Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"Fourteen on Form"

I've been waiting a long time to read Fourteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, edited by William Baer. I would have bought it in 2004, when the University Press of Mississippi first published it, but it cost in the neighborhood of $50--that's a lot of money for 250 pages. I decided to wait for the cheaper version. And I've been waiting.

Finally, I ordered it through Interlibrary Loan. I wanted to read it because I was interested in the fact that all these poets were chosen because they work in form. However, that part of the conversation wasn't as interesting to me as I thought it would be. I thought I'd make note here of some of the tidbits I've picked up.

I was most interested to read that Donald Justice isn't always a fan of revision. On page 90, he says, "As time goes by, you change your attitudes and beliefs--your aesthetic beliefs. At one time, you might prefer this version, and the next time you might prefer another version because your ideas have changed at least somewhat--always taking seriously what is said in a poem and how it is done as well. Nevertheless, I think a lot of revision is a waste of time, a sort of solitaire."

I felt a sense of relief as I read that. I don't spend much time on revision, the way that some poets say that they do. I may change a word here or there or tinker with stanzas. But if I take a free verse poem, and change it radically, say turn it into a villanelle--in many ways, it feels like a completely different poem to me, not just a different version.

The interviewer asks Anthony Hecht about Derek Walcott's practice of having his students pick "a notable poet from the tradition and [write] in imitation of his work" (70). Hecht thinks it's a good idea and also suggests that memorization is a good idea. It's hard for me to imagine my students accomplishing these tasks, but some part of me wonders . . .

John Hollander talks about how we learn about rhyme. He blames it on popular music. He mentions serving on a committee with Steven Sondheim and lamenting the fact that so many people can't rhyme. Sondheim said, "That's right, they all come from rock music. Anyone whose background is in musical theater knows what rhyme is" (page 223). He also talks about church music, which once upon a time would have been some of the earliest poetry we all learned by heart: "Hymnody is very important, and look what's happened to that! How it's totally fallen apart. The churches are full of 28th-rate rock groups singing smarmy tunes, and they've thrown away all the great traditional hymns. It's terrible" (223). Amen!

I found this book fascinating, but not fascinating enough to shell out $50 for it. Why hasn't this press put out a more affordable version?

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