Posts Tagged ‘L.M. Montgomery’

No free verse?

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

I may have bitten off a rather large mouthful in tackling this subject. What I meant to do was reflect on some things I’ve read recently about the structure of poetry, but as I keep reading I’m growing further enmeshed in the larger and very sticky question of what makes a poem good. But to keep it manageable, I’ll stick with form.

The question of form and structure interests me. Like many poets today, I write in free verse, but at the same time I enjoy and admire verse that follows traditional forms. When reading free verse, I often listen for what holds it together.

Reading critical essays on the subject always reminds me of this tidbit from a letter L.M. Montgomery wrote to a longtime correspondent:

By the law of dis-association of ideas— how do you like “free verse”? I loathe it. I saw a delightful definition of it the other day — “shredded prose”— although the full delight of the definition will be lost upon you if you are not familiar with the breakfast cereal known as “shredded wheat.” Vers libre aggravates me beyond my powers of expression.

Montgomery goes on to write her own piece of vers libre, itself a fine example of shredded prose, in which she castigates its perpetrators for writing verse that is “without form/ And void” and for being too lazy to look for rhymes. (That “shredded prose” definition apparently came from American writer and editor William Dean Howells, who used the term in reviewing Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology.)

T.S. Eliot, in a brief essay called “Reflections on Vers Libre,” takes an interesting view of the issue: he claims that there is no such thing as free verse. “If vers libre is a genuine verse-form,” he says, “it will have positive definition. And I can define it only in negatives: (1) absence of pattern, (2) absence of rhyme, (3) absence of metre.” He acknowledges that there can be good verse without rhyme, but insists that meter is inescapable. Some simple metre must lie behind any free verse, as a structure that the poem either approaches or departs from. (more…)

The practice of writing

Friday, October 5th, 2012

“I think I’ll have to buy this,” I said to my son, holding out The Complete Journals of L.M. Montgomery. “Of course you will,” he said, knowing how many books by and about Montgomery line the bookshelves at home. I had already read all five volumes of her Selected Journals, compiled by the same editors, Mary Henley Rubio and Elizabeth Waterston. The entries in those earlier volumes were selected to emphasize Montgomery’s life as a writer, omitting many entries describing her moods, her everyday activities, and her favorite landscapes.

Yet, even though many journal entries don’t relate directly to the development of her writing career, they often feel as if she is practicing. She may have simply been trying to express her enchantment with a beautiful scene, but she does it in what seems like a consciously literary way, in sentences like these: “The sea was an expanse of silvery gray. Afar I saw the purple slopes of New London scarfed in silvery hazes” (p. 24, entry for Thursday, April 10, 1890).

As vivid as these passages are, I prefer the accounts of everyday events: visits with friends, conflicts at school, outings to the seashore, etc. They’re written in a lively style, with a great deal of wit— sometimes lightly mocking, sometimes tart and sarcastic. (There are many gloomy passages, too, detailing Montgomery’s loneliness and depression, but I haven’t gotten to those yet.)

Montgomery started a journal to record what she thought worth recording. It became a place where she could vent her feelings and say things she couldn’t say anywhere else. But the practice of writing a journal was, for her, also an important part of the discipline of writing.