Date: Wed, 6 Jun 2001
Subject: LANGUAGE PROSODY (ex. 3: hypodochmiacs in Susan Howe's Pierce Arrow)

[Slight error in the previous "lesson": Dale found "vers libre" not in
Prometheus Bound as misstated, but in Euripides' Hercules (sometimes titled The Madness of Hercules {Hercules Furens, not to be confused with The Children of Hercules or Heracleidae}).]



Graeco-Roman neo-classicism may have characterized ethnically monolithic European cultures, such as Racine's France, Holderlin's Germany, turn-of-the-20th-cent. America.


Unsubstantiated generalization: Most first generation Language Poets appear to have come from single-language (Eng.) "American stock" ethnicities, without the sort of dual language developmental home environment of 2nd/3rd generation American families of the Eastern-European or Italian immigration waves (where a "grandparents'" language was spoken in the home. (With exceptions: Jewishness may have retained a trace Yiddischkeit.)

--- Hence, perhaps, a certain monolingualism in '80s/'90s Language Poetry, and the over-all English only focus of its Language critique,--- versus, at least by comparison, the sort of Joyce-Pound polyglot poetry of Modernism.


Now, on to the topic: classical meter and Language/"post-Language" poetry.

Susan Howe's '99 book Pierce Arrow strikes me as her perhaps most audibly metrical book. This may be due to a gradual rhythmic shift in her practice, over a long career (away from an earlier, more strongly spondee-molossus meter [ _ _ and _ _ _ ], or the heavy use of quoted material in Pierce Arrow that imbues the surrounding poetry of her own invention with "infectious," un-Howe cadences). By ignoring her line-breaks, the rhythms can be read as often breaking open in long stretches of quite standard iambic/dactylic/trochaic meter.

There are ample internal references in the book to nominate it as a proof text for an exploration into contemporary class metrics: the book's strong Hellenism (from the opening "Phenomenology of war in the Iliad," through Hecuba, Hector, "fate metes out this and this dactyl", Achilles, Chorus of Thessalonian women, Thetis, Apollo, Patroclus, etc., etc., etc.).

One of the first, easiest observations is whether a line starts with a
"rising" or "falling" rhythm, based mainly on whether the first syllable is stressed or unstressed.

As a starting point:

One of the first verse-length metrical units that "jumped out at me" on reading is a particular, irregular 5-syllable line: / _ / _ /. By potentially being alternately catalectic (no tail, missing a final short) or acephalous ("headless," missing an initial short), it is ambiguated and cannot in and of itself be read as either iambic or trochaic. (See below for further
definitions of / _ / _ / as hypodochmiac.)

An inventory of such "hypodochmiacs" in Pierce Arrow:

thousandth silhouette                  (p. 59)*
Something being true                   (55)*
as in thought extreme
where we want him flip                (49)
After all we want
I will write to you                         (82)
Certain things are mine                (83)*
paragraphs the Sixth                   (87)
breathed and moved again            (88)
reading what will what                   (89)*
scattered writing Gosse             (91)
Where "entagled" sic                (92)
record windworn sail
fable now you are
knowledge venom soft               (93)
strife in blindness not
what is due from guest                   (104)
Tristrem Tristanz Drust             (141)
Tristram must be caught                (135)
Minds trajected light                   (136)*

* begins/ ends stanza.

...Whoops! Gotta go. To be continued.