A Note on Poetry and Numbers, with an example from Levertov

Contemporary poets —-except for the ‘formalists’—- do not consider numbers as an aspect of form. If we learn meters at all we do so to betray them; deviation from strict counting is considered more honest, truer to feeling. But numbers are real and the metrical or measured dimension of poetry may feel less real if quantity —- as pattern of fulfillment and disruption —- is neglected.

As I argue on this blog, form emerges as the poem unfolds in time. The idea of time may help us think about numbers, even meters. To attend to, to be attentive to, the becoming of a poem may include attending to the measures, the syllable count, the meters; that way of measuring the poem in time could indeed ADD a dimension of reality to the form as it emerges. Not to mention a dimension of pleasure.

Finally, any discussion of meter that grapples with real poems shows how meter is a structure in tension with other structures of rhythm; idiom, for example, gains power when it ‘fits’ and is ‘sounded’ within multiple structures.

He with whom I ran hand in hand
kicking the leathery leaves …

Denise Levertov “A Woman Meets An Old Lover”

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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