Prose and free verse: the glass metaphor

This month I’m reading a new book,  A Prosody of Free Verse.  It’s by Richard Andrews, a professor at the University of East Anglia in the UK.

The book, which sells well over a hundred bucks, attempts to create a comprehensive understanding of the rhythms of free verse.  It’s premise: free verse centers around the line as a unit of rhythm, not the foot.  While that’s not earth-shattering for those of us who write free verse, the book is still a fascinating read.  Andrews even creates a prosody for analyzing free verse that I’ve never seen or read about before (more on that another time).

There’s a passage in the book I thought presented an excellent metaphor for how to think of free verse in the context of prose:

Another aspect of the borderline between free verse and prose is the often-claimed hypothesis that prose poetry was a precursor to free verse or that free verse is ‘no more’ than prose cut up into arbitrary lines…prose retains its distinctiveness and does not carry the rhythmic imprint of free verse…the accent is on the content of the poem, not on rhythmic form…we bring a set of expectations to prose that are different from those we bring to verse.  In verse of any kind, there is more attention on the words themselves, more attention to the rhythm; in prose, the attention is on the content.  To put it metaphorically, reading prose is like looking through a plain glass window; reading free verse (and verse of any kind) is like looking through a stained glass (p.51-52).

Not bad, professor Andrews.  Not bad at all.  I plan on using this metaphor next time I’m at a cocktail party and someone asks me about being a poet.


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