Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2004 Issue

InFORMing an Audience—Poetry on the 'Net

0917

Susquehanna Quarterly ( www.susquehannaquarterly.org) is a widely respected online magazine for formalist poetry.



by Renée Magriel Roberts

To begin with a quick question, how many of you have a "favorite poem" that you can quote at least some portion of from memory? Most of you? I thought so. And I'd be willing to bet good money that in virtually every case this particular poem is rhymed and metrical. Good poetry sings to us, and memorable poetry sings very well indeed. The human brain seems to be wired for rhythm, for beat, for meter. It always has been, and this doesn't, on the evidence, seem to be changing.

So what happened? How did it come to be that the vast bulk of poetry published and reviewed and lionized in "serious" magazines and anthologies in the latter three fourths of the 20th century is poetry written in "open forms"? How did it happen that one of the core subjects of a formal education, poetry and prosody (the structure of poetry) fell by the wayside? How did we end up with vast quantities of irregular, unmelodic "verse" that (based on sales figures) nobody much wanted to read swamping all our publications and choking the popular lifeblood of the poetic impulse in the reading public?

That's a huge topic, and not one that can be easily explored in an essay of this length, or indeed of any length. Still, one thing's clear -- poetry took a strange turn in the twentieth century, and doing so it lost the confidence of its erstwhile readership. Vers Libre, Concrete Poetry, Imagist Poetry, L-a-n-g-u-a-g-e Poetry, and various other subsets of "experimental" verse became the accepted norms of poetic expression in English, with the impetus of the academic establishment and without the consent of the reading public, and poetry became a bad joke to most otherwise-educated readers. "I like to read, but I'm not good with poetry; I don't understand it," became a commonplace.

In the meanwhile, a significant core group of highly-talented poets who chose to write in relatively traditional forms and metrics were essentially pushed off to the sidelines, ignored by the academic and publishing establishment both. This was not only occurring with "form"; a certain, hugely-influential genre of traditional poetry, the Narrative Poem, was also getting extremely short shrift at the hands of the various schools of "modernism." In other words, not only were we being offered up very few ballads, villanelles, sonnets, and the like; we were no longer seeing works of the type exemplified by, say, "The Divine Comedy" or Pushkin's "Eugene Onegin", a great novel-in-verse.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> first edition of the earliest extant manual on modern chess, Salamanca, circa 1496-97. Sold for $68,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Carte-de-visite album with 83 images of prominent African Americans & abolitionists, circa 1860s. Sold for $47,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Gustav Klimt, <i>Das Werk,</i> Vienna & Leipzig, 1918. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Man Ray, <i>[London Transport] – Keeps London Going,</i> 1938. Sold for $149,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Jefferson, Letter Signed, to Major-General Nathanael Greene, promising reinforcements against Cornwallis, 1781. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Nicolas de Fer, <i>L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties,</i> Paris, 1713. Sold for $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Russell H. Tandy, <i>The Secret in the Old Attic,</i> watercolor, pencil & ink, 1944. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Ernest Hemingway, <i>Three Stories & Ten Poems,</i> first edition of the author's first book, Paris, 1923. Sold for $23,750.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Walker Evans, <i>River Rouge Plant,</i> silver print, 1947. Sold for $57,500.
  • <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Ernst, Max. <i>Mr. Knife and Miss Fork</i>. Paris, 1932. DELUXE EDITION. Sold for $15,625
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Cage, John. Autograph musical leaf from his Concert for Piano and Orchestra, NY, 1958. Sold for $18,750
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Einstein, Albert. Signed Passport Photo for his US citizenship application. Bermuda, 1935. Sold for $17,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Verard, Antoine. Illuminated printed Book of Hours. Paris, 1507. Sold for $7,500
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Wetterkurzschlussel. German Weather Report Codebook - for Enigma use. Berlin, 1942. Sold for $225,000
    <b>Bonhams: September 25, New York</b>
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Morelos y Pavon, Jose Maria. Autograph letter signed to El Virrey Venegas, February 5, 1812. Sold for $6,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Milne, A.A. Complete set of <i>Winnie-the-Pooh</i> books. 4 volumes. All first issue points. London, 1924-1928. Sold for $5,250
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> A 48-star American Flag, battle worn flown at Guadalcanal and Peleliu, 1942-1944. Sold for $35,000
    <b>Bonhams, June 12 results:</b> Locke, John. Autograph Letter Signed mourning the death of his friend, William Molyneaux, 2 pp, October 27, 1698. Sold for $20,000
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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