Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Cure for Somnia

Roy Hattersley defends the notion that poetry should be difficult, though not necessarily with reference to poets usually described as difficult.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Words on War

Read this, by Eliot Weinberger, and weep.

Then read this, also by Weinberger, and weep some more.

Finally, read this, not by Weinberger, and smile grimly.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Some Freshly Refreshed Websites

My recent visits to the HappenStance site have revealed that a lot has been going on behind the front page. The publications and chapbook reviews sections have been completely overhauled, with a very swish look and a good deal of new features.

The website of Chapman, the grande dame of Scotland's literary magazines, had been out of date for such a length that I'd given up looking at it a long time ago. Imagine my surprise to find a completely new website when I wandered over in that direction a few days ago. Not only that, but it looks gey youthful, unlike the previous, rather stale version.

More than you needed to know, the dream blog of my colleague Diarmid Mogg, which I mentioned before, has flitted to TypePad and looks superb. It's also easier to navigate than the old version.

A Rare Item

Helena Nelson, in her HappenStance guise, e-mailed me yesterday to let me know that, apart from the small handful of sale copies I have myself, Tonguefire is officially sold out!

For all sorts of reasons, it feels good to have reached that landmark at this point. I'm in a good position to appreciate it at the moment, and it can only strengthen my hand and resolve as I build towards a first full collection.

Speaking of which, I've booked a place on an Arvon course about working towards a first collection this summer. It's led by Matthew Hollis and Colette Bryce. Should be good. I'm hoping it'll spur me on in the next few months.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Reasoning Rhyme: To Begin at the Beginning: the Role of the Onset 1

As I stated in the first main post in this series, the traditional conception of rhyme doesn't allow for syllable onsets to play any role in rhyming, except in identical twin rhyme. The problem is that this analysis can't account for much 20th century and contemporary rhyme practice, in which the onset muscles in on defining fellowship when vowel identity is violated or carried to an extreme. I'll examine Wilfred Owen's work with reference to the former circumstance and, in the next post, a couple of poems by Simon Armitage to demonstrate the latter, but first, a few words about how rhyme practice changed last century.

In the 20th century, constraints on rhyme in poetry were largely relaxed. Anne Ridler, in her 1951 introduction to the second edition of The Faber Book of Modern Verse (1951) states that “poets shunned full rhymes ... because of their scarcity in English, which made so many of them too stale for further use.” A major development of the First World War poet, Wilfred Owen, is the use of a peripheral rhyme scheme in a great number of poems. Louis MacNiece, a major poet of the 1930s, used nuclear rhyme in his “Bagpipe Music”. Vernon Watkins' poem“White Blossoms”, written in the 1940s, alternates between fraternal rhyme, peripheral rhyme, removed rhyme and, in one instance, remote rhyme. Alternation between different forms of rhyme, including twin rhyme, has become a pattern for numerous poets. To snatch a few names from the air, it is found in the work of John Berryman, Seamus Heaney and Simon Armitage.

Wilfred Owen
In much of Owen's finest and best-known work, the use of peripheral rhyme is consistent. Such rhyme schemes involve identical onsets and codas, with the relationships between stressed vowels being reduced to featural. An analysis of all peripheral rhyme schemes in The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen, edited by C. Day Lewis (Chatto & Windus, London, 1964) reveals that almost all these poems include a varying number of departures from the strict peripheral norm.

These aberrant rhymes, which can be either relative or twin, make up approximately 31% of the rhymes in Owen’s relative rhyme schemes. Of the relative rhymes in these aberrations, around 35% are removed (e.g., cheese:joysA Terre” ll.40,41; [w]once:FranceFutility”, ll.2,4). Some fall between peripheral and removed (crisp:grasp Exposure” ll.37, 38), permit protrusion (brambles:rumbles “Exposure”, ll.7,8; openings:deepening The Show” ll.14,15), permit one empty onset (apple:suppleArms and the Boy” ll.10,11) or an /h/ (heels:curls “Arms and the Boy” ll.11,12), which is close to empty. Occasionally, both onsets or codas may be empty (amber:emberMiners” ll.26,28).

Most of these aberrant rhymes can therefore be thought of as lax peripherals, rather than wholesale departures from the scheme. The examples with one empty onset are slightly problematic in that it is difficult to decide whether they are peripheral or removed. It is possible to think of these as having two empty onsets and protrusion in one fellow. However, fraternal rhymes in which one fellow has an empty onset could therefore also being analysed as identicals with protrusion.

Owen very occasionally admits fraternal rhymes to his peripheral rhyme schemes. I have found six such rhymes, of which five (i.e., 83%) exhibit a close relationship between the onsets:

[g]lozed:[k]losed (velar stops) “Exposure” ll. 26,29
deci/[m]ation:imagi[n]ation (nasal stops) “Insensibility” ll.18,19
[d]rained:[t]rained (alveolar stops) “Insensibility” ll.33,34
[dZ]est:[tS]est (palatoalveolar affricates) “A Terre” ll.58,61
he[r]eafter:[l]aughter (liquids) “‘Has Your Soul Sipped’” ll.2,4

The one remaining fraternal (there:air “Miners” ll.14,16) pairs [D] with an empty onset. In his fraternal rhyme schemes, Owen takes no more notice of onset relationship than other rhyming poets.

Though his rhyme schemes are basically masculine, Owen also makes use of feminine and mosaic rhyme in approximately 21% of his relative rhymes:

(a) mystery:masteryStrange Meeting” ll.30,31
(b) silent:salient “Exposure” ll.2,3
(c) ever:over “A Terre” ll.28.29
(d) knive us:nervous “Exposure” ll.1,4
(e) snow-dazed:sun-dozed “Exposure” ll.22,23

As examples (a) to (d) show, only the first syllable usually takes part in the relative rhyme scheme. Example (e) is the only instance I found in Owen of both syllables participating in the relative rhyme. The difference lies in the stress pattern of the rhyme fellows: in (a) to (d), only the initial syllable is lexically stressed; in (e), both syllables of the compounds are lexically stressed. This also holds for Owen’s rare trisyllabic rhymes, allowing us to generalise that only lexically stressed syllables participate in Owen’s relative rhyme schemes, as all his masculine rhymes are lexically stressed.

In the next post, I'll look at a couple of Simon Armitage poems with some surprising characteristics in the rhyme schemes.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Spousal Gauntlet, Lenten Challenge

Last night, it being Ash Wednesday, we were discussing taking things up for lent when my wife suggested I should write a poem a day for the season. It's an insane idea, especially given the very impending birth of our baby, but I didn't dismiss it. Nor did I cave. More the fool me, you might say: when I produced a draft of a poem later that evening she said, "Is that your first poem for lent?"

Who knows: it might pay off! I mean, if I were to get a few real poems out of it, that would certainly be a bonus. Anyone up for joining me in the madness? You get Sunday off (it being the Sabbath and all that), but I've yet to ask the invigilator whether I do.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Scheduled Acts of Criticism


I recommend a listen to this week's edition of "Poets and the Nation". It's a good, intelligent piece of broadcasting about how cultural change in Scotland has been reflected in poetry through the ages. It bounces about time a bit more than last week's, which is one thing in its favour.


Radio 3 is celebrating the Auden centenary this week. It started with "Six Unexpected Days", a feature on Auden and the landscape of the Northern Pennines, and continues this week with the first run of a new series "The Essay", a 15-minute feature broadcast at 11pm Monday to Thursday. Last night's essayist was Dana Gioia on Auden as example. Tonight's is Kate Clanchy on the early political poetry.

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Couple of Overdue Links

Spurred on by Kevin Doran's reflections on the different linking habits in poets' blogs on either side of the Virtual Pond, I've added a couple more links that should have been added yonks ago.

Chief among my neglections is Kathryn Gray's blog. I say "chief" because it was stumbling upon this blog ages ago (and before I had caught the blog-reading bug) that made me think about setting up my own. Kathryn Gray happens to be a friend of my friend Sinead Wilson, who as a great little pamphlet out with Donut Press. (I reviewed it in Sphinx 5.)

Another serious case of neglect on my part is the blog of fellow HappenStance poet Matt Merritt. So far, that's three bloggers from the HappenStance stable: me, Rob Mackenzie and Matt. Hardly world domination, but not a bad showing for a small press.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Gathering A Little Steam in the Blogospere

I've been finding my Feedburner feed and site stats quite fascinating reading. Most interesting of all is coming across hits from the blogs of other writers I don't know who've linked to me and therefore said blogs and writers, whom I might not have known about otherwise. In the past few days, I've found Ron Silliman and Kevin Doran.

Thank you, gentlemen, however you found me (do comment if you see this). I have returned the favour.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

New Links Added

I've added a few new links and rearranged the sidebar a little by creating a "Poetry Resources" section, not that I'm that clear as to what the precise division is between that and "Words", but there we go.

A couple of sites I've only just discovered are Modern American Poetry, which contains useful critical material on a large number of American poets from Dickinson on, and the Archive of the Now, a site that complements the Poetry Archive's more mainstream operations with its dedication to "innovative poetry being written or performed in Britain." I've also added a link to UBUWEB, one of the inspirations behind the Archive of the Now.

All this stuff to explore, and so little time to do it!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Random(ish) Thoughts on Translation

In the preface to Antonio Machado: Selected Poems, the translator Alan S Trueblood (what a gift of a name!) writes:

"One cannot hold today that a poet's voice in translation should sound as if he had been writing in English all along. ... Some aura of foreignness, individually and culturally marked, should survive re-creation."

By slight contrast, Rob Mackenzie, concludes the first of his reflections on translating Quasimodo by saying:

"Each translation must stand as a poem. The translator can only hope against hope that he has communicated something of what was in the original writer’s mind."

These statements could be taken as describing two separate approaches to the art of translating poetry. Trueblood's emphasis strikes me as bearing the mark of literary or academic translation as an act in itself, in that it is separated from any other creative work. By this I don't mean to deny that such translation is a creative act, because such a denial would be absurdly naive. I simply mean that the literary/academic translator's primary motivation is not necessarily to make a poem really work in the target language.

On the other hand, Rob's concern seems that of a poet: to create a poem in English that really works but still carries something of the imagery and impact of the original. This endeavour cannot be separated from the translating poet's work on their own poetry, because something of their voice will most likely leak into their translations and, if the translating is carried out attentively, something of the translated poet's voice might well inf(l)ect the translator's own writing. The effectiveness of this can be seen in Ted Hughes's translations of Yehuda Amichai.

Perhaps this is where the notional difference between a translation and a version (see this post) comes into play. If so, does that mean that the creation of a version is the proper concern of a poet and the creation of a translation the proper concern of a professional translator? It's not a thought I accept, since it seems an unhelpful narrowing of the fields. Still, it might throw some light on why some people feel uneasy about so-called versions.

The two approaches, of course, both carry undeniable benefits and disbenefits. In my handful of translations from Rilke into Scots (there's one here) or English, I think I've taken what I've described as the poet's approach. This is partly because of the failure of translations I'd come across to show the reader anything much of what drew me to Rilke.

Perhaps the poet's approach is, in the long run, personally less rewarding than the academic translation because it's pretty much doomed to failure. Eliot Weinberger says in "Translation", the second of his "3 Notes on Poetry" (published in Outside Stories):

"A translation that sounds like a poem in English is usually a bad translation.

"A translation that strives for the accuracy of a bilingual dictionary is always a bad translation.

"A translation must sound like a translation written in living English".

By contrast, it strikes me that nobody would accept a translated novel that did not read as a good novel. Basically, a good translation is a tall order for a translator taking either approach.

On reflection, it surprises me that translation has not been given greater prominence in Scottish literature. After all, as a three-voiced country, we're always translating between ourselves, let alone from other cultures. Perhaps we need to find a vocal and visible way of celebrating our translators.

I'll leave you with another thought from Weinberger's essay:

"Translation theory, however beautiful, is useless for translating. There are the laws of thermodynamics, and there is cooking."

A Further Window on Last Wednesday

As I mentioned in my post on LUPAS one matter touched on in the Q&A at last Wednesday's reading was the poetry-science divide. The divide in reactions to Gerrie Fellow's new work was fascinating in that respect. Norman Kreitman, a PAS stalwart, complimented her on tackling the spiritual impact of technology. "Very few poets have the guts to do that," he declared. Gerrie denied any spiritual intent, but there is a strong emotional thread to the poems for Window for a Small Blue Baby, which might be what he meant.

By contrast, another audience member, who used to be a scientist, said he found Gerrie's approach "cold"--though I must disagree strongly with that--and applauded me for the emotional content of my work. Given my uncertainty about how well I'd read, that was encouraging.

One thing I feel definitely went well in the reading was the mix of languages in my set. For the first time, I read some poems that include Gaelic phrases, as well as my usual mix of Scots and English. Joyce Caplan, who chairs the readings, commented that the use of Gaelic in "Sketchbook of a Trip to the Hebrides" (published in the issue of island magazine mentioned in this post) was, if I remember her choice of words correctly, "enticing".

This practice arises out of a recent desire on my part for a sort of Caledonian linguistic holism in my work. It's too obvious to write poems in Gaelic or English or Scots and Scots already infilrates my otherwise English-language work to varying degrees, so why not employ my slowly growing knowledge of Gaelic in similar ways? I realise it's not "accessible" to do that, but I'm less interested in accessibility than the aesthetic possibilities it opens up for me. Not that I've gone far in exploring them yet.

"Poets and The Nation"

Radio Scotland is airing a three-part series on Scottish poetry called "Poets and The Nation" on Mondays from 11:30 to 12:00. You can listen online from the features page (I assume each programme is available for the standard seven days after broadcast). The first instalment, which was broadcast Monday this week, explored how Scottish poets have engaged with the land and landscape. The half-hour format inevitably makes for a pretty sketchy, whistle-stop exploration of the entire history of even a particular aspect of Scottish poetry in Gaelic, Scots and English, but it's heartening to find a reasonably serious series about poetry on the radio.

Poetry Makes Nothing Happen

Thank Heaven: the world is hectic enough as it is.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Reasoning Rhyme: Supplement on the Features of Consonants

Throughout the Reasoning Rhyme posts, I refer to the features of segments. These are the aspects of each consonant or vowel that make it the sound it is. This post and its companion on vowels attempt to explain the basics of feature theory in fairly non-technical language, but I'm afraid they'll remain pretty dry! (Remember that the symbols I use to transcribe sounds can be found here.)

The consonantal features describe the place of articulation, the manner of articulation and whether the consonant is voiced or voiceless. Consonants can differ in place of articulation (e.g., /p/ /t/ /k/), manner (e.g., /t/ /s/ /l/) and voicing (e.g., /z/ /s/or /b/ /p/).

Voicing is perhaps the easiest to explain. A voiced sound is one for which the vocal cords vibrate and a voiceless sound is one for which they don't vibrate. All vowels are voiced, but not all consonants. The example above should make it clear enough: in the two pairs, the voiced consonant comes first.

A consonant's place of articulation is defined by the place in the mouth where the air flow is constricted or stopped and what articulators are making the constriction. The main ones we need to worry about are labial, dental, alveolar, palatal, velar and a couple of variations on them:

The labial consonants are articulated with your lips in the case of /p/, /b/ and /m/ or your lips and upper teeth in the case of /f/ and /v/.

The dental consonants /T/ and /D/ are articulated by the tip of your tongue at the teeth.

The sizeable class of alveolar consonants--/t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, /n/, /l/ and /r/--is pronounced by the tip or blade of the tongue at the little ridge just back from your top teeth, which is called the alveolar ridge.

For the palatal consonants /S/, /Z/ and /j/, your tongue sits up at the roof of your mouth--the hard palate.

The sounds /tS/ and /dZ/--the ones at the start of chip and judge respectively--are known as palatoalveolar consonants because the tip of the tongue sits at the alveolar ridge and the body of the tongue presses up against the roof of the mouth.

The velar consonants /k/, /g/ and /N/ (as well as /x/ for those of us who don't lock our lochs) are pronounced by placing the back of your tongue up against the back of your mouth, which is known as the soft palate or velum.

The sound /w/ (and its voiceless counterpart, the Scots pronunciation of wh) is called labiovelar because it is articulated by rounding the lips and moving the tongue into the position for a velar consonant.

Phew! So that's place of articulation. Manner of articulation is another important aspect of consonantal features. It divides into questions of continuancy and sonority.

Continuancy is all about whether or not there is a continued flow of air through the mouth. If the flow of air is stopped completely, the consonant is called a stop. A stop can be nasal (/m/, /n/ and /N/), simply voiced (/b/, /d/ and /g/) or voiceless (/p/, /t/ and /k/).

There are several kinds of continuants, consonants that have a continuous air flow through the mouth: fricatives, affricates and approximants. In fricatives, the air flow is constricted at the same place as in the corresponding stop. Fricatives can be voiced (/v/, /D/, /z/ and /Z/) or voiceless (/f/, /T/, /s/, /S/ and /x/). The affricates /tS/ and /dZ/ are like a combination of a stop and a fricative in quick succession. Approximants have less of a constriction than fricatives and are voiced. They're almost like vowels, if that makes sense. You might see what I mean when I list them: /w/, /l/, /r/ and /j/. The approximants /l/ and /r/ are very closely related and often called liquids.

Stops, fricatives and affricates can be brought together under the term obstruents to describe the fact that the air flow is obstructed. Another important class is the sonorants. As the name implies, they're rather sonorous. It covers nasal stops, approximants and vowels.

If you're still with me (award yourself a chocolate and/or whisky!) you'll probably have noticed that the classes of sonorants, obstruents and continuants overlap in different ways. In the main posts, you'll see those overlaps in action.

I hope that's helpful. Please comment and let me know whether it clears things up or leaves you confused. I'll do another supplement on vowels, but I think they'll be a bit more straightforward to explain.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Feed Me Now!

I have taken my first faltering steps into the world of feeds today, not only by subscribing to the feed for Rob Mackenzie's blog Surroundings, but by subscribing to Feedburner and installing a nice big button for the feed from this blog. Here's hoping for a feeding frenzy ...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Desktop Meter

Over at desktopsallye, Sally Evans of diehard press and Poetry Scotland has begun writing about meter. She seems quite defensive of pentameter for some reason. Metrics is an interesting subject to explore, and is obviously related to a consideration rhyme, but trying to defend any particular approach against another seems to me like defending red wine against white. Anyway, it'll be interesting to see what more she has to say about it.

A Convergence of the Two Cultures

Just discovered an interesting site: the web pages of LUPAS, the Liverpool University Centre for Poetry and Science. I haven't explored the site in depth yet, but it looks interesting, especially the diaries section, a communal blog of sorts involving poets and scientists. I've had a brief scan of the essays section, but the text size is ridiculously small and uncomfortable to read.

Whatever, it's a bold and necessary venture. There's an enormous gulf between poetry and science, something that was touched upon on Wednesday in the question and answer session that followed the reading, which I intend to write a wee bit about. I sometimes wish I was more able to bridge it and I admire those who manage to do so.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Reasoning Rhyme: More Complex Phenomena

Last time, I introduced the basics of my new terminology for rhyme. This post applies that terminology to the examination of more complex phenomena in rhyme.

Remember that you can find a key to the symbols I use to indicate individual sounds here. You should be familiar with the use of slashes round a symbol (e.g. /I/) from the previous post. In this one, I use square brackets in some examples (e.g., ta[ks]i) to emphasise the point that I'm talking about the pronunciation of the sound(s) concerned. I also use a slash in examples to indicate where a word is being broken and use # to show a word boundary(e.g., at all is shown as a/t#all).

There's a bit more linguistic terminology in this post. I hope it doesn't bamboozle too much. I'm still working on the supplement (it might become two!) that should help to make it clear, but I'll post this bit of the discussion meantime nonetheless.

Compound Rhymes
It is possible for a feminine rhyme to be a compound of two of the types discussed in the previous post. One such example from Simon Armitage’s poem “You May Turn Over and Begin ...” is the rhyme cocktails:pigtails, which is a remote:identical compound. Interestingly, the remote element (/k/ and /p/ are both voiceless stops; /Q/ and /I/are both mid vowels; /k/ and /g/ are both velar stops) is the syllable with primary stress. It is also important to note that, although both fellows in the above example are compound nouns, compound rhymes need not be confined to such forms. For instance, waggle:fickle could also be thought of as a remote:identical compound.

Intrusion and Protrusion
Astrid Holtman uses the term “subsequence rhyme” to refer to any rhyme in which a segment present in one fellow is absent from the other. She places it under the heading of “imperfect rhyme”, but it is preferable separate it from twin and relative rhyme. Twin and relative rhyme are clearly concerned with different degrees of relationship between corresponding segments in two rhyme fellows. “Subsequence rhyme” is orthogonal to this relationship and can appear in twin and relative rhyme. For concision and clarity, the term intrusion is to be preferred to “internal subsequence rhyme”, in which a segment is inserted word-internally, and protrusion, to “subsequence rhyme”, in which a segment is added at the end or beginning of a word (e.g. fleet'st:sweets in Shakespeare's Sonnet 19 ll.5, 7).

In swapping, two segments or features, usually but not necessarily contiguous, swap places between the fellows. Segmental swapping can be seen in ll.9,10 of Louis MacNeice’s “Bagpipe Music”, which rhyme Blavat[sk]y:ta[ks]i.

As classification of rhyme is based on degree of segmental correspondence, it seems reasonable that individual features as well as entire segments should be able to swap. Featural swapping can be seen in ll.1, 3 of Seamus Heaney’s “The Diviner”, which rhyme stick:pluck. In the initial consonant clusters /st/ and /pl/, one segment is a voiceless stop (/t/ and /p/) and the other is a continuant (/s/ and /l/). The stops have different places of articulation (alveolar and labial), but the continuants share their place of articulation.

Featural swapping can also be seen in the initial consonant clusters in the example above from Shakespeare's Sonnet 19. Here, the labiality of the segments swaps, but the manner of articulation and voicing stay in place.

In borrowing, one fellow “borrows” a consonant from the preceding word to account for its correspondent in the other fellow. The borrowed segment may be identical, as in toil:a/t#all (Wilfred Owen, “Futility”, ll.13,14), or related, as in foil:o/[v]#oil (Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”, ll.2,3).

The second fellow in the example from “Futility” could also arguably be identical twin rhyme, in that a/t#all may be rhyming with tall in l.12, rather than toil. An argument for this is the presence of an extended correspondence in between l.12 and l.14:[eI] grew[i:]/p#a/t#all.

“Futility” and “God’s Grandeur” provide strong arguments for the reality of borrowing: in “Futility”, this pair is otherwise the only one in the poem lacking a relationship between the onsets; in “God’s Grandeur”, the borrowing of the /v/ reduces the number of pairs lacking a solid onset relationship to one, namely God:rod. Borrowing is obviously related to mosaic rhyme in that both cross word boundaries.

Breaking occurs when two or more features of a single segment in one fellow are reproduced in two contiguous segments in the other fellow, e.g., [w]once:[fr]ance (Wilfred Owen, “Futility”, ll.2,4) in which the labiality and sonority of the /w/ are broken into the labiality of the /f/ and the sonority of the /r/. Most instances of breaking appear to involve the place of articulation and either sonority or continuancy.

In the next posts, I'll consider the role of the syllable onset in more detail, examining how it plays a role in rhyme schemes from poems by Wilfred Owen and Simon Armitage.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Window on Wednesday

Wednesday night's reading went well. I irritated myself by stumbling uncharacteristically over a couple of lines at the beginning, but I settled into the groove fairly soon.

Both Gerrie Fellows and I had 40 minutes (two 20-minute sets), which is double the length of time I've ever had before! I had plenty work to fill my minutes, but I was a bit uncertain of what to read, partly because of having so much fairly fresh work, so the sets ended up being a lot more improvised than usual. I think they worked reasonably well, but I'd be interested in any comments from anyone who was there, whether positive or negative.

Gerrie read from the manuscript of her next collection, Window for a Small Blue Baby, in the first half. The book draws on her experience of IVF, exploring the process from both the technological and the emotional point of view, which gives it a distinctive texture. It's due out with Carcanet in November and will certainly be worth looking out for.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Reasoning Rhyme: Making It New

In the previous post in this series, I briefly explored why rhyme terminology was ripe for revision. In this post, I set out the basics of a revised terminology. At one point, this entails using a wee bit more involved terminology from linguistics, which I'll explain in a supplementary post so that this one doesn't get too unwieldy. However, I'll post this one before the supplement is ready, because I think you'll get most of what I have to say without the background stuff.

In the new terminology, rich and perfect rhyme are brought together under the heading twin rhyme and termed identical and fraternal rhyme respectively. “Imperfect rhyme” is replaced with relative rhyme, which is subdivided into close and distant rhyme.

Two types of close rhyme are identified: nuclear and peripheral. In nuclear rhyme, the vowels are identical, while the onsets and codas are related, e.g., made:face. This would traditionally be termed assonance, although the definition of assonance includes no reference to the correspondences in the onsets and codas. In peripheral rhyme, which would traditionally be called consonance, the onsets and codas are identical but the vowels are not, e.g., brutes:brats.

Distant relative rhyme subdivides into removed and remote. In removed rhyme, which is traditionally labelled pararhyme, either the onset or the coda is identical, but other constituents of the syllable are related, e.g., stick:pluck. In remote rhymes, there is no identity, but all segments in the syllable exhibit some relationship to their partners in the other fellow.

All these classes apply to masculine and feminine rhymes, although the only nuclear rhymes I've found so far are masculine. Some feminine rhymes may be compounds of more than one class, and I'll talk about that in the next post.

The new terms have a number of advantages:

  • they unify the terms for segmental correspondence in rhyme, as it bases them all based on kinship terms, which furnish an obvious metaphor for such correspondence;
  • although the terms are still not fully transparent, they are clearer than their traditional counterparts;
  • they classify rhyme in terms of a clear continuum of segmental correspondence, from the greatest (in identical twin rhyme) to the weakest (in remote rhyme), as opposed to the rather haphazard fashion of the old terms;
  • they contain no implicit value judgements, thus allowing for a better characterisation of the rhyming practice of poets who favour relative rhyme; and
  • they conceive rhyme as including the onset, which, as shall be demonstrated in subsequent posts, is necessary for a full understanding of rhyme phenomena.

I've found few instances of remote rhyme, but sang:work is a clear one. It occurs in the fourth stanza of Wordsworth’s “The Solitary Reaper”, which uses an ababccdd rhyme scheme in each stanza. The remote a-rhyme sang:work, appears in ll.25, 27. Apart from the a-rhyme in the first stanza, which is removed (field:self, ll.1,3), the rest of the rhyme scheme is fraternal. Thus, by the time the reader reaches the fourth stanza, it is well established that this position rhymes, but whilst a fraternal rhyme is expected, some sort of relative is possible.

Given the concept of rhyme Wordsworth was probably working with, it is likely that he didn't perceive these words as rhyming, but the segments share features nonetheless: the /s/and /w/ are both continuants and articulated forward of the hard palate; the /a/ and /@:/ are both low, unrounded vowels; the /N/and the /k/ are both velar stops. (For an explanation of these symbols, see this page.) If Wordsworth didn't perceive sang:work as a rhyme, the featural similarity of the fellows is all the more striking.

In the next post, I'll discuss some slightly more complex phenomena.

Dark Light

I've mentioned the painter Alison Watt before. There's an interview with her in today's Sunday Herald, which is worth reading. I've been entranced by her work since I saw her solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in 2000, and her new piece at the Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh certainly sounds interesting. Watt is currently associate artist at the National Gallery in London.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Reasoning Rhyme: The Intolerable Wrestle With Words

This post concerns itself with brief definitions of the basic rhyme phenomena and a quick critque of the traditional terminology. Throughout this series, it'll be necessary to use some technical terms from linguistics and literary studies, but I'll explain them as I go along.

Rhyme involves a correspondence between two or more elements, usually, but not necessarily, in different lines of a poem. Each word or group of words involved in a given rhyme relationship is termed a fellow and the relationship is accordingly referred to as fellowship. Three correspondences are used to define the basic forms of rhyme: syllabic, morphological, and segmental. Traditional rhyme terminology covers each of these, which I will explain.

Syllabic correspondence is pretty self-explanatory. Monosyllabic rhymes (e.g., fame:name; begin:sin), which are almost all stressed, are referred to as masculine rhymes. Disyllabic rhymes (e.g., pleasure:treasure; rolling:controlling), in which the stress usually falls on the initial syllable, are referred to as feminine rhymes.

Morphological correspondence refers to the grammatical form of the rhyme fellows. Most rhymes are morphologically identical. That is, both fellows are normally one word or, less frequently, more than one word. Rhymes that are morphologically non-identical (e.g., jealous:tell us; intellectual: peck’d you all) are called mosaic rhymes. For obvious reasons, the vast majority of mosaic rhymes are feminine, although a masculine mosaic rhyme in English is not beyond possibility (e.g., cheese:she’s).

In linguistics, individual speech sounds are referred to as segments. Thus the term segmental correspondence covers the degree of similarity between the consonants and vowels in the rhyme fellows. Linguists divide syllables into the onset (the initial consonant(s), if the syllable has any) and the rime (the vowel and any following consonants). The rime is further divided into the nucleus (the vowel) and coda (the following consonants). Traditionally, rhyme is considered to begin at the nucleus of a stressed syllable and to require the nucleus and any coda consonants to be identical. For feminine rhymes, any syllables that follow the stressed syllable should also be identical. This discounting of the onset is a crucial point, which we'll return to. The one exception to the skipping of syllable onsets is so-called rich rhyme, which involves homophones (e.g., felt [past tense of feel] and felt [material]) or the repetition of the same word.

Normal masculine and feminine rhymes such as those quoted above are referred to as perfect or full rhyme. Other forms of rhyme, which will be explored properly later, are variously called half rhyme, near rhyme, slant rhyme and imperfect rhyme. These phenomena include assonance, consonance and pararhyme. Those terms and the reasons for labelling the phenomena that they describe as rhyme will be explored in a subsequent post.

The traditional terms for the segmental correspondences are inadequate for various reasons. Firstly, none of them are at all transparent. Secondly, because they exclude the onset, they fail to take account of various subdivisions of “imperfect” rhyme or the relationship between “perfect” and “rich” rhyme. Thirdly, they are misleading as to poetic practice: the term “rich” rhyme implies a highly developed form of rhyme, but such rhymes are considered poor practice; the terms “half-rhyme” or “imperfect” rhyme have been used to imply that such rhymes are shoddy, when in point of fact they are linguistically--and, in the opinion of some poets and readers, aesthetically--more subtle and interesting than their “perfect” cousins.

In the next post in this series, I'll explain my suggestions for a revised terminology.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Reasoning Rhyme: Prologue

Back in the dim and distant past, as a Linguistics student, I wrote an Honours dissertation on rhyme. It grew out of my reflection on rhyme practice as a reader and nascent writer of poetry and developed into a critque of a PhD thesis on rhyme by a Dutch linguist, Astrid Holtman.

It struck me that this blog would be a good place to revisit some of the material, leaving aside the more linguistic theoretical aspects of the dissertation and focussing on the stylistics. It's therefore my intention to create a thread of posts exploring this and reflecting further on rhyme. Don't know how long it'll take, but I hope it will generate some comment and discussion that will feed into the exploration as it develops. I'll start soon with a critque of traditional rhyme terminology.

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