Spontaneous Poetics – 66 (William Carlos Williams 10 – Williams’ Prosody)

[William Carlos Williams (1883-1963)]

AG: I’ve been thinking of what are the different considerations of mindful open-verse forms. And I made a very brief list (composed of elements we’ve already discussed) just as academic reference-points. If one were to analyze (William Carlos) Williams‘ versification, what are the different inclinations he has in mind when he’s putting the words down on the page, or re-arranging them on the page?

First, we had consciousness of syllables and syllable count, as he practiced, and his friend Marianne Moore practiced. That is to say, arranging phrasings on the page with four syllables, four syllables, four syllables, four syllables, or four-three, four-three (just syllables, without any question of stress, accent, or vowel-length quantity). He was very conscious of that because Marianne Moore was doing that and then Kenneth Rexroth used that method for composing poetry. (The) seven syllable line. It was also something suggested by Chinese, Tibetan, and Japanese poetry, which is counted by syllables. That was in the air. People knew about that. So that there was an increasing mindfulness of syllables – actually hearing syllable-by-syllable, when-you-are-thinking-of-the-line-even-when-you-are-pro-nouncing-it-and-especially-when-you-are-arranging-it-on-the-page. So, after a while, the ear hears syllables, and for those whose breath is articulated into mindful speech and those that are so mindful of speech that they can even teach speech, there is a question of how you talk and how you mouth your syllables and how you pronounce your consonants and clarify your “p”‘s and use your lips, when you are talking. And that makes you more and more conscious of syllables (especially if [like Bob Dylan] you pronounce it aloud before audiences of 27,000 people, because, with all that machinery, they (need to have) to be able to hear! – or, (even) over a microphone at the Museum of Modern Art, it’s necessary to articulate, so that each syllable is heard clearly, so that there is no mistake in the intention of each syllable). So that’s a lesson that was learned by Bob Dylan certainly. Williams had some sense of that playfulness of mouthing which goes along with consciousness of count of syllable. It’s just a quality you develop – both of pronouncing and pronouncing clearly and precisely and using your mouth, as I was just taught an hour ago (sic). But that leads to consciousness of syllables, that is consciousness of pronunciation leads you to be more conscious syllable-by-syllable, and syllable-by-syllable mental awareness leads you to be more prounounce-y. Marianne Moore did do stanza forms by counting syllables and making arrangements of different butterfly-wing-like patterns of syllables, stanza to stanza.
Do you know her work, B? [Allen addresses one of the students] – Marianne Moore? – If you look at a page of her work, there’ll be some.. they’ll be arrangements. Maybe I’ll bring one of her poems in next time, or [Allen looks into a poetry anthology] – there probably is one (in) here. But I don’t want to go into the syllable-count as a field, yet. I just want to make this list.

Obviously, second, there is accent, which is built into earlier English prosody so we hear it all the time. And when we talk, there is accent in the talk. I think Williams at one point said it was… what’s the opposite of dactylic?.. anapestic.. what is anapest? – duh-duh-dah

Student: Duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah , duh-duh-dah

AG: If-you-think, when-you-hear, when-I-talk, you-can-say, it-might-be, some kind of dactyl. Williams thought that American speech tended toward dactylic, I believe..what did we decide?

Student: Anapestic

AG: Anapetic. He said one or the other. I’ve forgotten. Duh-duh-dah – was that anapest?

Student: Yeah

AG: I think he said (that) American speech tended toward anapestic. Just if you want to refine your ear a bit and get out of writing duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah – iambic or trochaic – if you want to get out of writing two-syllable rhythms, you might vary things a bit by getting into the custom of being mindful of anapest – duh-duh-dah.
Does everybody know the difference between.. does everybody know iamb, trochee, dactyl, and anapest? Raise your hand if you don’t know those. How many is that there? [pointing to another student] (JS)]?

Student: I can’t.. I mean, if you asked me which was which, I couldn’t say.

AG: But you’ve got the basic principle down. (Yes?) We don’t have a blackboard. I forgot to order up a blackboard..

Student: Would you like a blackboard?

AG: WEll, I’ll do it abstractly. Yeah, I’d love a blackboard. I’m sorry I didn’t think of it before.. (I) forgot..(B) and I went over this material, actually, Sunday night.. Well, we’ll get (back) to it when we have something visual. I don’t want to get too hung up on it.
Not everybody knows that the basis of traditional English poetry and song was the count of accents, and these are the different accentual systems, consisting of duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah, duh-dah – (is iambic) – and dah-duh, dah-duh, dah-duh, dah-duh – (that’s trochaic) – duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah (anapestic) – dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh (dactylic). Those are the simplest and the nomenclature is taken from Roman and Greek forms, Roman and Greek count (which was (a) count of vowel-length, not of accent, originally, vowel-length). Yeah?

Student: Do you know if there’s any particular reason those particular rhythms became standards? – like, of all the myriad rhythms that could be used?. When I think of those particular ones..(so) for some reason they got this following or something…

AG: Well, it’s a great mystery. Because they don’t seem to follow American speech. And yet they’re imposed on the forms of American speech to compose poems. But they don’t seem to follow the forms of American speech. If you listen, you can hear the tongue tripping on a different rhythm. So.. It is said that they are the basic rhythms of English speech, but I wasn’t around when they were speaking it, when they evolved that system of notation, evolving it out of classical models of notation of quantity of speech, that is the vowel-lengths, attention to vowel-lengths, as they did in Greek and Latin, which we were talking about earlier in the term when (GT) was reciting Homer.

So there is vowel-length, then, as another element of when you’re mouthing, as well as particularity of consonant pronunciation, there’s also the long charm of vowel-mouthings – opening your mouth somewhat and “halling” your voice, or making a theatrical.. making a concert-hall of your open mouth, and filling your open mouth with a big “ah”, “oh”, “ay”, “ee”, “eye”, “oh”, “you” (like, “I-i-i-i-di-ot Wind/ blowing round in circles around your skullll/ from the Grand Coulee dam to the Capitolll“..”You’re an idiot, babe, lt’s a wonder you can even still now breatttthhhe” – that’s Dylan’s “Idiot Wind”, as he developed the vowel-elongations in later singings, after the original recording [Allen slightly misquotes the line here to make his point])…it finally got to be “I-i-i-i-i–diot Wind” (as “Like A Rolling Sto-oh-oh-oh-ne, or whatever the tone is). That’s sort of..music, finally – that vowel-awareness and vowel-energy and vowel-physicality is the musical-tune element of poetry (or the melopoeic part of poetry).

[A blackboard arrives, and Allen returns to stress notation, marking it out on the blackboard] – Now, the system of notation generally used – two, three, four, five – no – this is a light, that’s a heavy accent – your accents – you’ve (all) seen these around haven’t you? – all over – most everyone has seen all this around – Is there anyone who’s never seen this put down on the blackboard? – huh? – ok – so that’s iambic – and dah-duh, dah-duh, dah-duh, dah-duh – trochaic – This is iambic pentameter – pente – five – pente-meter – five-meter – five of each – trochaic – tetra-meter – four – Let’s see, we had our anapest – duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah – What’s that? anapestic?..

Student: Tetrameter?

AG: No, no, that’s hexameter – hexa-meter – six – six feet – duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah – six feet (because it was a dance rhythm originally – that’s why we have the poetic “foot”, because these were originally danced to in the Greek choruses. So the chorus would sweep across the stage going duh-duh-dah-dah, or whatever more complicated beat they might have like dah-duh-duh-dah-dah, dah-duh-duh-dah, dah-duh-duh-dah-dah, and at the same time chanting syllables to fit the meter. So that’s why we have what we call the poetic foot, because it originally comes from dance) [points to a blackboard notation] (And) this is what? Anapestic?

Student: And that’s what American speech is supposed to be like?

AG: [mock-exasperated] “Why-you-fool!” – “don’t-you-know?” “can’t-you-hear?” – That’s an excited speech. Anapestic is very often for excited speech, ecstatic speech – “Why-you-fool” – “Don’t-you-hear” – “Can’t-you-tell” – “Oh-shut-up” – “It-is-on”, or “Get-it-on”.. is anapestic “Get it on” would be anapestic. So there are elements of American, as Williams said, that stick(s) to that pattern – “when-you-talk”, “there’s-sometimes” “to-come-out” “in-that-way”.

Student: “If-you-try”

AG : “If-you-try”, “If-you-hear”,”Then-it’s-clear”, “So-what’s-here”? “What’s-up-here”?
Dactylic – dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, da-duh-duh, dah... Well, that’s enough – dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, da-duh-duh, dah – Wait dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh, dah-duh-duh – that would be dactylic trimeter – thrice – three – tri-meter – Any of them can be monometer (one), dimeter (two feet), trimeter (three feet), tetrameter (four feet), pentameter (five feet), hexameter (six feet), septameter (seven feet), octameter (eight feet), novameter? – Dactylic trimeter. My father specialized in writing iambic dimeter. “When verse is terse/ it’s zest is best,/ so I shall try,/ to hammer my stammer,/ and beat it neat,/exact, compact”. Or what remains to be done is maybe to flesh those paradigms (the word for these pictures, analyses of the rhythm, (they), I think, are called “paradigms”, or can be used with the word “paradigm” – nice word – like the word “spectral” is a nice word, “paradigm” is a nice word, it’s the spectral form of the meter.
Wyatt – yes (Sir Thomas Wyatt) – “Forget not yet the tried intent” – Wyatt, that I was reading earlier, that would be iambic. Trochaic? – “Had we never loved sae kindly” [Robert Burns] probably would sound like that – “had we never loved sae kindly” – Anapest? – We’ve had anapest in our speech now, but, “With the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail” is (Lord) Byron. These are examples I’m taking from the back of the Norton Anthology, which has a little summary of all this. Dactyl? – “Black were her eyes as the berry that grows on the thorn by the wayside [Longfellow] would be the dactylic six-foot meter.
I got into this because (B) here [Allen points to student], who is German, wanted to know what were the basic meters of the American or English language, and I hadn’t even tried to teach them before (or have, but not in any kind of orderly, form, and I haven’t developed a way of teaching it, but, apparently, some people don’t know it exactly), so (we) might as well put it up on the blackboard. (L), for example, [Allen points to another student], you’ve never gone through this, have you ever?

Student: I remember vaguely…

AG: And.. Does it make sense now?

Student: Yeah

AG: It’s easy. No big deal, actually. Because what’s interesting are the more complicated meters. “Howl” is written in much more.., basically, stress meters, to a great extent , but they’re Greek dance rhythms and (have) names which I don’t know, like amphibrach or choliambic – which are like the choliambic dancing. I don’t know actually what they are, in terms of their.. if you were to analyze them, but.. a line like “Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows!/ Moloch whose factories creek and smoke in the fog!, Moloch whose…” I’ve forgotten “Howl” (!), so, I can’t use that an example anymore, can’t remember it! – [“Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovah’s…”] – “Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless!/ Mental Moloch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!/ Moloch the incomprehensible prison!/ Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows/ Moloch whose buildings are judgement!…” – I really don’t remember it, so, (I’ll) leave it alone. So those are in more complicated, longer meters, not just the maximum we’ve got to, (which) is three parts – what do they call it? – arsis and thesis – I think this is arsis and thesis within the meter. Interestingly enough, the two parts of the iambic meter are arsis and thesis.

Student: Allen?

AG: Yes

Student: Did you learn the Greek dance rhythms before you began “Howl”?

AG: No, they are intuitive to the body, I think (though I had them from Shelley, Hart Crane, Vachel Lindsay, some Milton and Shakespeareecstatic poetry) – and then from my own vocal-chords, and dancing, and jacking-off under bridges (the rhythms that you get into in jacking-off, actually, or in fucking, or.. they’re basic body-rhythms these rhythms, like “pump-pump-pump, pump-pump-pump” – basic orgasmic rhythms, I think, so they just run through the body. Also they’re inevitable, I think. If you’re going to hear accents, you’ll either hear it light or heavy. If there’s going to be accents, there’s going to be difference, so it’ll be light or heavy. So, accent – we’ve got all that, for the moment, dealt with in a rudimentary form. Anybody who wants to know anymore, just come (and) see me. Syllables, accents, vowels..

[to be continued..]
Audio for the above is available at http://archive.org/details/Allen_Ginsberg_class_on_William_Carlos_Williams_and_prosody_June_1976_76P051, starting at approximately four-and-a-quarter minutes in and through to approximately twenty-four-and-a-quarter minutes

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