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After Free Verse


What is generally called free verse is now more than a century old. It was in 1886 that Gustave Kahn's Paris La Vogue published Rimbaud's "Marine" and "Mouvement" (both written in the early 1870s), translations of some of Whitman's Leaves of Grass by Jules Laforgue, ten of Laforgue's own free-verse poems, and further experiments by Jean Moréas, Paul Adam, and Gustave Kahn himself. On the other side of the Channel, vers libre was soon picked up by the Imagists: in the March 1913 issue of Poetry, Pound put forward his famous Imagist manifesto, whose third principle was "As regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome."

Even as he made this pronouncement, however, Pound remarked that "vers libre has become as prolix and as verbose as any of the flaccid varieties that preceded it. . . . The actual language and phrasing is often as bad as that of our elders without even the excuse that the words are shovelled in to fill a metric pattern or to complete the noise of a rhyme-sound" (LEEP 3). And his friend T. S. Eliot, who was to declare in "The Music of Poetry" (1942) that "no verse is free for the man who wants to do a good job," observed in his 1917 "Reflections on Vers Libre," that "there is only good verse, bad verse, and chaos." How to avoid the latter? "The most interesting verse which has yet been written in our language has been done either by taking a very simple form, like iambic pentameter, and constantly withdrawing from it, or taking no form at all, and constantly approximating to a very simple one. It is this contrast between fixity and flux, this unperceived evasion of monotony, which is the very life of verse." And in a formulation that was to become a kind of First Rule in poetry manuals, Eliot declares, "the ghost of some simple metre should lurk behind the arras in even the 'freest' verse; to advance menacingly as we doze, and withdraw as we rouse. Or, freedom is only truly freedom when it appears against the background of an artificial limitation."

Eliot's formulation, which was, of course, based on his own practice, still governs most discussions of free verse. As recently as 1993, in a book called The Ghost of Meter, Annie Finch treats contemporary free verse as essentially a fruitful quarrel with meter, especially iambic pentameter, and tries to show how in the lyric of poets as diverse as Charles Wright and Audre Lorde, "anger at the pentameter and exhileration at claiming its authority engender much poetic energy." Derek Attridge's Poetic Rhythm: An Introduction (1995) characterizes free verse by citing poems like Adrienne Rich's "Night Watch," which "derives its rhythmic quality from its existence on the borders of regular verse." And in recent years the New Formalists have gone further, arguing that "free verse" has been no more than a temporary aberration, given that, in the words of Timothy Steele, "poetry was always, before the modern period, associated with meter." Indeed, in a 1996 review of the Library of America's newly edited Collected Poems of Robert Frost, Helen Vendler cites approvingly Frost's dismissal of free verse ("Let chaos storm! / Let cloud shapes swarm! / I wait for form"), and remarks:

There used to be a critical orthodoxy (still prevalent in a few backwaters) that anyone practicing rhymed and metered verse was a reactionary and no Modernist; we now understand, having seen many later writers (Merrill, Lowell) alternating metered and free verse, that both forms and free verse are neutrally available to all.

The implication of this claim for "neutral availability" is that verse forms, whether free or otherwise, are independent of history as well as of national and cultural context and that metrical choice is a question of individual predilection. And further: that free verse is some kind of end point, an instance of writing degree zero from which the only reasonable "advance" can be, as Steele suggests, a return to "normal" metrical forms. At the risk of allying myself with those "backwater" forces Vendler refers to so dismissively, I shall want to argue here that there are indeed other possibilities and that verse, like the materials used in any art medium, and like the clothes we wear and the furnishings in our houses, is subject to historical change as well as cultural and political constraint. But before I consider the large-scale transformations "free verse" is now undergoing in America (and, for that matter, in the poetry of most other nations as well), some definitions and clarifications are in order.

What is free verse anyway? However varied its definitions, there is general agreement on two points: (1) the sine qua non of free verse is lineation. When the lines run all the way to the right margin, the result is prose, however "poetic." The basic unit of free verse is thus the line. But (2), unlike metrical or strong-stress or syllabic or quantitative verse, free verse is, in Donald Wesling's words, "distinguished . . . by the lack of a structuring grid based on counting of linguistic units and/or position of linguistic features" (EPP 425). As Derek Attridge explains:

Free verse is the introduction into the continuous flow of prose language, which has breaks determined entirely by syntax and sense, of another kind of break, shown on the page by the start of a new line, and often indicated in a reading of the poem by a slight pause. When we read prose, we ignore the fact that every now and then the line ends, and we have to shift our eyes to the beginning of the next line. We know that if the same text were printed in a different typeface, the sentences would be broken up differently with no alteration in the meaning. But in free verse, the line on the page has an integrity and function of its own. This has important consequences for the movement and hence the meaning of the words.
(DA 5, my emphasis).

The implication of free-verse writing, Attridge adds sensibly, is that poetry "need not be based on the production of controlled numbers of beats by the disposition of stressed and unstressed syllables." A more accurate name, Attridge suggests , would be "nonmetrical verse, which, as a negative definition, has the advantage of implying that this kind of verse does not have a fixed identity of its own, whereas 'free verse' misleadingly suggests a single type of poetry" (DA 167-68). But the adjective "nonmetrical" is somewhat misleading, given that the item counted may be the number of primary stresses (no matter how many syllables per line), as in Old English and much of Middle English poetry, the number of syllables per line, regardless of the number of stresses, as in the syllabics of Marianne Moore, or the number of long vowels per line, as in classical quantitative verse, and so on. Charles O. Hartman's definition is thus more accurate: "the prosody of free verse is rhythmic organization by other than numerical modes." Free verse retains the linear turn inherent in the etymology of the word verse (Latin, versus), but there is no regularly recurring counted entity.

Once we try to go beyond these basics, there is little unanimity as to the features of free verse. For Donald Wesling, free verse has its roots in the oral forms of ancient cultures--Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian, Sanskrit, and Hebrew--none of which have meter (EPP 425). The speech-base of free verse is also accepted by Northrop Frye, who defines it as "the associative rhythm"--that is the rhythm of ordinary speech, with its short, repetitive, irregular, often asyntactic phrasal units-- "strongly influenced by verse," which is to say by by lineation. And Robert Pinsky observes that "the line in contemporary practice seems to fall roughly into two overlapping kinds: a rhetorical indicator for the inflections of speech . . . and a formal principle varyingly intersecting the inflection of speech."

But "inflection of speech" doesn't in fact distinguish free verse from its metrical counterparts. On the one hand, there are those like Derek Attridge who argue that all verse is speech-based; on the other, those who hold that free verse is distinguished primarily by its visual form, its typographical layout, and that indeed the line break creates verbal and phrasal units quite unlike those of speech. But the link between free verse and visual formation is by no means essential. For the majority of free-verse poems--say those one finds in any issue of Poetry or American Poetry Review--retain the justified left margin, some form of stanzaic structure, and lines of similar length, so as to produce visual columns not all that different from their metrical counterparts.

If, then, free verse cannot be definitively distinguished, whether aurally, visually (or, for that matter, syntactically), from, say, blank verse, this is not to say that there isn't what we might call a free-verse culture that occupies a particular place in twentieth-century literary history. In Critique du rythme (1982), Henri Meschonnic works from the premise that "the aim [of prosodic theory] is not to produce a conceptual synthesis of rhythm, an abstract, universal category, an a priori form. Rather, an organized understanding of historical subjects." As he explains:

It is not a question of opposing form to an absence of form. Because the informe [formless] is still form. If we want to provide a proper base for the critique of rhythm, we must pass from imperious abstractions to the historicity of language. Where freedom is no more a choice than it is an absence of constraint, but the search of its own historicity.

In this sense the poet is not free. He is not free in confronting the alexandrine, any more than in confronting free verse. Not free of being ventriloquized by a tradition. . . . One doesn't choose what one writes, nor to write. No more than one chooses to be born into one's language, there and then.

The so-called freedom of free verse must be understood in this context. When Pound declares in Canto 81, "To break the pentameter, that was the first heave," he is speaking to a particular situation in late-Victorian "genteel" verse, when meter stood for a particular collective attitude, a social and cultural restriction on the "freedom" of the subject. Vladimir Mayakovsky, coming out of an entirely different tradition, but in the same time period, makes a similar gesture when he declares in 1926, "Trochees and iambs have never been necessary to me. I don't know them and don't want to know them. Iambs impede the forward movement of poetry" (cited in HMC 528).

Such statements, Meschonnic points out, are neither true nor untrue; rather, they must be understood as part of the drive toward rupture characteristic of the early twentieth-century avant-garde. And the form Pound's own prosody took--the "ideogrammizing of Western verse," in Meschonnic's words-- had everything to do with the revolution in mass print culture, a revolution that bred what Meschonnic calls the "theatre of the page." "If we were to talk about practices rather than intentions," he says, "every page of poetry would represent a conception of poetry" (HMC 303). Blank spaces, for example, would become just as important as the words themselves in composing a particular construct (HMC 304-305). Thus, the structuralist argument that lineation in and of itself guarantees that a text will be read and interpreted as a poem is based on two misconceptions. First, it ignores the active role that white space (silence) plays in the visual and aural reception of the poem: the line, after all, is anchored in a larger visual field, a field by no means invariable. Second, and more important, the response to lineation must itself be historicized. In a contemporary context of one-liners on the television screen and the computer monitor, as well as lineated ads, greeting-cards, and catalog entries, the reader/viewer has become quite accustomed to reading "in lines." Indeed, surfing the Internet is largely a scanning process in which the line is rapidly replacing the paragraph as the unit to be accessed.

How lineation as device signifies thus depends on many factors, historical, cultural, and national. The history of free verse in English remains to be written: when it is, it will be clear that the dominant example has been, not that of Ezra Pound, whose ideographic page has only recently become a model for poets, but that of William Carlos Williams, whose verse signature is still a powerful presence. But since my concern in this essay is with the current situation in poetry, I shall confine myself to the postwar era, using as my example two representative anthologies, both of them cutting-edge at their respective postwar moments. The first is Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms, edited by Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey for Bobbs Merrill in 1969 (but including poems from the early fifties on); the second, Out of Everywhere: Linguistically Innovative Poetry by Women in North America & the UK, edited by Maggie O'Sullivan for Reality Street Studios in London in 1996.

"An Echo Repeating No Sound"

In their Foreword to Naked Poetry, Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey tell us that they had a hard time finding "a satisfactory name for the kinds of poetry we were gathering and talking about":

Some people said 'Free Verse' and others said 'Organic Poetry' . . . and we finally came up with Open Forms, which isn't bad but isn't all that good either. And we took a phrase from Jiménez for a title which expresses what we feel about the qualities of this poetry as no technical label could do. But what does it matter what you call it? Here is a book of nineteen American poets whose poems don't rhyme (usually) and don't move on feet of more or less equal duration (usually). (NAK xi, my emphasis)

The assumption here is that there is an "it," alternately known as free verse, organic poetry, open form, or whatever, but that this "it" cannot be defined "technically," which is to say, materially. And indeed the editors quickly go on to add that "Everything we thought to ask about [the poets'] formal qualities has come to seem more and more irrelevant, and we find we are much more interested in what they say, in their dreams, visions, and prophecies. Their poems take shape from the shapes of their emotions, the shapes their minds make in thought, and certainly don't need interpreters" (NAK xi). Not "form," then, but "content" is what matters. Still, the choice of free verse is central because "We began with the firm conviction that the strongest and most alive poetry in America had abandoned or at least broken the grip of traditional meters and had set out, once again, into 'the wilderness of unopened life'" (NAK xi).

This is a perfectly representative sixties statement about poetry. It takes off from Charles Olson's "Projective Verse" (1950), with its strong dismissal of "closed" verse and concomitant adoption of the line as coming "from the breath, from the breathing of the man who writes, at the moment that he writes." It is the "LINE" that speaks for the "HEART," even as the syllable does for the "HEAD": "the LINE that's the baby that gets, as the poem is getting made, the attention." Interestingly, Berg and Mezey, who were by no means disciples of Olson, here give a curious twist to the famous Olson credo that "FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN THE EXTENSION OF CONTENT." Whereas Olson demanded that form take its cue from the semantic structure of a given poem, Berg and Mezey take the aphorism one step further, dismissing "formal qualities" as more or less "irrelevant," entirely secondary to "what [the poets] say, in their dreams, visions, and prophecies." Indeed, if poems "take shape from the shapes of their emotions," from "the wilderness of unopened life," then "free verse" is effective insofar as it tracks the actual movement of thought and feeling, refusing to interfere with its free flow, to inhibit its natural motion. Or so, at least, the poem must appear to be doing, no matter how much "craft" has gone into it.

Naked Poetry includes nineteen American poets, born between 1905 and 1935, the largest cluster of them born between 1926 and 1930. In chronological order, they are: Kenneth Rexroth, Theodore Roethke, Kenneth Patchen, William Stafford, Weldon Kees, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Denise Levertov, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Allen Ginsberg, Galway Kinnell, W. S. Merwin, James Wright, Philip Levine, Sylvia Plath, Gary Snyder, Stephen Berg, and Robert Mezey. Despite the paucity of women (two out of the nineteen) and the absence (characteristic for 1969) of minority poets as well as poets writing outside theUnited States., the editors have clearly made an effort to transcend schools and regional affiliations by including representatives of Beat (Ginsberg, Snyder), Black Mountain (Creeley, Levertov), Deep Image (Bly, Kinnell, Wright), Northwest (Roethke, Stafford), and East Coast Establishment (Lowell, Berryman, Merwin, Plath) poetry.

So what do the poems in this anthology look and sound like? Consider the following five poems (or parts of poems), for which I have supplied scansions:

/ / || / >

(1) A headless squirrel, some blood

/ \ / \ >

oozing from the unevenly

/ /\ /

chewed-off neck

/ / /\ /

lies in rainsweet grass

/ / /\ /

near the woodshed door.

/ / /\

Down the driveway

/ / \ >

the first irises

/ /\ /

have opened since dawn,

/ || / >

ethereal, their mauve

/ /\ \ / /

almost a transparent gray,

/ /

their dark veins

/ /


(Denise Levertov, "A Day Begins," NAK 140)

(2) / / / /\ /

The sun sets in the cold without friends

/ / / / \

Without reproaches after all it has done for us

/ / / /

It goes down believing in nothing

/ / / / / / \

When it has gone I hear the stream running after it

\ / / ||\ / /

It has brought its flute it is a long way

(W. S. Merwin, "Dusk in Winter," NAK 255)

(3) / / /\ / \

In the depths of the Greyhound Terminal

/ / / / || / / || /

sitting dumbly on a baggage truck looking at the sky waiting for

/\ / \ / /

the Los Angeles Express to depart

/ / \ / / /\ / / /\

worrying about eternity over the Post Office roof in the night-time

/ / /\ /

red downtown heaven,

/ / /\ / / \ /

staring through my eyeglasses I realized shuddering these thoughts

/ / \ || / / \ / || / \

were not eternity, nor the poverty of our lives, irritable

/ /

baggage clerks,

/ / / / \ / / /

nor the millions of weeping relatives surrounding the buses waving

/\ /


/ / / / / / / /

nor other millions of the poor rushing around from city to city to

/ / /\

see their loved ones. . . .

(from Allen Ginsberg, "In the Baggage Room at Greyhound" NAK 194-95)

(4) / / / /\

Down valley a smoke haze

/ /\ / / / /\ /

Three days heat, after five days rain

/ / /\ / /\

Pitch glows on the fir-cones

/ / / /\

Across rocks and meadows

/ / /

Swarms of new flies.

/ / / / /

I cannot remember things I once read

/ / / /

A few friends, but they are in cities.

/ / / /\ / /

Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup

/ / /

Looking down for miles

/ / /

Through high still air.

(Gary Snyder, "Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout," NAK 330)

(5) / /\ / /\ / /

The ice ticks seaward like a clock.

/ / >

A Negro toasts

/ /\ / / /\ >

wheat-seeds over the coke-fumes

/ /

of a punctured barrel.

/ / >

Chemical air

/\ / /\ /

sweeps in from New Jersey,

/ /

and smells of coffee.

/ /

Across the river,

/ / \ / / \ / >

ledges of suburban factories tan

/ /\ / / >

in the sulphur-yellow sun

/ /\ / / /\

of the unforgivable landscape.

(from Robert Lowell, "The Mouth of the Hudson,"NAK 110-111)

The five poets cited are by no means alike: the conventional wisdom would be to oppose the "raw" Allen Ginsberg to the "cooked" Robert Lowell, or the Black Mountain-based Denise Levertov to the more mainstream New Yorker favorite, W. S. Merwin, and so on. Indeed, there are real prosodic differences in the above examples. Certainly Ginsberg's strophes, made up of two or more lines, characterized by their emphatic, predominantly trochaic and dactylic rhythm, each strophe emphatically end-stopped, are a far cry from Levertov's minimal, lightly stressed (two or three stresses per line), frequently enjambed lines, arranged in open tercets. For Ginsberg, repetition, whether clausal or phrasal, is the central sonic and syntactic device; for Levertov, whose poem charts minute differences of perception, repetition is studiously avoided. Again, Levertov's "A Day Begins" differs from Snyder's "Mid-August," whose two five-line stanzas are notable for their monosyllabic base (seven of the poem's fifty-seven words are monosyllables), which ensures strong stress on almost every word in a loosely trochaic sequence. Unlike Levertov, Snyder does not run on his lines; neither, for that matter, does Merwin, whose lines are evenly paced to the point of intentional monotony, the avoidance of secondary and tertiary stresses heightening the epiphany of the final line in which two sentences are unexpectedly run together, culminating in the pyrrhic-spondee pattern of "it is (a) lóng wáy." And finally in Lowell, whose free verse most closely follows Eliot's prescription that the ghost of meter must lurk behind the arras, the frequent enjambment (as if to say, look, I am writing free verse, using open form!) is offset by the underlying iambic rhythm, as in "The íce tîcks séawârd líke a clóck" and "A négro toásts," as well as by the repetition of identical stress contours, as in the two-stress lines "and smélls of cóffee," "Acróss the ríver."

But despite all these differences--and who would mistake the sound and look of a Ginsberg poem for that of a Lowell or Levertov one?-- there is a period style, a dominant rhythmic-visual contour that distinguishes

the lyric of Naked Poetry from that of a recent anthology like Out of Everywhere. Consider the following features:

(1) The free verse, in its variability (both of stress and of syllable count) and its avoidance of obtrusive patterns of recurrence, tracks the speaking voice (in conjunction with the moving eye) of a perceptive, feeling subject, trying to come to terms with what seems to be an alien, or at least incomprehensible, world. Thus Levertov's "A Day Begins" follows the motion of the eye, taking in the frightening sight of the bloody headless squirrel, its location being specified only in the second tercet and in turn juxtaposed to the next thing seen, "the first irises" {that] "have opened since dawn," the poem moving, in the final line, to the "bruise-blue" conjunction between these seeming dissimilars. The same temporal tracking characterizes Merwin's "Dusk in Winter": in line 1, the sun is seen setting, in lines 2-3, the poet responds to the resulting "cold"; in lines 4-5, the sense of loss gives way to renewal as the stream is metaphorically perceived as "running after" the sun, its sound like flute song. In Ginsberg's "In the Baggage Room," the first line sets the scene "in the depths of the Greyhound Terminal," and each subsequent strophe adds an element of perception or cognition. In Snyder's "Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout," the patient description of the valley in the first stanza triggers the step-by-step withdrawal into the self in the second. And Lowell's eleven-line conclusion to "The Mouth of the Hudson" focuses on the bleakest and ugliest items in sight as representation of the interior "unforgivable landscape" that is the poet's own.

(2) Free verse is organized by the power of the image, by a construct of images as concrete and specific as possible, that serve as objective correlative for inner states of mind. Surely it is not coincidental that the origins of free verse coincide with French symbolisme and Anglo-American Imagism. From William Carlos Williams's "Good Night" (see Essay #5) and "As the cat. . ." to Snyder's "Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout" and Levertov's "A Day Begins," the free-verse line presents what are often unmediated images, as they appear in the mind's eye of the poet: "A headless squirrel, some blood / oozing from the unevenly / chewed-off neck" (Levertov) "The sun sets in the cold without friend" (Merwin), "In the depths of the Greyhound Terminal / sitting dumbly on a baggage truck looking at the sky" (Ginsberg) "Down valley a smoke haze" (Snyder) "The ice ticks seaward like a clock" (Lowell). Perception, discovery, reaction: free-verse is the form par excellence that strives toward mimesis of individual feeling, as that feeling is generated by sights, sounds, smells, and memories.

(3) Although free verse is speech-based, although it tracks the movement of the breath itself, syntax is regulated, which is to say that the free-verse "I" generally speaks in complete sentences: "the first irises / have opened since dawn," "When it has gone I hear the stream running after it," "staring through my eyeglasses I realized shuddering these thoughts were not eternity," "I cannot remember things I once read," "Chemical air / sweeps in from New Jersey, / and smells of coffee." If, these poems seem to say, there is no metrical recurrence, no rhyme or stanzaic structure, syntax must act as clarifier and binder, bringing units together and establishing their relationships.

(4) A corollary of regulated syntax is that the free-verse poem flows; it is, in more ways than one, linear. Again, the stage for this linear movement was already set in a poem like Williams's "As the Cat," which moves, slowly but surely, "into the pit / of the empty / flowerpot." Even Ginsberg's complicated patterns of repetition (of word, phrase, clause) move toward the closure of "Farewell ye Greyhound where I suffered so much, / hurt my knee and scraped my hand and built my pectoral muscles big as vagina." In Levertov's "A Day Begins" the perception of death (the view of the blood-soaked squirrel) modulates into one of renewal (the opening irises), the epiphany coming in the final line with the compound "bruise-blue," tying the two together. In Merwin's "Dusk in Winter" moves from its quiet, anapestic opening, "The sún séts in the cóld withoût friénds," to the markedly divided final line with its two "it" clauses ("It has," "It is") and concluding spondee, "lóng wáy." In Lowell's "The Mouth of the Hudson" every image from the ticking ice to the "sulphur-yellow sun" sets the stage for the reference to the "unforgivable landscape" of the last line. And even Snyder's "Mid-August," which does not push toward such neat closure, moves fluidly from line to line, culminating in the three strong stresses of "hígh stíll aír."

(5) As a corollary of (4), the rhythm of continuity of which I have been speaking depends upon the unobtrusiveness of sound structure in free verse, as if to say that what is said must not be obscured by the actual saying. In this sense, free verse is the antithesis of such of its precursors as Gerard Manley Hopkins's sprung rhythm, with its highly figured lines like "I caught this morning morning's minion, king- / dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding." Not that the free-verse passages cited above aren't very much "worked," organized as they are by internal sound patterning, repetition of stress groups, and the counterpoint that arises from the isolation-by-line of units that otherwise form part of a larger sequence. In Levertov's poem, for example, "oozing from the unevenly / chewed-off neck," produces a sonic disturbance by means of the "uneven" line break and the jagged rhythm (only two full stresses in eight syllables) of the line "oózing from the unévenly." Or again, end stopping and strong stressing on monosyllabic units produces special effects as in Snyder's "Pitch glóws ôn the fír-cônes," where "cones" picks up the long o sound of "glows" and has an eye-rhyme with "on." At the same time, Snyder is wary of the sound taking over: hence the casual quiet lines like "I cannot remember things I once read."

(6) Finally--and this accords with the unobtrusiveness of sound--the free-verse lyric of the fifties and sixties subordinates the visual to the semantic. Levertov's open tercets, Snyder's five-line stanzas, Ginsberg's strophes, Merwin's minimal linear units, and Lowell's loose verse paragraphs--none of these does much to exploit the white space of the page or to utilize the material aspects of typography. Except for Ginsberg's Whitmanesque long lines, all the examples above have columns of verse centered on the page, with justified left margins, and only minimally jagged right margins, line lengths being variable only within limits. The look of the poem is thus neither more nor less prominent than in metrical verse.

Interestingly, the six features I have discussed here, all of them, of course, closely related, turn up in the poets' own statements of poetics included in Naked Poetry. "The responsibility of the writer," says William Stafford, "is not restricted to intermittent requirements of sound repetition or variation: the writer or speaker enters a constant, never-ending flow and variation of gloriously seething changes of sound" (NAK 82). "Page arrangement," Ginsberg observes of "Wichita Vortex Sutra," "notates the thought-stops, breath-stops, runs of inspiration, changes of mind, startings and stoppings of the car" (NAK 222). "Organic poetry," writes Levertov in her well known "Some Notes on Organic Form," "is a method of apperception": "first there must be an experience, a sequence or constellation of perceptions of sufficient interest, felt by the poet intensely enough to demand of him [sic] their equivalence in words: he is brought to speech" (NAK141). And Merwin seems to speak for all the poets in the anthology when he says:

In an age when time and technique encroach hourly, or appear to, on the source itself of poetry, it seems as though what is needed for any particular nebulous unwritten hope that may become a poem is not a manipulable, more or less predictably recurring pattern, but an unduplicatable resonance, something that would be like an echo except that it is repeating no sound. Something that always belonged to it: its sense and its information before it entered words. (NAK 270-271, my emphasis)

An unduplicatable resonance: from its inception, this is what most free verse has striven to be. "For me," says Snyder, "every poem is unique. . . . A scary chaos fills the heart as 'spir'itual breath--in'spir'ation; and is breathed out into the thing-world as a poem" (NAK 357).

But there is one (and I think only one) exception to this poetics in the Mezey-Berg anthology, and it marks a useful transition to the poetry in Out of Everywhere. That exception is the poetry of Robert Creeley. Although Creeley's own "Notes apropos 'Free Verse'" make much of Olson's field composition and the use of breath, it also contains the following statement:

I am myself hopeful that linguistic studies will bring to contemporary criticism a vocabulary and method more sensitive to the basic activity of poetry . . . . Too, I would like to see a more viable attention paid to syntactic environment, to what I can call crudely "grammartology." (NAK 185)

And he talks about his own interest in "a balance of four, a four-square circumstance, be it walls of a room or legs of a table. . . . an intensive variation on "foursquare" patterns such as [Charlie Parker's] "I've Got Rhythm" (NAK 186-87).

The "foursquare" jazz-based pattern Creeley talks of here may turn up as a four-line stanza (e.g., "A Form of Women," "A Sight") but also as the number of words per line, as in Part 4 of the sequence called "Anger":

Face me, >

in the dark,

my face. See me.

It is the cry >

I hear all >

my life, my own >

voice, my >

eye locked in >

self sight, not >

the world what >

ever it is

but the close >

breathing beside >

me I reach out >

for, feel as >

warmth in >

my hands then >

returned. The rage >

is what I >

want, what >

I cannot give >

to myself, of >

myself, in >

the world.

(NAK 182-83)

To call such poetry "free verse" is not quite accurate, for something is certainly being counted in these little block-like stanzas, even if it is neither stress nor syllable but word. The pattern is 2-3-4, 4-3-4, 2-3-3, 3-3-3, 4-4-3, 2-3-4, 3-2-4, 4-3-2, the final stanza reversing the word count of the first. So short are the line units and so heavily enjambed (twenty of twenty-four lines) as well as broken by caesuras (see lines 3, 18), so basic the vocabulary, made up as it is of prepositions, pronouns, and function words, that each word takes on its own aura and receives its own stress, as in:

/ /

voice, my

/ / /

eye locked in

/ / /

self sight, not

And the stresses are further emphasized by the internal rhyme ("my / eye", also echoing "cry" "my" in the preceding tercet), overriding the line break, and the pulling of "sight" in two directions: one toward "self" via alliteration and and the second toward "not" via consonance.

Indeed, although Creeley's tercets superficially resemble Levertov's, the features of free verse I listed above hardly apply. This poem does not present us with a mimesis of speech, tracking the process of perception. The first-person pronoun ("I" / "my" / "me" "myself") is used twelve times in the space of seventy-five words, and yet that "I" is less speaking voice than a particle that passively submits to external manipulation:

is what I

want, what

I cannot give

where "want" and 'what," separated by a single phoneme, occlude the "I's" halting presence. Again, monosyllabic lines like "is what I" refer neither to sun and stream, as in Merwin's poem or to rocks and meadows, as in Snyder's. There is no image complex to control the flow of speech; indeed the shift from line to line is by no means linear: "See me," does not follow from "Face me." The normal syntagmatic chain is broken, the first tercet, for example, calling attention to the play of signifiers in "face me" / "my face" rather than to that which is signified. And when we come to line 4, "It is the cry," the normal flow of free verse is impeded because the unspecified pronoun "It" returns us to the previous tercet as we try to make out what "it" might refer to. Or again, in line 7, "voice, my" means differently within the line than in the larger structure of "my own / voice, my eye locked in / self sight."

The syntactic ambiguity of lines like "for, feel as" and "want, what," coupled with the insistent word-stress, produces a rhythm of extreme weight and fragmentation--a kind of aphasic stutter--that is both heard and seen on the page. Each word, to cite Gertrude Stein, is as important as every other word. Sound becomes obtrusive ("me I reach out") as does the creation of paragrams, formed by cutting up complete sentences or clauses. Thus, although at first glance, the look of Creeley's poem on the page is not all that different from, say, the Snyder counterpart, the consistent detachment of words from their larger phrasal or clausal environment--a practice that goes way beyond what is known as enjambment-- creates a very different physical image.

Post-Linears and "Multi-Mentionals"

If the unit of free verse is, as all theorists agree, the line, then the unit of Creeley's poem might more properly be described as what the Russian Futurists called "the word as such." Indeed, just as early free-verse poets called metrical form into question ("To break the pentameter, that was the first heave"), what is now being called into question is the line itself . As Bruce Andrews puts it in his and Charles Bernstein's symposium "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Lines":

1. Lines linear outline, clear boundaries' effect, notice the package from its perimeter, consistency, evenness, seemingly internal contours which end up packaging the insides so that they can react or point or be subordinated to a homogenized unit, to what's outside. . . . Boundary as dividing--'you step over that line & you're asking for trouble'. . . . Territorial markers and confinements, ghost towns, congested metropolis on a grid. . . . .

3. Better, constant crease & flux, a radical discontinuity as a lack, jeopardizes before & after, stop & start, a dynamic in fragments, suggesting an unmappable space, no coordinates, troubling us to locate ourselves in formal terms. (LIP 177)

Who would have thought that less than forty years after Olson celebrated the "LINE" as the embodiment of the breath, the signifier of the heart, the line would be perceived as a boundary, a confining border, a form of packaging? "When making a line," writes Bernstein in the mock-romantic blank verse poem "Of Time and the Line" that concludes the symposium, "better be double sure / what you're lining in & what you're lining / out & which side of the line you're on" (LIP 216). Similarly, Johanna Drucker talks of "Refusing to stay 'in line,' creating instead, a visual field in which all lines are tangential to the whole" (LIP 181). Peter Inman refers to Olson's sense of the line as unit of poet's breath "too anthropomorphized." "The general organizational push to my stuff," says Inman, "becomes page-specific I tend to write in pages . . . not in stories or poems" (204). And Susan Howe remarks that in The Liberties, she wanted to "abstract" the "ghosts" of Stella and Cordelia from 'masculine' linguistic configuration." "First," says Howe, "I was a painter, so for me, words shimmer. Each has an aura" (LIP 209). And as an example of a "splintered sketch of sound," Howe produces a page from The Liberties (LIP 210).

Howe's own long verbal-visual sequence Eikon Basilike (see figure 6.1), which is the opening selection in Maggie O'Sullivan's new anthology Out of Everywhere, forms an interesting bridge to what Wendy Mulford calls, in her "After. Word," the "multi- and non-linear" writing of younger women poets in the U.S., UK, and Canada. Howe's use of cut-ups and found text (or invention of a found text, since her version of the Bibliography of the King's Book, or Eikon Basilike is a complex refiguring of the ostensible forgery of Charles I's own writings) come out of the Concrete Poetry movement, but her typographical devices (mirror images of lines, overprints, broken fonts) are designed to question the authority of the historical document, even as she selects certain passages and, so to speak, overstresses them, as in the lineated text "ENGELANDTS MEMORIAEL," where every word has the "aura" Howe speaks of in her statement on the line:

/ / / / /\

Laud Charles I Fairfax

in which even the number "I" (as in Charles the First) is given a full stress.

According to conventional criteria, the material forms used by the thirty poets in Out of Everywhere can be classified as "verse" (e.g., Rae Armantrout, Nicole Brossard, Wendy Mulford, Melanie Neilson, Marjorie Welish) "prose" (e.g., Tina Darragh, Carla Harryman, Leslie Scalapino, Rosmarie Waldrop), or some variant on concrete poetry (e.g., Paula Claire, Kathleen Fraser, Susan Howe, Maggie O'Sullivan, Joan Retallack, Diane Ward). The collection also contains short plays or scenes by Lyn Hejinian, Caroline Bergvall, and Fiona Templeton. But such classifications obscure what is also a common impulse.

In Rational Geomancy, Steve McCaffery and bpNichol remind us that in standard prose as well as in the "visually continuous poem (Milton's Paradise Lost for instance) the page has no optical significance. . . . Being to a large extent a working out of information through duration, prose structures tend to be temporal rather than visual. . . . In extended prose or poetry the page becomes an obstacle to be overcome. [Whereas in poetry] the left-hand margin is always a starting point, the right-hand margin a terminal, neither of which is determined by the randomness of page size but rather by the inner necessity of the compositional process. (RGEO 61).

It is this "inner necessity" that may be noted in the four examples above. Whether ostensibly "prose" (Rosmarie Waldrop) or "verse" (Karen Mac Cormack), these poems are first and foremost page-based: they are designed for the eye rather than merely reproduced and reproducable, as I found when I tried to type them up leaving the original spacing and layout intact. In these visual constructs, the flow of the line as the individual's breath as well as of the simulation of the eye's movement from image to image, observation to observation, is inhibited by any number of "Stop" signs. This is the case even in Waldrop's prose passage, which opens with the sentence: "Although you are thin you always seemed to be in front of my eyes, putting back in the body the roads my thoughts might have taken." Syntactically, this sentence is normal enough, but the reader/listener must stop to consider what the conditional clause can possibly mean here. What does being "thin" have to do with inhibiting one's partner's "thoughts," except that the two words alliterate? And does one really "put" those "thoughts" back into the body, as if one is stuffing an envelope? Robert Frost's famous "The Road Not Taken," which is alluded to in Waldrop's sentence, moralizes its landscape, turning the two divergent, but quite similar, roads into emblems of the futility of the choice-making process. But in Waldrop's Lawn of the Excluded Middle, paysage moralisé gives way to a curious collapsing of the distinctions between mind and body, space and time, inside and outside. On this new "stage," "only space would age" (notice the rhyme) and "exaggeration . . . took the place of explanation." What looks like prose is in fact highly figured: take the "increase of entropy and unemployment" which characterizes these proceedings. Denotatively, the words are unrelated, although both refer to states of negativity. But visually and aurally, the second is almost an anagram of the first, the only unshared letters being r, u, and m. The dancer's "leap toward inside turning out" of the last line thus enacts the verbal play we have been witnessing--a play in which "you" and "I," "juggl[ing] the details of our feelings," find momentary rest as the voiced stop (t) culminates in the silence of the blank space.

If Waldrop's "sentences" are thus more properly "non-sentences," the lines in Karen Mac Cormack's "Multi-Mentional" open like an accordion and close down again, putting pressure on isolated centered words like "preen," "renew," and "telepathy." The relation of space to time, which is central to Waldrop's text, is intricately reconceived here. "Multi-Mentional" signifies "multi-dimensional" but also the "multi" things "mentioned" or worth mentioning in discourse about space-time. On the one hand, we have the "line's running-board basics," those reliable "straight-line" ledges beneath the car door that help the passengers to "get out." What with "perfect timing," "maximum syncopation," and "pieces of time at regular intervals," linear motion should not be impeded. But the "line's running-board basics" are countered by a motion that is "sidereal on all fours." Does planetary influence control our ordinary moves and why are they on "all fours"? And why are the statistics we should rely on "mongrel"? No use, in any case "preen[ing" in this situation, a situation in which tantrums are ominously "temperature tantrums" (is something going to explode?) even as being "up in arms," gives way to a case of "Head up in arms," which sounds like a military or calisthenic routine. How, Mac Cormack asks, delimit word meanings? "If the ring fits answer the phone," initially sounds absurd only because we are looking for a finger, but the adage actually makes good sense. If the ring fits (if you recognize the ring as being that of your phone), answer it. Or has the caller already been recognized by "telepathy"? In Mac Cormack's "multi-mentional" world, "patience" is "soft" (which implies there's a hard patience as well), landslides "float," and the location of birds in flight can never be "pinpoint[ed]," any more than "similes" (a is like b) can measure the "multi-mentional."

The progress from line to line here is thus reversed and spatialized (another "multi-mentional"): "renew," for example, points back to "preen," which has all its letters except the w. The heavily endstopped "témperature tántrums cléver yés" jumps ahead to "telepathy." Indeed, going into reverse seems to be the mode of operation in Mac Cormack's poem. Secondary stressing, so central to the poetry of Ginsberg or Snyder (e.g., "Pítch glóws ón the fír-cônes"), as the representation of an actual voice contour, the flow of speech, is avoided as is ellision so that each morpheme receives attention, as in the guttural "Thát líne's rúnning-bóard's básics," which is almost a tongue-twister. Sounds cannot coalesce into rhythmic units, as they do in Snyder's "Sourdough Mountain," for then their "Multi-Mentional" quality would be lost. Which is to say that in the ear as on the page, the language act becomes central. "Word order = world order" (RGEO 99).

Maggie O'Sullivan's medievalizing moral tale "A Lesson from a Cockerel" performs similar operations on the catalogue poem. From Pound to Zukofsky to Ginsberg, cataloging has been a popular poetic device, but here the list is so to speak blown apart by spatial design: the first three lines in capital letters are followed by a rectangular box containing, in a row, the words "CRIMINAL" and "CONSTITUENTS", with a word column along the right margin, and the line "SKEWERED SKULL INULA" (reminiscent of Pound's "Spring / Too long / Gongula"), placed beneath the bottom border. The catalogued items, many of them archaic or obscure, like "boldo" and "inula," both of them bitter alkaloid plant extracts used as drugs, and the many neologisms like "JULCE" and "SHOOKER," are part of an elaborate roll-call of exotic narcotics, a kind of postmodern "Ode on Melancholy," in which the address to the "POPPY THANE" or opium lord becomes a drumcall heightened by its Anglo-Saxon and pseudo-Anglo-Saxon ("SAXA ANGLAISE") word particles--"pendle dust," 'wrist drip," "neaptide common peaks," "SWIFT PULLERY.TWAIL." Lines like "GIVE GINGER,|| GIVE INK,|| SMUDGE JEEDELA LEAVINGS" exploit the rhythm, alliteration, and assonance of the football cheer or political chant, but the captions inside the empty box marks all this chanting as "CRIMINAL / CONSTITUENTS," and label the "frame" as so much "SKEWERED "SKULL"

Is "A Lesson from the Cockerel" free verse? Yes, if we mean by free verse the absence of meter, stress, syllable count, or quantity. But, strictly speaking, O'Sullivan's verse units are closer to the Old English alliterative line, as in

/ / || / /


or to such Poundian variations on that line as "líons lóggy || with Círce's tísane" (Canto XXXIX), than to non-numerical linear verse, and, in any case, the visual layout calls attention to itself as what looks like a computer printout, a set of headlines, a sheet of advertising copy coming through the fax machine. As in Mac Cormack's poem, secondary sound features (rhyme, assonance, consonance, alliteration) take precedence over the recurrence of stresses. Phrases like "UDDER DIADEMS INTERLUCE" or "CRAB RATTLES ON THE LUTE" perform at a sonic level before their semantics are fully grasped. The visual/vocal dimension of the words is more prominent than their actual referents. And this too is a time-honored tradition in poetry, however far free-verse poetry, the poetry of the voice and the Image, has gotten away from it.

Not images, but "afterrimages," as Joan Retallack's sequence by that title makes clear. "We tend to think," says Retallack in the frontispiece of her book, "of afterimages as aberrations. In fact all images are after. That is the terror they hold for us." "I do not know which to prefer," writes Wallace Stevens in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," "The beauty of inflections / Or the beauty of innuendoes, / the blackbird whistling / or just after." In Retallack's scheme of things, this becomes "After whistling or just ______": in our fin-de-siècle world, every image, event, speech, or citation can be construed as an "afterthought" or "aftershock" of something that has always already occurred.

One form of "afterrimage" Retallack uses is found text: the poem before us draws on Chaucer (the opening of "The Wife of Bath's Tale") and Swift (book 3 of Gulliver's Travels) among other "literary" sources; it begins in medias res with someone's advice that there is a "need to give latitude which is often silence," followed by the typographical convention of "and/or." In keeping with this choice, no given line follows from the preceding one, at least not in any normal sequence, the text incorporating reportage, question, number, iambic pentameter citation (lines 4-6), and narrative fragment. The last six lines recall Creeley's strategy of counting words rather than feet, stresses, or syllables. The pattern is 4 (at center), 2-2 (left and lowered right), and then a 2-2-2 tercet. And now, come the "afterrimages," chosen, Retallack tells us, by chance operation: thirteen characters or spaces from line 8, six from line 10, two from line 12. These tiny morphemic particles are living proof of what a difference a single letter can make. The ellipsis preceding "all this I see" becomes the mere stutter of all th; "point" loses its p, only to regain it from the capital P of "Paul" that follows; the loss opens up the text so that we think of "joint" or "anoint," the latter certainly being appropriate for St. Paul. And the afterimage of "sunbeams," the meaningless vocalization nb, is a witty comment on the activities of Swift's Laputa. Not only, the poem implies, can sunbeams not be extracted from cucumbers, the word "sunbeams" doesn't break down neatly into sun + beams or even into neatly arranged vowels and consonants, but into the difficult-to-pronounce nb, followed by an exhalation of breath, or visual blank which is so to speak, "silence and/or." The final stop (b) is the voiced equivalent of the preceding p. Retallack's is thus an artifactual, wholly composed meditation on what can and cannot be "extracted from" language.

Susan Howe, I noted above, has referred to her typographical experiments as "abstractions" from "masculine linguistic formations," and many of the poets in Out of Everywhere would concur that such deconstruction has been central to their work. But it is also the case that their poems have many counterparts in the work of Clark Coolidge and Steve McCaffery, Charles Bernstein and Bob Perelman, Bruce Andrews and Christian Bök, and my own sense is that the transformation that has taken place in verse may well be more generational than it is gendered. We have, in any case, a poetics of non-linearity or post-linearity that marks, not a return to the "old forms," because there is never a complete return, no matter how strongly one period style looks back to another, but a kind of "afterrimage" of earlier soundings, whether Anglo-Saxon keenings, formally balanced eighteenth-century prose, or Wittgensteinian aphoristic fragment. The new poems are, in most cases, as visual as they are verbal; they must be seen as well as heard, which means that at poetry readings, their scores must be performed, activated. Poetry, in this scheme of things, becomes what McCaffery has called "an experience in language rather than a representation by it."

I have no name for this new form of sounding and perhaps its namelessness goes with the territory: the new exploratory poetry (which is, after all, frequently "prose") does not want to be labelled or categorized. What can be said, however, is that the "free verse" aesthetic, which has dominated our century, is no longer operative Take a seemingly minor feature of free verse like enjambment. To run over a line means that the line is a limit, even as the caesura can only exist within line-limits. To do away with that limit is to reorganize sound configurations according to different principles. I conclude with a passage from Caroline Bergvall's "Of Boundaries and Emblems"

By Evening We're Inconsolable. Having Reached This Far, Bent

Over Tables Of Effervescence Within The Claustrophobic Bounds

Of The Yellow Foreground: Art Has Kept Us High And Separate,

Hard In Pointed Isolation, Forever Moved By The Gestures Of Its

Positions And The Looseness Of Even That: Now Vexed And

Irritated, Still Plotting Endless Similitudes: We Trip Over Things:

Strain To Extricate Ourselves From Closing Borders: (OOE 206)

Is this prose or some kind of kind of alphabet game, using majuscules and justified margins? The question is falsely posed: whether "verse" or "prose," Bergvall's is first and foremost a performance, an activation, both visual and aural, of a verbal text, whose every stress, "Hard in Pointed Isolation," seems to reverberate. No wonder those "Closing Borders" in the last line above are followed by a colon: a signature, as it were, of things to come.

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1 See the entry on "Vers Libre" by Clive Scott, The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger and T. V. F. Brogan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 1344-45. This book is subsequently cited in the text as EPP.

2 Ezra Pound, "A Few Don'ts," Poetry 1, no. 6 (March 1913); rpt. in "A Retrospect," Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, ed. T. S. Eliot (London: Faber and Faber, 1954), p. 3. Subsequently cited as LEEP. See also the entries on "Free Verse" by Donald Wesling and Eniko Bollobás and on Imagism by Stanley F. Coffman in EPP.

3 T. S. Eliot, "The Music of Poetry" (1942), On Poetry and Poets (New York: Farrar, Straus, 1957), p. 31.

4 Eliot, "Reflections on 'Vers Libre' (1917), To Criticize the Critic and other Writings (New York: Farrar Straus, 1965), pp. 183-89. The citations are from pp. 189, 185, 187 respectively but the whole essay should be read carefully.

5 Annie Finch, The Ghost of Meter: Culture and Prosody in American Free Verse (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993), p. 139. For Wright, Finch maintains, "the connotations of iambic pentameter remain positive" (p. 134); for Lorde, "both iambic pentameter and dactylic rhythms carry abundant stores of wordless energy" (p. 135).

6 Derek Attridge, Poetic Rhythm: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 172. Subsequently cited as DA.

7 Timothy Steele, Missing Measures: Modern Poetry and the Revolt against Meter (Fayetteville, Arkansas and London: The University of Arkansas Press, 1990), p. 10.

8 9 Vendler, London Review of Books (4 July 1996): 6.

10 Charles O. Hartman, Free Verse: An Essay on Prosody (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 24-25. Subsequently cited in the text as COH. I discuss this definition of free verse in relation to "prose" in Essay #5.

11 In Rational Geomancy: The Kids of the Book-Machine, the Collected Research Reports of the Toronto Research Group 1973-1982 (Vancouver: Talon Books, 1982), Steve McCaffery and bpNichol have this entry on "Verse & Prose":

12 verse--from the Indo-European root 'wert": to turn, from this root derives the medieval Latin "versus" literally to turn a furrow, in subsequent usage the furrow became the written line by analogy. . . .

13 prose--deriving from the same Indo-European root--is a contraction of the Latin "proversus" contracted thru "prorsus" to "prosus": literally the term forward, as adjectivally in "prosa oratio"--a speech going straight ahead without turns (p. 106). Subsequently cited in the text as RGEO.

14 Northrop Frye, The Well-Tempered Critic (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1963), p. 21. Cf. Frye, "Verse and Prose," EPP 885.

15 Robert Pinsky, Commentary, in Rory Holscher and Robert Schultz (eds.), "Symposium on the Line," Epoch 29 (Winter 1980), p. 212. The symposium is subsequently cited as EPOCH.

16 Derek Attridge, for example, defines rhythm as "the continuous motion that pushes spoken language forward in more or less regular waves, as the musculature of the speech organs tightens and relaxes, as energy pulsates through the words we speak and hear, as the brain marshals multiple stimuli into ordered patterns." (DA 1)

17 A classic account of this position is Eleonor Berry's in "Visual Form in Free Verse," Visible Language 23, 1 (Winter 1989): 89-111. I have discussed the visual form of Williams's and Oppen's lyric in The Dance of the Intellect (1985; rpt. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1996), Chapters 4 and 5. For statements by poets who stress the visual component, see for example, Margaret Atwood, EPOCH 172: "The line, then, is a visual indication of an aural unit and serves to mark the cadence of the poem." Cf. Allen Ginsberg, EPOCH 189, George MacBeth 203, Josephine Miles 207. In their Introduction to their collection The Line in Poetry (Urbana and London: University of Illinois Press, 1988), Robert Frank and Henry Sayre state that "the line--its status as a 'unit of measure,' what determines its length, the effects which can be achieved at its 'turn'--has come to be the focus of . . . concern" (p. ix). But the portfolio called "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Lines," edited by Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein, that concludes The Line in Poetry (see pp. 177-216) actually calls this statement into question, as does my essay #5 here, "Lucent and Inescapable Rhythms: Metrical Choice and Historical Formation." I shall come back to the "Language" essays below. The Frank-Sayre collection is subsequently cited as LIP.

18 See COH, Chapters 7 and 8 passim; Donald Wesling, "Sprung Rhythm and the Figure of Grammar," The New Poetries: Poetic Form Since Coleridge and Wordsworth (Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1985), pp. 113-144; Jonathan Holden, "The Free Verse Line," LIP 1-12. "The most fundamental rhythmical unit in verse," writes Holden, "is not the line but the syntactical unit" LIP 6).

19 Henri Meschonnic, Critique du rythme: anthropologie historique du langage (Paris: Verdier, 1982), p. 21. All translations are mine. Subsequently cited as HMC.

20 HMC 593, 595, my emphasis. A similar argument is made by Anthony Easthope in Poetry as

Discourse (London: Methuen, 1983). For Easthope, all verse forms--from the feudal medieval ballad to the courtly sonnet to the transparency of the "ordered" eighteenth-century heroic couplet --are ideologically charged.: blank verse , for instance, has to serve as the bourgeois subjective verse form for the Romantic period, a form that gives way to free verse when the transcendental ego is replaced by the dispersal of the subject and the dominance of signifier over signified. Easthope's analysis is overly schematic and he seems to accept the common wisdom that free verse is the end point of prosody. But his basic premise--that verse forms are not just arbitrary or "neutrally available" to everyone at any time-- is important.

21 See, on this point, Jonathan Culler, Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975), pp. 161-64. Culler borrows from Gerard Genette the example of a lineated version of "banal journalistic prose" ("Yesterday / on the A 7/ an automobile / travelling at sixty miles per hour / crashed into a plane tree. / It's four occupants were / killed") to show that lineation transforms reader expectation and interpretation.

22 Consider, for example, the airline menu on "easy SABRE" that gives commands like "Return to the first line." Or again, consider the following protest poem by Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, the so-called Gravy Poet of the San Joaquin Valley, cited in an article by Peter H. King in the Los Angeles Times (11 August 1996, p. A1): "You can put your trust in gravy / the way it stretches out / the sausage / the way it stretches out / the dreams." Earlier in the century, such versifying would have demanded meter and rhyme; now even polemic jingles are as likely as not to be in free verse.

23 I discuss Williams as a representative "free verse" poet in Essay #5. Pound's "visualized" page, especially in those Cantos that make frequent use of Chinese and other ideograms, has been a key source for Concrete and post-Concrete poetry and contemporary experiments with visual poetics.

24 Naked Poetry (New York and Indanapolis: Bobbs Merrill, 1969) is subsequently cited in the text as NAK. Out of Everywhere (London: Reality Street Studios, 1996), which has an Afterword by Wendy Mulford, is subsequently cited in the text as OOE.

25 Charles Olson, "Projective Verse," Selected Writings, ed. Robert Creeley (New York: New Directions, 1966), pp. 18-19. Subsequently cited as COSW. Donald Allen, who reprints "Projective Verse" in his The New American Poetry (New York: Grove Press, 1960) obviously has Olson's rejection of "closed verse" in mind when he writes that the poets in his anthology "have shown one common characteristic: a total rejection of all those qualities typical of academic verse" (p. xi), the most obvious of those "qualities" being, of course, metrical form.

26 COSW 16. Here and elsewhere, Olson attributes this aphorism to Robert Creeley, and the attribution has stuck, although Creeley never gave a systematic account of the proposition.

27 The editors do claim that they had wanted to include LeRoi Jones, and Michael Harper but were constrained "because of cost and space" (xii). As for the U.S. focus, "We decided to keep it American because we knew nothing much new has happened in English poetry since Lawrence laid down his pen and died" (xii). It is true that English and American poetics were probably furthest apart in the 50s and 60s, when "The Movement" dominated in Britain. But note that it never even occurs to the editors to include Canadian poets or poets of other English-speaking countries; their chauvinism is characteristic of the U.S.-centered imperialist ethos of the 60s.

28 The notation used here is the standard one adopted by George Trager and Henry Lee Smith Jr. in An Outline of English Structure (Washington, D.C.: American Council of Learned Societies, 1957). Trager and Smith identify four degrees of stress in English: primary (/), secondary (/\) as in a compound noun like "bláck-bîrd," tertiary (\), as in the first syllable of "èlevátor"; and weak or unstressed ( ), as in the second syllable of "elevator." A double bar (||)is used to indicate a caesura, and I use a right arrow (>) to indicate that the line is run-over.

29 In this regard, it differs from its free-verse precursors: in Williams's lyric, as we have seen in Essay #5, line break was brilliantly used for visual effect.

31 The count of syllables per line here is: Levertov: 2-8, Merwin, 9-13, Snyder: 4-10, Lowell: 3-10. Ginsberg's strophes are visually even more unified because of the dropped indented lines.

32 Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein, "L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Lines," LIP 177-216.

33 See Susan Howe, "Making the Ghost Walk About Again and Again," A Bibliography of The King's Book or Eikon Basilike (Providence, R.I.: Paradigm Press, 1989), unpaginated. This preface is reproduced in Susan Howe The Nonconformist's Manual (New York: New Directions, 1993), pp. 47-50. The poetic sequence itself follows (pp. 51-82) but the page design is not quite that of the original, largely because of page size.

34 In Poetic Rhythm (p. 171), Derek Attridge describes an extract from Howe's Pythagorean Silence, Part 3, as follows:

35 Susan Howe's poetry illustrates the potential that free verse possesses to fragment and dislocate the normal sequentiality of language, beyond even the techniques deployed by Pound and Williams. This extract . . . uses the disposition of words on the page in combination with disruptions of syntax to suggest bursts of utterance interspersed with silences. The morsels of language demand maximal attention. . . . [These lines] indicate something of the resonating power phrases can have when the connectivity provided by syntax, phrasing, rhythm, and visual linearity is partly--though only partly--broken.

36 It is interesting that although Attridge puts his finger on exactly what makes Howe's verse quite unlike the earlier model, he still categorizes it as "free verse," as if there could be no other name for Howe's obviously very "different" page layout.

37 They are in order of appearance (but not chronology or nationality) Susan Howe, Joan Retallack, Tina Darragh, Paula Claire, Diane Ward, Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Maggie O'Sullivan, Meilanie Neilson, Denise Riley, Rae Armantrout, Catriona Strang, Nicole Brossard, Wendy Mulford, Rosmarie Waldrop, Deanna Ferguson, Hannah Weiner, Carlyle Reedy, Geraldine Monk, Karen Mac Cormack, Kathleen Fraser, Lisa Robertson, Marjorie Welish, Barbara Guest, Grace Lake, Caroline Bergvall, Fiona Templeton, Fanny Howe, Bernadette Mayer, Leslie Scalapino.

38 Ezra Pound, "Papyrus," Personae: The Shorter Poems, A Revised Edition, ed. Lea Baechler & A. Walton Litz (New York: New Directions, 1990), p. 115.

39 Steve McCaffery, "Diminished Reference and the Model Reader," North of Intention: Critical Writings 1973-1986 (New York: Roof Books, 1986), p. 21. McCaffery's discussion of the Klein worm (pp. 20-21) as emblem of a poetry "without walls," in which "milieu and constellation replace syntax" is also very helpful.

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