I asked: What meter is not based on a count of recurring features of language?
I should have asked: What line is not based on a count of recurring features of language?
Morphemes, phonemes, from sounds to words, from agglomerations of words to meaningful phrases and clauses organized in lines and stanzas.
I wrote the three questions in my previous post to tease Greg Perry a bit about his Metrical-thang over at Grapez. I've been known to do this--right Greg? I was kind of tickled to see Mike Snider appear in my comments with a link to his Sonnetorium. And, once there, I find Greg's comments on Mike's comments on my comments.
--Says nothing about verse to say that it turns language towards its own conventions. Poetry does not exist to prove that meter in line either is present or isn't.
--Says something about the poet, though.
--Says something about the poet who relies on habits in imposed and practiced counting methods to create a line.
Here's what Mike wrote that interests me (my questions are in italics):
Boy. Mike treats me like a novice. Should I be insulted? I think an insult is intended, especially because of Mike's hollow claim about breath: "the breath is not a countable feature in language." As if the discussion of projective verse, which I engage at Dagzine, does not count. And I do get the play on count. He is well aware, however, I know what "metrical" poetry is; especially according to the Poetry Encyclopedias. Greg claims he will use Mike's answer to teach his students. Greg: just send them to the New Princeton Encylopedia of Poetics. They'll find similar uncritical answers.
- What poetry isn't metrical?
- Until about 150 years ago, almost none.
- Recently, perhaps most poetry in what used to be called the Industrialized World. For an important example, William Carlos Williams's mature poetry is in no meaningful way metrical. Looking ahead to the next question, there is no countable feature of the language which is used a basis for the line in Williams's poetry.
- What meter is not based on a count of recurring features of language?
- None that I know of — with three important caveats:
- Metrical poetry uses countable language features as a basis for the line, not for the poem as a whole.
- Different languages have different features which may be usefully counted. For example, neither pitch nor quantity (syllable-length) vary in any systematic way in English, so English meters cannot be based on those features — Robert Bridges notwithstanding.
- The breath is not a countable feature in any language.
It's not that Mike is wrong. He's historically accurate. But his answers serve no purpose. And as I have pointed out in an earlier rant, Mike seems much happier with a critical protectionism of a very narrow definition on behalf of the poetic line than he is with a critical dialogue that moves our explorations beyond difference to a more common understanding of that line.
Who decides what a meter is? Not history; we do. And we might want to seriously consider that we use language to make claims about language. Language is not a spontaneous order, say on the level of spontaneity that FA Hayek discusses with the market economy, which he refers to as a catallaxy. Language is not a spontaneous order that we only have abstract access to...I mean, we do have control over the concrete order of language. And breath has everything to with the physics and chemistry of such control.
Make it as abstract as you wish, Mike, but counting will get you nowhere.
I am out for the evening. But other questions need exploration. Oh, btw, Mike. I am posing what I call possible solutions. I don't have the answer. I am trying to wallow in complexity--it serves my work. I am not limited to a formal process I am not an author of. Or something like that. Anyway,
Who decides how to count that meter?
What purpose does it serve to consistently--habitually, uncritically--interpret metrical verse in the way according to Mike Snider? [Added 3/5/05: I am "picking on" Snider because he makes these claims each time a po-blogger he reads says something about meter; I am not making claims on Mike because I don't respect him. I simply and vehemently disagree.]
And what does it mean to say: William Carlos Williams's mature poetry is in no meaningful way metrical? You're whack or what?
If I had a student who made this claim, I would want a reason. And his or her reason would need to address a definition for metrical. Because the claim sounds like an attempt to ghetto-ize metrical verse and to allow the claimant to dwell within that limited ghetto.