Zen, Poetry, the Art of Lucien Stryk

By Susan Porterfield | Go to book overview
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Verse: Free and Otherwise

Editor's Note: The Ohio Review devoted one 1982 issue to an examination
of free verse, given the rumors of its demise. "Clearly there is confusion
. . . and uncertainty," the Review states, concluding that "it is time to
confront them both." Stryk's contribution to this discussion makes clear
that he is neither confused nor uncertain.

Poets, like other artists, are notorious for advancing favorable theories about the methods they use, condemnations of those they don't. When in 1967 I brought out Heartland: Poets of the Midwest, I was pleased to have included the "prose poems" of Karl Shapiro, one of which contained: "Why the attractive packaging of stanza? Those cartons so pretty, shall I open them up? Why the un-American-activity of the sonnet? Why must grown people listen to rhyme? How much longer the polite applause, the tickle in the throat?" It shouldn't have surprised anyone that Karl Shapiro, a few years later, published a very careful book of sonnets, to "polite applause." Embarrassing perhaps to no one except the anthologist: I had written in the introduction to that book, "Sometimes, as in the case of Karl Shapiro, whose first work was cunningly crafted as that of his British contemporaries, there are surprising conversions."

How can anyone aware of the tugs and thrusts of modern verse condemn the forms that carry the achievements of Yeats, Eliot, Crane, Frost, Thomas and Stevens, and that may have been responsible for the tensions distinguishing them? Such poets might have claimed that only the lesser would have found their chosen verse forms hindrances, and thinking of Yeats, how could anyone fail to see that the sweep and intensity of, say, "Lapis Lazuli," is in part the result of his having to find the rhyme:

One asks for mournful melodies;
Accomplished fingers begin to play.


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