Postmodern Prosody and Line Measure
Just a quick consideration of theseecstasies which I wrote over a longish period several years ago now. I have used the term line measure before to refer to the rhythmic nature of lineation. I should clarify here that this is not counting the syllables in the line, which is syllabic measure, nor does measure suggest a regularity. Having said this naturally line measure relies on what goes on in the line, so it could include syllables, but within the avant-garde tradition that I work in it is more likely that phrases, phonemes and gaps will form the basic unit of regard. In addition all rhythm is reliant on the repetition of some form of mark and the moment of its non-repetition, which could be a pause or a break in regularity. I won't get into why such a basic deep structure of rhythm works, mainly because I don't know and nor does anyone else it would seem.
So what are the areas that need to be considered in line measure. I feel that the rhythmicality of the line is multiple, unlike the syllable which is mainly reducible to the pulse of stress. However, while the rhythm of stress in terms of the syllable is strong, the individual instances of line measure can be weak, although added together just as remarkable, I believe, as an iamb. Depending on how remarkable you find the iamb.
There is the length of the line, its reach/duration. There is the number of lines, probably restricted in some way. There is the distribution of the line across the pagespace or field of the poem. And then lastly there is the beat of the lines, which may all share certain basic measures in common. These four elements then, number, duration/reach, distribution and beat combine to produce a prosody of the line central to avant-garde, postmodern and all forms of traditional poetics. The fact that on the whole it is innovative poetry that foregrounds lineation is naturally because it dispenses, on the whole, with metre and rhyme. The fact that traditionalists do not notice line measure it because they have responded too negatively to modern and postmodern poetry, believing it has no prosody when it fact it has a highly developed prosody that is just of a different order.
Now to theseecstasies.
The number of lines was fixed at nine for reasons probably obvious to other poets who are concerned with counting. Nine subdivides into three units of three so each instance is in excess of the couplet. Nine is also far enough away from fourteen, in the right direction, to avoid the usual references to the sonnet. Nine sounds great in poetic language. And three is the magic number, yes it is, it’s the magic number and as the poems are ecstatic three was good. Having said all this nine was also arrived at randomly so the above are merely reasons why I kept nine, not explanations for why I chose it.
The duration/reach of the line was developed over time to reach a point beyond which the line could easily be spoken out loud, easily kept in the mind as one single cognitive unit or phrase, and which could not be accommodated easily in material forms as a single line. This last point was actually a desire to have a page of long, thing lines surrounded by space but publishers and the net forced this aesthetic dream in another direction. The duration I would define as excessive to the point of alienation or anti-absorption. The end of the line here is not so significant because of this.
In terms of distribution, these works are not as innovative and imaginative in their use of the field of the poem as I would like, mainly due to the restrictions of small press and internet publishing. As I mentioned I was attracted to the stretching of the material and cognitive fields of the poem to accommodate the line, the idea being to undermine these naturalised processes and produce something other than that. Also to show how attention, breath and page are fundamental to the presence of poetry. I had in mind, as many of us do, the distribution of the different font strands in Un coup de Des, wondering what that would be like on a big page like a huge, literate Jackson Pollock. Obviously I was heavily involved in the visual rhythm of the line in space.
Finally the beat. There is an internal cohesion and tension in each line, which works, on the whole, as a single unit of significance. Association, word play and hypertaxis are the three main things to look out for here, making them similar, I suppose, to the contemporary idea of The New Sentence, although I have many reservations about this idea.
Put together line this and only really looking at the measure of the line, ignoring enjambment, phrase measure and so on, one can see the line measure is a sophisticated and complex mode of prosodic organisation and disruption, even when used badly by a poet as limited as myself.