will have to reply to you on Scarriet.

But two quick things: I agree Henry James represented Victorian excess and bad writing, but James was part of Eliot's aristocratic clique. You would think Pound, in his "heroic cleansing the language of the tribe," would have found James distasteful, wouldn't you? Since you mention James in this context, let me set you staight: In "How To Read," Pound's 1929 crackpot 'reading list' essay, Pound writes, "Henry James was the first person to add anything to the art of of the nineteenth-century novel not already known to the French." When it comes to people like Pound, cliques are all that matter. In that same essay, Pound says one shouldn't bother reading Shakespeare or any of the Romantics or Victorians, none. Pound was a fraudulent loony. Look at his reading list! Tennyson was a magical writer, so was Longfellow, a Languages professor at Harvard, who, unlike Pound, was actually conversant in foreign languages. Pound has nothing on Tennyson or Longfellow! Pound's writing is muddy and excessive and bombastic. How Pound has come to symbolize an antidote to bombast when he is the most bombastic writer ever, is one of the funniest things ever to happen to mankind. That you didn't realize Pound had a good opinion of Henry James is exactly where you, and everybody, needs help. If you want to know modernism, you've got to know your cliques.

The second thing: Poe is famous for saying "a long poem does not exist." You say Poe was in favor of the "narrative epic." What??? The opposite is true. Poe, with Hawthorne, put the American short story on the map, and Poe invented detective fiction. Poe was all over the map, but he wasn't really into long poems; he certaintly didn't put all his critical eggs in the "narrative epic" basket. Poe specifically said the age called for shorter works. Where in the world did you read that about Poe and the "narrative epic." I'm stunned.

OK, I guess I used this comment box for all its worth, and I'm done.

But I'm not through with you yet!


P.S. I'm glad Charles raised the issue of Shakespeare's blank verse. It was a common thing among "Quietists" to say blank verse Shakespeare was greater than rhyming Shakespeare,so it's not like there hasn't always been a strong pre-modernist awareness that a little jingling is sometimes sweet, and sometimes not. Rhyme is just one more tool that good poets know HOW to use, and WHEN to use. At times Shakespeare used rhymes in his plays, even his tragedies, that to modern ears sound out-of-place, and almost ridiculous. Shakespeare was human, not a god. But these issues of rhyme and good taste were understood well before Pound and Eliot came along with their so-called "revolution." Pound did more harm than good. Eliot was far more talented than Pound, but unfortunately, worked for him.

Curtis Faville said...


Some clarifications.

Early Henry James is utterly different than late. It's late James I was referring to. The Golden Bowl, etc.

You've jumped into a disquisition on Pound. Pound and Eliot and Poe aren't the subjects of my blog.

I'm more interested in a quasi-scientific analysis of the meaning and use of rhyme as a poetic technique.

Let's get back to the subject at hand.

I disagree about Longfellow being "magical" writer. Take away his rhyme, and what is left? Hiawatha, my foot!

Someone will have to help me with the Poe citation regarding the ranking of narrative epics as the highest poetic aspiration. My library is inaccessible to me at present.

I've been receiving comments from someone who calls Tom Graves "Tom Brady"--which I have determined are spam.

Anonymous said...

'In that same essay, Pound says one shouldn't bother reading Shakespeare or any of the Romantics or Victorians, none.'

This is distortion. He calls Shelley, Keats, Byron among England's 'best authors'; names Rossetti, Swinburne, Morris, Browning, Tennyson, etc., as places to go to read (as Pound himself did in his youth). He called Shakespeare's histories 'our true EPOS', and his opinion of him was more subtle than you're making it. A lot of this "debate" between you and Curtis seems based in your complete inability to read Pound with any clarity. When Pound says something like, Read Homer and Sappho first; I don't say don't read Wordsworth, but I don't think him superior as technician--than Arnaut or Homer or Sappho or Dante and so on--you translate it to "Fuck Wordsworth." One of Pound's greatest interests was RHYME, but not necessarily end-rhyme; and if you read the first issue of BLAST, you'll find the past, if it has value, as honored, as opposed to futurism, which did away with things in what Pound thought an unintelligent way.

David Grove said...

Your silence confirms my suspicion that you dismissed my comments as spam. They were nothing of the sort. Why you'd think they were I don't know, and apparently no explanation is forthcoming. And this puzzles me, since a year ago you maintained that no one should be censored--not even blog-ruining trolls.

I've visited your blog many times, but I'll never do so again. You'll just have to soldier on without my invaluable support.

I also left a comment at your post on conservatism. You can block that as well, because I have no intention of reading or responding to a reply.

I leave you to breaking up fights between J. and Kirby O.


Curtis Faville said...

Dear Mr. Grove:

I don't know you, and didn't recognize your name when the comments were received.

It was unclear what you were aiming at. You asked if Tom Brady (whom I seem to have confused with Tom Graves) could supply any examples of his own poems--an odd request, which you might more effectively have sent directly to him.

No slight was intended.

There are a number of spoofers who routinely send me weird messages--some of which are offensive--either as Anons or as strange names I've never heard of (some are obviously spoof names).

Anyway, you are welcome to visit, whether or not you post any comments.

Until the last month or so, I think I had only moderated one comment out. But in the last three weeks, I think I've blocked about ten. Those people know who they are.

Best Wishes,

Gary B. Fitzgerald said...

Just to clarify, Thomas Brady IS Thomas Graves. Tom Brady is his nom de guerre on Scarriet.

He was also known as Tom West on and as Monday Love on Plus others.

Also, the term is 'N’est-ce pas'.

One should not attempt foreign phrases if one does not actually speak the language.


1000 Names of Vishnu said...

It's a combox, not a term paper.

je peux lire un peu francais.

no one needs your net-nannying Gary, or for that matter your sonneteering. Or for that matter Tom Graves/Brady ---he says a few witty things but on the whole Brady's greatly mistaken re what he takes to be "modernists " (thats not to approve of Faville's aesthetics either). Modernism is not merely TS Eliot's neurotic writing, or little imagistic poems. It's like.....As I Lay Dying.

Curtis Faville said...


Try to be a little more cheerful.

Such a party pooper. . . .

Anonymous said...


What Pound are you quoting?

Some college paper he wrote as a kid?

"How To Read" was his mature reading list, published in 1929, when Pound was 44. He recommends reading Confucious and minor Frenchmen. It's the most ridiculous thing ever published. Pound was a crackpot. He wanted to be different and shocking, and made things up as he went.

Pound never wrote a coherent thing in his life, nothing with a beginning and a middle and an end. He set himself up as an 'expert' and spit things out like, 'use rhyme only when the prose sings like poetry written in French and translated into Chinese!' He was a con-man, a huckster. He's of minor historical interest.

Faville is genuinely trying to get to the bottom of things. You are simply defending a particular person who has way too much influence.


Anonymous said...

I was referring to the Literary Essays 'How To Read.' The ABC of Reading (1934) expands his earlier considerations / recommendations.

Pound in the latter names the following as the 'best writers' in England: Landor, Beddoes, Byron, Keats, Shelley, Browning, etc. (He is remarking on a particular period when "England no longer had room for" its best writers.) He's concerned with their use of other European forms as well. He compares Chaucer and Shakespeare. He does look to foreign languages (not "minor" French poets, but French along with Provencal, Italian, Greek, Latin, etc.). There's certainly coherence in his aesthetic views, no matter how wildly expressed.

And I consider my attempt to get Pound clear an attempt to get clear a lot of the poetic practice of much of the last century--Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley, etc. They all use rhyme, but in Pound's "polyphonic" way (as did Homer, as did Catullus), not in the mostly mneumonic end-rhyme 'manner' you seem to narrowly defend. (I haven't read all of Curtis' pieces on rhyme, nor have I read all yours--I've glanced through them. Yours (if I'm understanding you as author at Scarriet) particularly cringe-worthy.)

Curtis Faville said...



Nothing like a rollicking good ballad I always say.

My point isn't--despite what some may think they read--that all rhyme is bad, or even that all end-rhyme is bad. Only that it doesn't represent the only, or the best, kind of poetic composition. That would seem to put the best practitioners into an inferior position, but not necessarily. If anyone does anything with genius, they command admiration, but that admiration shouldn't cloud our judgment about the value of other kinds of application. I regard Pope as a genius of the couplet, but that skill, as an expression of his genius, tends to favor or overshadow his capacity. it's like a trivialization of his mind. It's what makes Shakespeare such a better writer. The speeches in his plays are so much greater than any poem Pope ever published. And the reason goes to the heart of my argument--that the composition of end-rhyme is such a narrow channel for literary invention. It should be used less and less, or at least regarded as a kind of "recreation" restricted primarily to light verse.

Unless, of course, you're as good as Pope, in which case you can dazzle with your knack.