Metrical Matters

2002-01-27

One more thought on new formalism: I'm not convinced of the value of traditional meters. I'm slowly reading through the journals of Ayn Rand, and one thing that she got from Frank Lloyd Wright is the concept of organic architecture (although she shies away from the language of organicism). The catchphrase here is "form follows function" (although not in the original sense espoused by Louis Sullivan): the form of a building must be appropriate for its site and its function. Certainly it's harder in poetry or music than in a practical art like architecture to assign exact meaning to the term "function". Yet I find myself much more open to nonce forms in poetry than most new formalists are, just as my love of jazz (can we even speak of jazz "forms"?) puts me at odds with the traditionalism of most classical musicians. And despite my love of Bach and Dvorak and such, I simply find jazz to be more organic and alive than compositions created in slavish pursuit of sonata form or whatever. That's not to say I don't like writing in traditional meters -- I most decidedly do. And poetry is "inter-textual" in ways that most arts are -- when I write a poem such as Ancient Fire or Cobalt that refers to Sappho, I like to write it in Sapphic meter because I'm making a connection not to objective reality but to poetic history. Yet by no means am I wedded to writing poems (or music) solely in established forms, as my friends the formalists seem to be. But perhaps that's just because I lack the necessary discipline. :-)


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