We have never had a workable poetics (i.e., theory of poetry) comparable to our theories of prose fiction and drama. This lack is a severe limitation in (linguistic and) literary study as a whole. This book on poetic textures is a an expansion of Chapter 8 of the overview (Temporal Poetics) of a large, 11-book, 1.5 million-word project to deliver our first detailed, inclusive, principled theory of poetry. In addition to the overview and this book on poetic textures, the project will have books on (1) time and form, (2) poetic rhythm, (3) poetic language, (4) poetic rhetoric, (5) poetic symbolism, (6) poetic modes, (7) poetic genres, (8) poetic styles, and (9) poetic analysis. This project as a whole is a result of forty years of thinking, teaching, and writing on the issue.
III. Proposed length
IV. Brief credentials of author
In my formal academic preparation, I have a BA in Philosophy, most of an MA in literature, and a PhD in linguistics, with a specialty in literary stylistics. I also did two years of pre-med undergraduate work in science. My dissertation, done in linguistics at the University of Illinois back in 1980, was on poetic syntax (The Aesthetic Use of Syntax in the Poetry of E.E. Cummings). I published my dissertation, but in chapters, as articles, rather than as a book. In my early career as an English professor teaching linguistics and stylistics, I studied and published about literary iconicity of various sorts (visual, rhythmic, phonetic, prosodic, syntactic, etc.). From the early 1980s to the early 1990s, I spent ten years researching and writing a book on poetic rhythm (Rhythmic Phrasing in English Verse, Longman, 1992) based on a contemporary theory of western tonal music (Jackendoff and Lerdahl’s A Generative Theory of Tonal Music). Fred Lerdahl was my neighbor in Ann Arbor, MI; my children grew up with his; so I learned about his (influential) theory of music from the horse’s mouth. To prepare for this book on poetic rhythm, I studied music theory for a decade, including taking courses in music appreciation, history, and theory at the University of Michigan. During this time, and continuing to the present, I have taught an introduction to poetry in addition to my teaching of linguistics and stylistics, and as I was working on the issue, rhythmics. Then for a few years, I worked on meter, developing theories of both metrical cognition and metrical reading, including theories of things like the stanza/poetic form and the phrased measure. This material on meter was never published as a book, but I have used it continuously ever since. As I developed my poetics (1992-2012), I also started to teach major author courses here at the University of Michigan on the great early modern American poets (E.E. Cummings, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Wallace Stevens, and Marianne Moore); and I have continued that teaching up to the present. So, I have been teaching these major author courses for fifteen years. In addition to teaching introduction to poetry (usually twice, and often, three times a year), I have used these major author courses as the ultimate testing ground for my temporal poetics, teaching, first, background (biography, etc.) and other writing (plays, prose, criticism, etc.) by each poet; then teaching the entire poetic corpus of each poet, seen through the lens of my temporal poetics. I now have notebooks that annotate the entire poetic corpus of these six great poets (4000 poems?) for its formal detail.
I had the basic idea for this series of books on my temporal poetics twenty years ago. So I have been teaching, lecturing, and publishing about the idea pretty continuously for the last two decades. Nonetheless, given the magnitude and importance of the issue, it has taken quite a while to develop this idea fully. Because I teach linguistics in addition to poetry, I had the theory of poetic language and poetic style very early, in fact, very soon after I completed my work on poetic rhythm in 1992. It took quite a while, though, to develop complementary theories of poetic rhetoric and poetic symbolism. Each of these issues is large (and problematical), in and of itself. My work on interpretive and evaluative issues has come even later. My theories of poetic genres and textures has emerged slowly over the last decade from my broader reading in literary criticism and from my teaching of Frost, Williams, Bishop, Cummings, Stevens, and Moore. My theory of poetic modes has been furthered by a large project I have been doing, for many years now, on the formal structure of nursery rhymes, which provides a window into the organization of one of the major temporal modes, (what I call) cyclical time. On my last sabbatical, in 2005-2006, I wrote the introduction and first chapter for the parent volume of this series of books on my poetics, together with some five hundred pages of analysis of poems taken from my major authors (Cummings, Bishop, Moore, Stevens, Williams, Frost). The analysis that I include in this series of books on my poetics will be taken from that work. In my introduction to poetry, I teach 100 others poems, taken from the English and American tradition as a whole. To teach this course, I have developed a 500-page coursepack of supporting material that explains my temporal poetics and applies it to these 100 poems. Much of the material for this series of books on my poetics will be taken, wholesale, from that coursepack. Last year, I taught a course in poetics, at a higher undergraduate level, based exactly on the outline of this series of books on my poetics, using exactly the material I will include there.
In addition to my dissertation and book on poetic rhythm, I have about fifty published essays and reviews on the issues I will consider in this series of books on my poetics, with a comparable number of scholarly presentations. I edited the literary entries in the second edition of the Oxford International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, contributing, myself, the entries on (1) literary stylistics and (2) the language of poetry.
V. Level of presentation
Any detailed theory of a formal system, especially an art such as poetry, is inherently technical, especially for readers who are not used to attending to form. Poetics is especially technical in its rhythmic and linguistic aspects. Both rhythmic form and linguistic form are unconscious/subconscious. When we rhythmize or speak, we usually don’t attend to the form of what we are doing, although, for poetics, this is crucial. Conceptually, poetry is especially challenging to understand, too, given that it is a type of oblique/formalized/symbolic speaking that takes it organizing principles from rhythm. How readers respond to these difficulties will depend on their personal history of engagement with things like linguistic form, musical form, poetic form, rhetorical form, literary form, and so forth. It will also depend upon the level of their engagement with poetry. I teach the material in this book on a regular basis to undergraduates (and graduates) in the English Department at the University of Michigan, but many of my students do indeed find the material challenging. In poems, the major concern is with form. Meanings in poetry are just further extensions/elaborations of formal qualities. For many, even for professional students of literature, if their basic concern in with prose fiction and drama, this is difficult to get used to.
VI. The readership and market for the book
The issue confronted in this book is very large; therefore, it should be of interest to all literary and linguistic professionals. This book could also be used as a textbook in upper level undergraduate and graduate courses in linguistics, poetry/poetics, or stylistics. For the everyday reader, this book is probably too technical, although academics in other areas of study (music, art, philosophy, etc.) might find the book interesting. Of course, this book should also be of interest to poets.
VII. Comparison with competing books There have been very few extended explorations of how poems proceed from beginning, the middle, to end. Frost liked to say that poems begin in delight and end in wisdom, but generalities of this sort are not much help. Smith’s Poetic Closure is a famous exception, as is Fineman’s Shakespeare’s Perjur’d Eye and Bahti’s Ends of Lyric; but even so, there are many problems/limitations with these studies. Smith’s analysis of types of discourse patterning (paratactic, logical, temporal, and dialectical) is brilliant, and I borrow it whole cloth in my poetics. But Smith’s concern with discourse structure is more a treatment of how poets use a certain dimension of rhetoric, as they might use a certain dimension of syntax, or prosody, or sound, rather than a treatment of poetic development in toto and per se. Fineman’s claim that poetic development is chiastic is also right, in part, but only for texts with duple movement; and as with Hegel, characterizing the movement as chiastic is too general to make contact with other aspects of poetic form. When poems turn against themselves midstream and end of the other foot, they turn from one thing to another. What is important for poetics is what those things are, not that the worm has turned. Without any theory of inner form in poetry more generally, Fineman has no way to say how such forms can proceed. For the most part, Bahti follows Fineman in his attraction to reversals/crossings/revisionings as the best explanation for poetic development. Because the temporalities are inherently oppositional, in temporal poetics, any movement from one temporality to another is indeed “chiastic”/oppositional. But as with Hegel’s logic, stopping there is too weak a claim to connect it in strong ways to poetic form more generally.
The great advance of the theory of poetic texture/development suggested in this book is that it builds a theory of poetic process from and for a theory of poetic form. Therefore, it does for poetry what Northrop Frye does for prose fiction and drama with his theory of “myths.” In my theory of poetic texture, I translate the spatial/referential/social scenarios in Frye’s archetypal plots into temporal/formal/psychological terms, preserving his basic definitions of the major narrative and dramatic “myths” (comedy, tragedy, romance, irony) while flushing this series of four four-part movements (4-3-2-1, 1-2-3-4, 1-4-3-2, 4-1-2-3) with four other possibilities (2-3-4-1, 3-4-1-2, 2-1-4-3, 3-2-1-4).
Following Fineman and Bahti, I also consider more constrained duple (and triple) patterns. All of these temporal processes are “chiastic”/dialectical/oppositional, by definition, often multiply so.
VIII. Intended completion date
IX. List of chapters
Temporal Poetics: Textures
Part I Explanation Chapter 1 Time and Form
Part II Description Chapter 2 Duple Textures (1-2, 2-1, 2-3, 3-2, 4-3, 3-4, 4-1, 1-4)
Part III Interpretation Chapter 12 Poetic Textures and Poetic Styles
Part IV Observation and Evaluation
Chapter 13 Readings
X. Content of each chapter
Temporal Poetics: Textures
Introduction Poetry often doesn’t move/develop much at all. Most poems have certain general ways of beginning and ending, but in between, they are often more static/qualitative, rather than dynamic/forward-moving. As Northrop Frye puts it, poetry is often more thematic than mythic. On the other hand, many poems do indeed go somewhere, as they proceed from beginning to end. They have what I like to call a poetic texture; and this movement is often organized in systematic ways. Like music, poems can be significantly “melodic” as well as metrical, harmonic, and thematic. To this point, we have just lacked ways of characterizing this “melodic” development. Without a good theory of “inner form” as it is arrayed (“harmonically”) in more static patterns, it has been impossible to have a theory of how an “inner form” can start, proceed, and end, that is, how an “inner form” can develop.
Undoubtedly, all of the possible generic types of “inner form” in poetry have general ways of developing; but developmental texture in poetry is most significant in genres that include a balanced mixture of all of the temporalities, what I like to call “portrait” poems. As in music and the more dynamic literary genres, prose and narrative, the most coherent, and therefore interesting, of these dynamic tend to move stepwise, backward or forward, through the inherent order of the temporalities, starting with one of the temporalities and, by way of all of the other temporalities, ending at a neighboring temporality, either progressively or regressively. As Northrop Frye famously observed, the major modes of emplotment (tragedy, comedy, romance, irony) seem to move in a similar way, creating a dialogue between neighboring modes. Our major metaphysical, religious, scientific, and aesthetic ideologies (existentialism, idealism, realism, pragmatism, Christianity, impressionism, post-impressionism, science, etc.) seem to be similarly organized.
In fact, given that, in a temporal poetics, time precedes space, metaphysically, it will again be my claim that archetypal plots in prose and drama, as they are played out in space, are actually just specialized instances of this non-spatial, temporal movement that we find in poetry. If you proceed step-wise through the four temporalities, there are eight, not just four, possibilities (1-2-3-4; 2-3-4-1; 3-4-1-2; 4-1-2-3; 1-4-3-2; 4-3-2-1; 3-2-1-4; 2-1-4-3). The other four possibilities, I claim, are just the standard developmental patterns of those philosophical, religious, and aesthetic ideologies that often characterize the development of poetry rather than the development of drama and prose.
Part I Explanation
Chapter 1 Time and Form
At base, poetry is concerned with qualities. It builds analogies between phenomena that are qualitatively related when viewed from a formal perspective.
The qualities that poetry uses to triangulate language, world, and mind, I claim, are rhythmic/temporal. The major keys to understanding the relation between form and rhythmic/temporal qualities, I claim, are (1) componential organization, (2) paradigmatic form, (3) rhythmic synecdoche, and (4) fractalization.
First, I claim that rhythm is not one-dimensional. Following contemporary music theory, I claim that rhythm is organized into four contrasting but complementary components, what contemporary music theorists call meter, grouping, prolongation, and theme. Each of these components of rhythm is characterized by a different set of qualities across a number of dimensions--structural scope, structural volatility, orientation toward clock time, directional movement, positional preference, relation to similarity and difference, and so forth. I isolate and organize these rhythmic qualities into a table, what I like to call the temporal paradigm.
The Temporal Paradigm Temporal
Features Cyclical Centroidal Linear Relative event-event similarity difference- similarity- difference
clock time: past present future relative
scope proximate local regional global
position initial medial final peripheral
energy fall rise-fall fall-rise rise
volatility fixed constrained volatile free
Second, I claim that "inner" forms in poetry (and elsewhere) are not essentially functional (i.e., designed in order to be effective in context), as many theories of form claim (e.g., Darwinism, functional and cognitive linguistics, etc.). I claim that formal structures are paradigmatic, with these formal paradigms following the quadratic organization of the rhythmic components. Like the complementary, part-whole relation between the rhythmic components and rhythm as a whole, in each formal paradigm, four elements stand in a complementary relation with each other based on their part-whole relation to the universe defined by the paradigm as a whole. All inner forms, I claim, have this tightly knit, part-whole, paradigmatic organization.
Third, I claim that rhythmic formation is not metaphoric but synecdochic, as we might expect, given the "part-whole" organization of a paradigm. That is, I claim that the relation between formal paradigms, their "correspondence" with one another, is not based on similarity, but difference-in-similarity, participation in a part-whole relation with respect to the qualities of the rhythmic components. In a synecdochic relation, elements of a paradigm "correspond" to the extent that they draw from the same set of rhythmic qualities. But given the logic of synecdoche and part-whole relations, they need not be "similar" at all; elements of two paradigms can be strikingly different, having strikingly contrasting qualities. But if those contrasting qualities are drawn from the qualities of the same rhythmic component, the elements of the two paradigms can still "correspond." Because rhythmic organization is unconscious, this synecdochic relation among formal paradigms is usually subconscious and therefore is often revelational when commented upon explicitly, as poets and others who deal with formal relationships (philosophers, linguists, rhetoricians, biologists, cultural historians, theologians, etc.) are wont to do. This basis of paradigmatic structure in synecdoche, rather than metonymy and/or metaphor, I think, explains the historical resistance of all complex formal systems (poetry, language, music, biological form, etc.) to conscious, rational explanation.
Fourth, I claim that all naturally evolving formal systems elaborate their structure by fractalization. In a fractal, all of the parts of a formal structure are self-similar, regardless of differences in scale. That is, each minute part of a form resembles each large part of the form, all the way up to the level of the form as a whole. My claim is that most of the important "elements" of poetry (i.e., language, world, and mind) are large-scale, self-replicating and evolving formal systems of this sort. As work in complexity/chaos theory has recently demonstrated, most of what we consider to be "beautiful" in our natural environment--shorelines, mountain ranges, cloud formations, leafage, flowerings, snowflakes, etc.--are fractal/self-similar in this way. I isolate and organize some of the important fractal "correspondences" in the "elements" of poetry into a table, what I like to call the poetic paradigm.
THE POETIC PARADIGM
Temporality Cyclical Centroidal Linear Relative I. Psychological and Neurological sociobiology colonial invertebrate social insect higher mammal human
neurology hind/reptilian brain mid/mammalian brain left cortex right cortex
Part II Description Chapter 2 Duple Textures (1-2, 2-1, 2-3, 3-2, 4-3, 3-4, 4-1, 1-4) In this chapter, I will explore poems that have various sorts of duple/chiastic movement. These duple movements give us poems of refreshment/rebirth (4-1), imaginative framing/embellishment (3-4), coming of age and social commitment (2-3), renewed love/faith and social withdrawal (3-2), aesthetic/intellectual critique (4-3), mystical liberation (4-1), first love (1-2), and religious/emotional ecstasy/ravishment (2-1).
Chapter 3 Triple Textures (1-2-3, 3-2-1, 2-3-4. 4-3-2) In this chapter, I will explore poems that have various sorts of triple movement. These triple movements give us poems of truth-telling/prophecy (1-2-3), redemption and return to sources/beginnings (3-2-1), self-actualization and personal expression (2-3-4), and aesthetic/intellectual discipline/shaping (4-3-2).
Chapter 4 Portrait Textures: Comedic (4-3-2-1) In this chapter, I will explore poems with a full quadruple movement on the pattern of Frye’s myth of comedy, which proceeds in a step-wise, regressive pattern (4-3-2-1) through the temporalities from the demonic/relative to the apocalyptic/cyclical. In Frye’s myth of comedy, some desire by a weak main character is blocked by a false society (pistis) but then overcome by some countermanding proof (gnosis), usually by a discovery (anagnorisis) that provides a twist of plot and allows the main character to achieve their desire. Comedies conclude by consolidating a new society and integrating blocking characters into its texture with a ritual celebration (communion). Comedy is associated with the analogy of innocence and centroidal time. For the audience, comedy brings a catharis of sympathy and ridicule.
Chapter 5 Portrait Textures: Tragic (1-2-3-4) In this chapter, I will explore poems with a full quadruple movement on the pattern of Frye’s myth of tragedy, which proceeds in a step-wise, progressive pattern (1-2-3-4) through the temporalities from the apocalyptic/cyclical to the demonic/relative. In Frye’s myth of tragedy, a hero with godlike powers is opposed by an inflexible law/nemesis, and through hamartia, a fatal flaw, and hybris, an oversteppping of social/ethical boundaries, is isolated from the community and sacrificed. For the audience, this tragic action brings a catharsis of pity and fear.
Chapter 6 Portrait Textures: Romance/Epic (1-4-3-2) In this chapter, I will explore poems with a full quadruple movement on the pattern of Frye’s myth of romance, which proceeds in a step-wise, regressive pattern (1-4-3-2) through the temporalities from the apocalyptic/cyclical to the centroidal. In Frye’s myth of romance, a quest pits the cyclical/apocalyptic against the relative/demonic, the hero against a villain, usually a monster of some sort, in a duple, polarized world of good and bad, black and white. Action in romance starts with conflict (agon) and proceeds through a tearing apart or disfiguring of the hero (sparagmos), to a death/disappearance (pathos), to a return/victory/recognition (anagnorisis) and a reward (usually a bride). Romance is a victory of fertility over the waste land, spring over winter. The quest is usually for some type of power/wisdom guarded by the monster, who has imprisoned the heroine.
Chapter 7 Portrait Textures: Ironic (4-1-2-3) In this chapter, I will explore poems with a full quadruple movement on the pattern of Frye’s myth of irony, which proceeds in a step-wise, regressive pattern (1-4-3-2) through the temporalities from relative to linear. Irony uses wit, fantasy, shifting perspectives, a high moral ground, and a sense of the grotesque or absurd to point out the humanistic failings of social reality. Satire favors practice over theory and possibility over probability or dogmatism. It is often obscene, chaotic/non-linear, and exuberant.
Chapter 8 Portrait Textures: Romantic (3-4-1-2) In this chapter, I will explore poems with a full quadruple movement in a step-wise, progressive pattern (3-4-1-2) through the temporalities from linear to centroidal. This is the texture of the Greater Romantic Lyric, which moves from some observation of nature, to some joltingly sublime experience that opens up a window into the depths of being, and brings with that mystical vision an emotional religious renewal/affirmation/strengthening.
Chapter 9 Portrait Textures: Christian (2-3-4-1) In this chapter, I will explore poems with a full quadruple movement in a step-wise, progressive pattern (2-3-4-1) through the temporalities from centroial to cyclical. This is the texture of Christian redemption, of love, which, maintened through suffering and sin, by confession of guilt and forgiveness, brings rebirth.
Chapter 10 Portrait Textures: Idealistic/Formal (2-1-4-3) In this chapter, I will explore poems with a full quadruple movement in a step-wise, regressive pattern (2-1-4-3) through the temporalities from centroidal to linear. This is the pattern of the great tradition in idealistic/formal thinking in the West (Plato, Spinoza, Hegel, Vico, Spencer, Cassirer, Whitehead, Frye, Wilbur, etc.) which uses an appreciation of form/idealities as a way back to fundamental truths and sources of being, a new vision of individual possibilities, and with those individual possibilities, a new social praxis. This poetics is a exercise in this sort of feeling, being, thinking, and acting.
Chapter 11 Portrait Textures: Scientific/Empirical (3-2-1-4) In this chapter, I will explore poems with a full quadruple movement in a step-wise, regressive pattern (3-2-1-4) through the temporalities from linear to relative. This is the great tradition of empirical, utilitarian, scientific thinking and liberal, social engineering in the West (Kant, Hume, Darwin, Mill, Bentham, Comte, Franklin, Edison, Pasteur, Einstein, Russell, Ford, Bell, Roosevelt, Kennedy/Johnson/Clinton/Obama, Gates, Jobs, etc.), which moves from a closely controlled observation of nature, to an understanding of basic laws of causation, to assumptions about the origins of form and being, to new possibilities of individual respect, freedom, leisure, wealth, well-being, self-actualization, and happiness.
Part III Interpretation Chapter 12 Poetic Textures and Poetic Styles Poems with the same texture (i.e., pattern of development) can be very different in style. Stylistically, there are many ways to establish a certain step-wise (duple, triple, quadruple) movement among the temporalities. For instance, in order to create a comedic (4-3-2-1) texture, a strongly rhetorical poet such as Donne might modulate speech acts (e.g., from questions, to commands, to exclamations, to statements), discourse organization (e.g., from dialectical, to temporal, to logical, to paratactic), tropes (e.g., from irony, to metonymy, to synecdoche, the metaphor), and schemes (e.g., from parenthesis and pararhyme, to anadiplosis and consonance, to chiasmus and assonance, to anaphora and alliteration). On the other hand, a strongly syntactic and rhythmic poet, such as Williams, might establish the same comedic (4-3-2-1) texture by modulating the poem from free verse, adverbs, and a compound-complex syntax, to flexibly metrical verse, verbs, and a periodic syntax, to shapely phrased verse, adjectives, and a balanced syntax, to tightly metrical verse, nouns, and simple sentences. In this chapter, I will explore how poems in the same texture can differ significantly in style.
Part IV Observation and Evaluation
Chapter 13 Readings In this chapter, I will provide one or more complete readings of poems in order to illustrate the role of poetic texturing to our experience of poems as a whole. By and large, poems for these analyses will be taken from my major poets: Bishop, Moore, Stevens, Frost, Cummings, and Williams.
Conclusion Just as music with a catchy melody is often more popular than music that doesn’t have a catchy melody, poetry that is coherently textured is often more popular, both with critics and ordinary readers, than poetry that is more statically organized (i.e., by mode, genre, and style). In order to establish a clear “melodic”/textural development, a poem often works its way through a coherent set of symbolic scenarios and rhetorics, that, however obliquely, are recognizably verisimilar to our conscious, everyday life, and therefore to most prose fiction and drama. With its dynamic movement, textured poetry, we might say, is more emotional. It moves us from one psychological state to another (to another, to another), while, psychologically, poetry that is more static gives us something more like temperaments, moods, and attitudes. This relation of textured poetry to prose fiction and drama should not be exaggerated or overvalued, though. In terms of movement/development/texture, the center of poetry as a genre, I think, is right where Frye suggested. Overall, poetry is indeed more thematic than mythic. Therefore, for the true poetic devotee, rather the professional cultural critic or everyday casual reader, who often use poetry for other (social, ideological, political, historical, personal) purposes, poetry that elaborates itself more statically (by mode, genre, and style) is just as valuable and worthy of attention, if not more so. Poetry is not at its best only when it becomes like something that it is not.
XI. Supporting Publications Recently, I have written an essay for a conference presentation on E.E. Cummings’ use of textures called “Portrait Textures in the Poetry of E.E. Cummings.” I am preparing this essay for publication in Spring: The Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society.
Each of the following published essays contains a full analysis, using my temporal poetics, and therefore, at some point makes comments on temporal textures. The poets considered are Cummings, Yeats, Frost, Williams, Stevens, Hardy, and Lawrence.
"Poetry, Language, and Literary Study: The Unfinished Tasks of Stylistics." Language and Literature 21 (1996): 95-112
"Linguistics, Stylistics, and Poetics." Language and Literature 22 (1997):
"Rhythm and Linguistic Form: Toward a Temporal Theory of Poetic
Language." Versification 2 (1998)
"Temporality and Poetic Form." Journal of Literary Semantics 31 (2002): 37-59
"Telling Time: Toward a Temporal Poetics." Odense American Studies
International Series. Working Paper No. 48. February, 2001
"Jakobson Revisited: Poetics, Subjectivity, and Temporality." Journal
of English Linguistics 28 (2000): 354-392
"Schizophrenic Poetics: A Proposed Cure." Journal of English Linguistics
30 (2002): 91-110
“Temporal Poetics: Rhythmic Process as Truth.” Antioch Review 62 (2004),
“Cummings and Temporality.” Spring: The Journal of the E. E. Cummings