Saturday, January 12, 2008

Critical Massif

ReadySteadyBook reports that Geoffrey Hill's Collected Critical Writings is due out from OUP in March. I wouldn't expect an easy read, of course, but perhaps his criticism might elucidate his poetic to some extent. Not having read any of it, I wouldn't know, but it should be worth a look. Several of the essay titles intrigue me, anyway. The book will cost £25, which seems quite reasonable for a 688-page hardback collection of 34 essays.

The Secret is Out

Interesting to hear Tom Paulin talking so much about the sound texture of poems on yesterday's edition of The Verb. Worth listening to while you still can (seven days). It's a trailer for his new book, The Secret Life of Poems, which Faber describes as

a primer which offers [47 poems] - or on occasion an excerpt - with succeeding commentary in which rhythm, form, metre and sources are the order of the day, not ethical commentary or descriptive paraphrase.

Sounds interesting. The Guardian Review carried what I assume is a sample from the book in December (an essay on Keats's "Ode to Autumn"). I didn't get round to reading it, but I should. This, of course, connects closely to my own reflections on rhyme (Note to new readers: start at the bottom).

Friday, January 11, 2008

Reasoning Rhyme: Tiel Aisha Ansari's Objections 2

I closed my first post on Tiel Aisha Ansari's criticism of my new rhyme terminology by saying that the mention of structure brought me to her most fundamental objection. She is bothered that my nomenclature

risks broadening the definition of "rhyme" to the point where it loses all usefulness.

This comment grows out of her adherence to the terms assonance and consonance, discussed in the previous post in this series. She says she is "not entirely prepared to agree" with my "assertion" that "these relationships are in fact rhymes".

To a certain extent, the assertion is not mine, at least not originally. It belongs primarily to those poets who have used and who use relative rhymes of any kind in their rhyme schemes. The examples I give are drawn from poems, a fact that Ansari overlooks at certain points. For example, when she calls sang:work "another Philips [sic] example", she neglects to state that it comes from Wordsworth's "The Solitary Reaper" and, instead of engaging with the relationship that I sketch in the relevant post, simply says:

If there's a relationship there, I'm not hearing it.

That's why it's a remote rhyme. There's no identity, but there is a relationship between the corresponding segments in the fellows, even if the /w/:/s/ relationship is fairly distant. But, perhaps most importantly, they're clearly in a position in which, given the rest of the poem, one would expect a rhyme. They're the a rhymes in the last stanza. Interestingly, the a fellows in the first stanza constitute a removed rhyme; in two middle stanzas, they are fraternal rhymes, as in all the other rhymes throughout the poem. Wordsworth's use is therefore clearly structural: there's a signal of opening and closing.

It strikes me that what Ansari misses in her insistence on maintaining a purity of twin rhyme is this structural nature. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory states:

Rhyme has two main functions: (a) it echoes sounds and is thus a source of aesthetic satisfaction. ... (b) Rhyme assists in the actual structure of verse ..., simultaneously opening up and concluding the sense.

The sang:work rhyme fulfils both these functions: it echoes sounds, though more weakly than most rhymes in the poem by echoing features rather than segments; through that weakened relationship, it performs a structural function.

But I can still see why Ansari might be reluctant to admit that as a rhyme. And she would probably respond by referring me to the following comment from her post:

these poems [Armitage's "Kid" and "Poem"] present an overall impression of rhyme, though any particular perceived rhyme may silverfish away when you grab for it.

Well, to my mind, if it patterns like a rhyme and functions as a rhyme, it's a rhyme. To an extent, I can appreciate her reticence about the Armitage pieces and my attempt to parse them (though less so for "Poem" because of obvious structural features that clearly invoke the sonnet), but I don't accept it.

What would Ansari say about poets intermingling twin and relative rhymes? Are those not rhyme schemes? If they are rhyme schemes, how are the relative rhymes not rhymes? And what does she think about Wilfred Owen? I note that she avoids all reference to him, although I devote most of a post to his rhyme practice. I simply can't see how she can say that his peripheral rhyme schemes aren't rhyme schemes.

Moreover, traditional terms such as half rhyme, which The Penguin Dictionary defines as:

The repetition in accented syllables of the final consonant sound but without the correspondence of the vowel sound. ... a form of consonance",*

demonstrate that I'm not the first to recognise the way these patterns have been used and theorise about such relationships as rhymes. It might not please Ansari to hear that the dictionary's entry for "head rhyme" is "See ALLITERATION."

That brings us back to the aim of my terminology: a coherent, comprehensive nomenclature that is based on and points up the different degrees of featural relationship. Ansari is free to use as much or as little of it as she finds useful. In fact, she's most welcome to do so and I'd be delighted if she adopted any of it! However, I hope I've made her reconsider her objections. I've certainly enjoyed the debate so far!

I'll tie up this defenceI by clearing up a couple of smaller misunderstandings. In discussing a rhyme from "Kid", Ansari says that her terminology and mine both

make no reference to the fact that the unstressed syllables correspond, which actually is to my ear the defining feature of the Armitage poem in question.

I agree with the defining-feature-of-the-poem bit, but she's wrong about the terminology: longer:larder is a compound removed:identical rhyme. Compound rhymes are discussed here.

Also, Ansari says of strong:stink:

Note that it's not a remote rhyme because there's no relationship between the nuclei. I think.

For her benefit, I'll repeat the definition of remote rhyme from the post on the basic terminology:

there is no identity, but all segments in the syllable exhibit some relationship to their partners in the other fellow.

Therefore, strong:stink can't be a remote rhyme because there are two identitical segments in the onsets (st and st), even if there is an additional segment in one fellow. Hope that's helpful.

*In other words, removed rhyme, if we're not talking about identical onsets, which the definition simply ignores, even though there is onset identity in peer:pare, one of the rhymes in the Emily Dickinson stanzas given as an example (the first two of this poem), which, of course, makes it a peripheral rhyme.

Latest Publications

I'm a little behind time with this, having had little energy for blogging in the tail end of the old year, but I thought I'd highlight my two latest magazine scalps. I've a poem apiece in issue 63 of The Rialto and issue 25 of that beautifully produced Irish magazine, The SHOp, whose founding editor was one of The Rialto's original editors. I'm in good company in both issues. Notably, The SHOp features new poems by Seamus Heaney and Medbh McGuckian, as well as fellow HappenStance poet Gill McEvoy and Devon poet Mim Darlington, whom I met at Lumb Bank last year.

Speaking of Lumb Bank, there are two other people from that course on PoetCasting now in addition to me and Mim, namely Michael Farry and my Arvon room mate David Foster-Morgan, both worth hearing.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reasoning Rhyme: Tiel Aisha Ansari's Objections 1

It's good to see Tiel Aisha Ansari's critique of my Reasoning Rhyme posts on her Knocking From Inside blog. This is the first time anybody has taken me to task on any elements of my rhyme terminology and analysis, and it's envigorating.

Ansari says there is a lot she likes about my terminology. However, she's a bit less keen on certain aspects. For example, she states:

I don't quite see why the traditional terms assonance and consonance should be discarded in favor of nuclear rhyme and peripheral rhyme.

It's a fair question, and hope I can persuade her or at least clarify my rationale. Part of it is that I'm aiming for a reasonably consistent, coherent, detailed, comprehensive nomenclature and taxonomy, based on phonetic/phonological correspondences. The rationale for the attempt at consistence is partly to begin to move away from the confused array of terms in traditional usage. Most traditional rhyme terminology is based on aesthetic judgements or is impressionistic. Assonance and consonance don't suffer from that fault, but neither do they fit into the schema of kinship vocabulary that I've used. And my use of that vocabulary is not arbitrary: as I think Ansari understands, I'm trying to illustrate through my choice of words the underlying linguistic connections between the different forms of rhyme.

There is a further reason for not using the term assonance in particular. As I stated when I introduced my basic nomencalture, the definition of assonance makes no reference to the onsets and codas in rhyme fellows. By contrast, nuclear rhyme refers to a rhyme with identical nucleii but onsets and codas that are related, not identical. Therefore, it does not mean quite the same as assonance, although it focuses clearly and transparently on the identity that is highlighted in the definition of assonance.

That objection is understandable, but I find Ansari's comments on alliteration somewhat curious:

Philips [sic] points out that the onset, the consonant or consonant cluster before the vowel of the stressed syllable, is irrelevant to traditional rhyme but becomes important when considering consonance of the onset or coda. What he overlooks is that there is already a traditional term for consonance of the onset: it's called alliteration, defined as the identity of the first sounds preceding the vowels in the syllables carrying the primary stresses of two words. I would like to have seen Philips [sic] develop his terminology to cover alliteration by analogy, rather than redefining it as a form of rhyme.

I haven't redefined alliteration at all; I simply don't think it's the right term to use in the context of rhyme. Ansari is, of course, wholly correct that it's an accepted term for onset identity. However, alliteration goes no further than the onset; rhyme necessarily includes some reference to the other constituent parts of the syllable in each fellow. As far as alliteration is concerned, the rest of the word can do what it likes; for there to be rhyme, there must be some other correspondence, even if non-identical, in nucleus and/or coda. I wonder, for example, would Ansari say that Wilfred Owen's rhyme is alliterative? That would surely be a less than satisfactory description, given how strongly coda identity features in Owen's distinctive rhyme practice.

Besides, alliteration doesn't cover non-identical but related onsets*, which my terminology does. And not all rhyme fellows are lexically stressed syllables. If we follow the definition Ansari uses, an unstressed fellow cannot be said to alliterate, even if its onset is identical to that of the other rhyme fellow. That might be a problem with the definition as much as anything else, but that's what she gave us to work with.

Alliteration is therefore an inadequate term to use when considering rhyme, but it is extremely useful when examining the overall sound structure--the broader consonantal and vocalic music--of a line, stanza or complete poem. It might even be a primary structural device, as in alliterative meter, but that wouldn't make it rhyme and I don't really understand why Ansari believes that I think it would. This isn't in Ansari's definition, but alliteration tends to work within a line, even in alliterative meter. It can work across lines, but that's not the general trend. By contrast, the default for rhyme is to work across lines, although internal rhyme is hardly unheard-of. So there's a further structural reason for not using the term alliteration.

That mention of structure brings me to Ansari's most fundamental objection. However, rather than extend this post, I'll hold my discussion of that over for a separate one.

*Although I'd say that features can alliterate just as well as segments and that any full account of a line's music should take that fact into account.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Peter Piper's pop-up blocker blocks a pack of pretty blatant pop-ups.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Grief and Humanity, Pain and the Self

I don't know where Simon Barrow came across this quotation on grief from Rowan Williams, but it's worth reproducing here:

"[G]rief and desperate loneliness aren’t political things but human things. It’s only when we can get to the humanity can we begin to get beyond the sterility of historic racial and religious conflicts. Facing the abiding realities of the human condition, facing death; your own, or that of someone you love, is something that puts everything else into perspective. Change, real change, happens when we’re ready just to be human – not to use our suffering as another weapon against each other, not to argue about whose sufferings are worse, but just to recognise the same love and the same loss."

[Update: I've just discovered it's from Williams's Christmas Eve "Thought for the Day", which you can read in full here.]

And let me add to it this, which I read today, from his Lost Icons:

Authentic religious ... practice begins in the attempt to attend to the moment of self-questioning -- to refuse to cover over, evade or explain the pain and shock of whatever brings the self into question, to hold on to the difficulty before the almost inevitable descent into pathos and personal drama begins.

What's New on Tonguefire