Affordances of Form in Stanzaic Narrative poetry/"Affordances" (Die Bevoegdhede) Van Vorms in Strofiese Narratiewe Poesie

Article excerpt


This article develops the notion that poetry is crucially distinguished from other forms of verbal art by its foregrounding of segmentivity, the spacing of language. If a measure is regarded as the smallest unit of resistance to meaning, measure determines where gaps open up in a poetic text. Poetry is, however, not only measured, but typically countermeasured and narrative in poetry can also be countermeasured against the segmentation that is specific to narrative. The present article investigates segmentivity in one particular type of narrative poem, namely poems in discontinuous stanzaic forms. The concept of affordances (referring to different potentials for use) is applied to the stanzaic form in Edmund Spenser's "The faerie queene" (1590; 1596) and to the "ottava rima" stanza, as exemplified by Kenneth Koch's postmodernist narrative poem, "Seasons on earth'(1960; 1977; 1987).


In hierdie artikel word die stelling gemaak dat poesie bepalend onderskei kan word van ander vorms van verbale kunswerke op grond van die feit dat segmentering in die poesie voorop gestel word. Indien 'n maatstaf ("measure") beskou word as die kleinste eenheid wat weerstand bied teen betekenisvorming, is dit die mate (as afgemete eenhede) wat bepaal waar daar gapings in poetiese tekste ontstaan. Poesie is egter nie net afgemete nie, maar daar is ook die moontlikheid van die kontrawerking van ander afgemete stelsels en die narratief in die poesie werk kontrapuntaal in op die segmentering wat eie is aan "tipiese" narratiewe. Hierdie artikel ondersoek segmentering in een spesifieke soort narratiewe gedig, naamlik gedigte met diskontinue strofiese vorms. Die konsep "affordances" (wat verwys na verskilllende moontlikhede vir gebruik) word op die strofiese vorm van Edmund Spencer se "The fairie queene" (1590; 1596) toegepas, sowel as op die "ottova rima"-strofiese vorm soos geillustreer deur Kenneth Koch se postmodeme narratiewe gedig "Seasons on earth" (1960; 1977; 1987).

I. Introduction

In this article I pursue some further aspects of a topic I addressed in Beginning to think about narrative in poetry (McHale, 2009). I argued there that poetry is crucially distinguished from other forms of verbal art by its foregrounding of segmentivity--the spacing of language. If this is so, then a priority for narratological approaches to poetry--which I advocated in that article--is analysis of the potential for interaction between poetry's segmentation and the segmentation proper to narrative.

I adopt my notion of segmentivity, and the related notions of measure and counter-measure, from Rachel Blau DuPlessis and John Shoptaw, respectively. Poetry, DuPlessis writes, involves "the creation of meaningful sequence by the negotiation of gap (line break, stanza break, page space)". Poetry "is the kind of writing that is articulated in sequenced, gapped lines and whose meanings are created by occurring in bounded units [...] operating in relation to [...] pause or silence". "These bounded units," DuPlessis goes on, "can be made in varying sizes and with a varying semantic goal":

Line terminations may be rounded off by rhyme, or by specific punctuation marks, but they are basically defined by white space.... These segmented units can be organized into the larger page-shapes of fixed stanza, or into other pagespace thought units with their termini of various kinds.... All the meanings poetry makes are constructed by segmented units of a variety of sizes. The specific force of any individual poem occurs in the intricate interplay among the 'scales' (of size or kind of unit) or comes in 'chords' of these multiple possibilities for creating segments. (DuPlessis, 1996:51.) (2)

Shoptaw (1995:212) defines a poem's measure as "its smallest unit of resistance to meaning". Measure determines where gaps open up in a poetic text, and a gap is always a provocation to meaning-making. It is where meaning-making is interrupted by spacing, where the text breaks off and a gap opens up--even if only an infinitesimal one--that the reader's meaning-making apparatus must gear up to bridge the gap and close the breech. …


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