New Formalism is a literary movement in late 20th- and 21st-century American poetry that promotes a return to metrical and rhymed verse. Although the term was originally coined in reference to Formalist poets of the baby boom generation, many poets from subsequent generations continue to follow in the footsteps of the first New Formalists.
During the 1980s, when the New Formalist poets first gained the attention of mainstream literary criticism, they were greeted with extreme hostility. Even though New Formalism has always consisted of poets with many different racial and ethnic backgrounds, political beliefs, and lifestyle choices, mainstream literary critics chose to oversimplify the dispute between free verse and New Formalist poets. The debate was inaccurately depicted as a battle in America's culture wars. Proponents of free verse and Confessional poetry were stereotyped as socially progressive, while New Formalist poets were stereotyped as social conservatives, as White Anglo-Saxon Protestant preppies, as Anglophiles filled with nostalgia for the British Empire, and as supporters of Ronald Reagan.
The dispute between both poetic movements continues in literary journals and on the internet to this day. By 2006, however, Robert McPhillips was able to write that, "The New Formalists have become firmly established in the canon of contemporary American literature.
McPhillips continued, "The New Formalism remains for me a generational movement concerned with purifying poetic diction without ridding it of its inherent lyricism and rendering it more prosaic. By championing a shift back to form, the New Formalists have returned poetry to that wide audience of readers that had abandoned free-verse poetry because it had failed to mirror and trigger their deepest human sympathies."
According to Gerry Cambridge, "Free verse's dominance had been in part a reaction by poets such as Robert Bly, Adrienne Rich, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and James Wright to the New Criticism favored in the universities in the 1940s and '50s, which promulgated 'difficult, labored' poems. After serving an apprenticeship in form, many such writers turned to free verse. In statements accompanying their poems in the influential anthology Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms (1969), younger poets such as Denise Levertov, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Bly, and Gary Snyder for the most part studiously avoided questions of technique, instead focusing on an aesthetic of sensibility. When, in their turn, they entered the academy as professors, as critic Keith Maillard has pointed out, they brought these predilections with them. The cultural upheavals of the Vietnam War era, with its suspicion of government and centralized power, were ripe for the growth of an aesthetic which favored free verse and a subjective 'I' that rebelled against the New Critical orthodoxy still in vogue in the academy."
According to William Baer, "Despite the fact that a number of distinguished poets - like Howard Nemerov, Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, and James Merrill - continued to write and publish formal poetry, the dominant trend in the late 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s was for short, free verse lyrics, often autobiographical. The emergence of various groups like the Beats, the Black Mountain poets, the New York School, the Deep Imagists, and others encouraged this trend, as did the fact that free verse quickly became the lingua franca of the newly forming creative writing programs in the American universities."
From the mid-1950s into the 1960s, there was also a surge of interest in confessional poetry, which has been described as poetry of the subjective I. The school also advocates focusing on extreme moments of personal experience and trauma, including graphic descriptions of previously taboo subjects such as mental illness, abusive relationships, sex acts, and suicide.
In response to this new literary movement, formal and non-autobiographical poetry became even more unfashionable.
Meanwhile, attacks by free verse and confessional poets against Formalists like Nemerov, Wilbur, Turco, and Hecht grew ever lounder.
According to Baer, "...both meter and rhyme were considered, at best, an outdated aspect of the literary past, or, much worse, a debilitated form of bourgeois or capitalist control. Occasionally, these attacks at their worst and most shrill, even descended into fantastic charges that formal poetry was actually fascist (as William Carlos Williams once delineated the sonnet)..."
1960s and 1970sEdit
According to William Baer, "Despite this environment, various younger poets of the baby boom generation, often in isolation, began writing in meter, forms, and rhymes." Many of the most influential poets were, according to Baer, university students being taught and encouraged by Yvor Winters at Stanford University, by Donald Stanford at Louisiana State University, and by Robert Fitzgerald at Harvard University. There was, however, "no true center for the gradually reviving Formalism, as many poets in various parts of the country began experimenting with meter and rhyme."
One of the first rumbles of the conflict that was to erupt between free verse and formalist poets, came in 1971, when Argentine author, essayist, and poet Jorge Luis Borges, Norman Thomas di Giovanni, and Frank MacShane presided over a series of recorded seminars about Borges' writings at Columbia University.
When the seminar turned into a discussion about poetry, Borges, whose own poems were both in fixed forms and in free verse, said, "I think young poets are apt to begin with that is really the most difficult - free verse. This is a very great mistake. I'll fall back on what the Argentine poet Leopoldo Lugones said way back in 1909 in a book that is still revolutionary - Lunario sentimental. In the forward, he wrote that he was attempting experiments in verse - that he was trying his hand at the invention of new meters and at new combinations of the 'old time' meters, such as eight-syllable verse, eleven-syllable verse, fourteen-syllable verse, and so on. He knew that what he was attempting was rash and very probably a failure, but he wanted to remind his readers that he had already demonstrated that he could handle the classical forms of verse. He added that one can't start by being a revolutionary, but in his case he felt that he had earned the right to experiment, since he had published several volumes of good poetry, or at least tolerable classic verse. I think this is an honest statement..."
Borges' words triggered a debate between him and the students attending the seminar. One student asked, "As for writing in set forms, don't you think it depends on the kind of poetry you grew up on? For example, I can't imagine writing sonnets or rhyming couplets."
Borges replied, "I am very sorry. But I think it is strange that you should be so little curious about the past. If you are writing in English, you are following a tradition. The language itself is a tradition. Why not follow that long and illustrious tradition of sonnet writers, for example? I find it very strange to ignore form. After all, there are not many poets who write good free verse, but there are many other writers who have mastered the other forms. Even Cummings wrote many fine sonnets - I know some of them by heart. I don't think you can possibly discard all of the past. If you do, you run the risk of discovering things that have already been discovered. Aren't you curious about the past? Aren't you curious about your fellow poets in this century? And in the last century? And in the eighteenth century? Doesn't John Donne mean anything to you? Or Milton? I can't really even begin to answer your question."
The student replied, "One can read the poets of the past and interpret what is learned into free verse."
Borges responded, "What I fail to understand is why you should begin by attempting something which is so difficult, such as free verse."
The transcript was later published, along with that of all three seminars, in book form.
In 1972 essay, Borges was echoed by American poet Richard Wilbur, who wrote, "A good poem is a good poem, whatever its technical means, and I cheerfully grant that much of the best work of recent years has been done in free forms. It does seem about time, however, to abandon the notion that free verse is daring and progressive, that it is peculiarly suited to conveying present-day experience, and that 'experiment' must consist of the abandonment of disciplines."
According to William Baer, "So where does the revival begin? People can debate this endlessly. It's certainly significant that Rachel Hadas' first chapbook, Starting from Troy, was published by Godine in 1975; Charles Martin's first book, Room for Error, was published in 1978; and Timothy Steele's first collection, Uncertainties at Rest, appeared the following year."
Accord to Gerry Cambridge, "New Formalism began in the late 1970s and early 1980s as an informal grouping of younger writers dissatisfied with the prevailing poetry orthodoxy in the academy. No doubt they felt limited and constrained by an aesthetic there which focused on a subjective confessional 'I', usually in free verse,and as young poets of any curiosity at all are likely to, they began looking for other models. They found them particularly in the work of poets such as Robert Frost, Robinson Jeffers, and X.J. Kennedy, writers of wide import who had either kept faith with meter and rhyme or, in Jeffers' case, told stories. These young poets, who included Frederick Turner, Frederick Feirstein, Dana Gioia, Mark Jarman, and Robert McDowell also grew increasingly aware that poetry had lost its common audience."
The 1980s were, according to Baer, "the decade of formation for the Formalist revival". Between 1979 and 1983, Frederick Turner and Ronald Sharp served as editors of The Kenyon Review, where they published both the poems and the essays of the new generation of Formalist poets. In January 1983, Brad Leithauser published the essay Metrical Illiteracy in The New Criterion."
In 1980 Mark Jarman and Robert McDowell started the small magazine The Reaper to promote narrative and formal poetry. In 1981 Jane Greer launched Plains Poetry Journal, which published new work in traditional forms. In 1984 McDowell started Story Line Press which has since published some New Formalist poets. The Reaper ran for ten years.
Also during the early 1980s, Dana Gioia, a Sicilian- and Mexican-American poet who had grown up in a working class neighborhood in Hawthorne, California, first began to attract attention with appearances in The Hudson Review, Poetry, and The New Yorker. He also published essays and book reviews. Gioia's poetry and prose helped to establish him as one of the leading New Formalists.
By 1983, Neoformalism was noted in the annual poetry roundups in the yearbooks of The Dictionary of Literary Biography, and throughout the mid-1980s heated debates on the topic of free verse vs. formalism appeared in several literary journals.
The term New Formalism was first used in Ariel Dawson's article The Yuppie Poet in the May 1985 issue of the AWP Newsletter, which was an attack against the growing trend of returning to traditional verse forms.
According to Gerry Cambridge, "Dawson's polemic conflated the increasing prevalence of Formalism with lifestyle, with 'the glorification of competitiveness and the compulsion to acquire,' possessed, she asserted, by 'the yuppie poet.' She also accused New Formalism simply of being old Formalism, as practiced by Anthony Hecht and Richard Wilbur, rehashed. Bizarrely, she opposed a concern with technique against 'artistic integrity.' Apparently, she judged them to be enemies of each other rather than complimentary."
Also in 1985, Anglo-African poet Frederick Turner and German psychologist and neuroscientist Ernst Pöppel published the award-winning essay The Neural Lyre: Poetic Meter, the Brain, and Time in the magazine Poetry.
According to Turner, his interest in the subject began when he joined the International Society for the Study of Time. Turner recalled, "Why do we find things beautiful? Why do we have the capacity to experience beauty? And why is this phenomenon so pan-cultural? Once we had the facts at our disposal, it was impossible to entertain any of these post-structuralist notions that such human forms and conventions are simply closed systems and culturally unique. In fact, it was clear that human aesthetic rose from human biology. Anyway, this subgroup got a grant from the Werner-Reimers-Stiftung, and we were able to involve even more interesting people from other disciplines ranging from physics to anthropology to music. So we began meeting over a nine-year period, and that was where our ideas about the neural lyre initiated."
Of his work with Ernst Pöppel, who worked for the Max Planck Institute in Munich, West Germany, Turner said, "Now Ernst had already been a member of the time society, so we'd known each other for quite a while, and we used to hang out in the bar and talk about all sorts of things. At the same time, I'd already embarked on a serious study of world meter, and I'd noticed that all human societies had poetry, that it was always divided into lines, and that, even in pre-literate societies, all the lines were about three seconds long. Ernst had similarly noticed that humans have a three second cycle in which we hear and understand language... So there was clearly some kind of three-second phenomenon going on. Then we hooked up with a group of bio-genetic structuralists who'd been studying, for instance, the neurophysiology of ritual chants, and we'd examined the effects of ritual chanting and learned that ritual chanting produces significant changes in the brain waves, so we started to put a lot of things together, and we wrote that essay."
The essay was provoked when Wakoski attended a Modern Language Association conference in which old Formalist John Hollander spoke critically, according to Robert McPhillips, of college and university, "creative writing programs and the general slackness of most free verse."
In what Gerry Cambridge has called, "a rambling and confused attack," Wakoski said of Hollander's remarks, "I thought that I heard the Devil speaking to me." Hollander was, Wakoski alleged, "a man full of spite, from lack of recognition and thinly disguised anger... who was frustrated and petty from that frustration," as he was, "denouncing the free verse revolution, denouncing the poetry which is the fulfillment of the Whitman heritage, making defensive jokes about the ill-educated, slovenly writers of poetry who have been teaching college poetry classes for the past decade, allowing their students to write drivel and go out into the world, illiterate of poetry."
Wakoski then turned her attack against the younger poets, whom she called, "really the spokesmen for the new conservatism," which she called an unfortunate continuation of the legacies of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, T.S. Eliot, and Robert Frost.
Wakoski further called these younger poets, "a new kind of 'il-literati' espousing tradition. They are the ones who don't have a classical education, who don't read Latin and Greek poetry, who don't really know much about traditional metrical verse and who undoubtedly don't have the celestial ears of an Auden or a Wilbur, and they are the ones who preach metrics in old-fashioned ways, often being interested in form, whatever that is, for the sake of form."
According to Robert McPhillips, "Wakoski's critique of these poets is less aesthetic than it is political. She actually believes that those who use traditional forms could only be supporters of Reagan's conservative agenda. But her overtly moral denunciation and generalized invective marked a turning point in contemporary poetics. Her excesses created a backlash from writers and critics who were more disinterested in their reading of the poets Wakoski so zealously condemned. As a result of the public controversy, some poets began to see themselves as part of the loose movement that would be identified as the New Formalism."
Accord to Gerry Cambridge, "This attack generated five responses, from Robert Mezey, Lewis Turco, David Radavich, Brian Richards, and Dana Gioia. Most of them denied any necessary link between aesthetic and politics, in particular between form and conservatism, citing Ezra Pound as an example of a Fascist who wrote free verse. They also criticized as a kind of cultural fascism Wakoski's intolerance of literary pluralism, paradoxically in the guise of a democratic Whitmanism that declared form to be un-American. Gioia compared her tone and content to 'the quest for pure Germanic culture led by the late Joseph Goebbels.' He entertainingly suggested 'the radical notion' that whatever poetry was written by Americans constituted American poetry. Wakoski's polemic and these responses were the first public controversy about the young movement."
In a 2007 essay, James Matthew Wilson commented on the continuing "Poetry Wars," and of how Wakoski's accusations had continued to be repeated by her many, many successors, "Largely because of Diane Wakoski's unfounded imbecilities two decades ago in The New Conservatism in American Poetry, the New Formalism has been constantly harangued with being regressive, un-American, unpatriotic, etc., etc. While I am sure and pleased that, in a profound sense, New Formalism is Conservative, it certainly had nothing to do with any American political movement. While I grow almost misty eyed to hear a modern poet concerned with the love of country, I suspect Wakoski's piety is at best opportunistic. She, and those like Byers who followed in her wake, relies on crude television caricatures of the Eisenhower era in order to conclude that the New Formalism is Conservative, therefore boring, therefore something we need not read for ourselves. She goes further. Radicalism, by which she means simply non-metrical poems, get strangely confused and celebrated along with the patriotic vision of Walt Whitman. It is astonishing to hear Leftists wield that supposed last refuge of villains, patriotism, as a weapon to attack rhymes and prop up an otherwise flaccid free verse - or rather, to undermine the reputation of a few poets who like the sound words make when their syllables resonate. I think Wakoski asked too much of us for the sake of our country, really. Why must we give up even the most humble or trivial sonnet for most free verse, when odds are that it will be a better work of art - will have better attained to 'the perfection of things made?' Does this advance Manifest Destiny? Is it meter that stands in the way of the mystic chords of democracy? Do villanelles threaten the Union,or sonnets restore us to Her Majesty's Empire?"
Also in 1986, Daily Horoscope, Gioia's first poetry collection, was published. Its contents range widely in form, length and theme. Among its more notable—and widely reprinted—pieces are California Hills in August, In Cheever Country, and The Sunday News.
That same year, Robert McPhillips witnessed a debate between Dana Gioia and John Hollander over, "whether poetry was initially an oral or a written art." Gioia argued that poetry was originally oral, while Hollander argued that it was originally written.
McPhillips later recalled, "In retrospect, I realize that I heard on that occasion part of what was to become a tenet of the New Formalism often articulated by Gioia: that poetry was first and foremost an oral form and rhyme and meter central elements of oral poetry; that these virtues were considered outmoded by a generation of free verse poets; and that these were poetic virtues that - along with narrative - Gioia and others of his generation saw as vital elements necessary to be restored to poetry if it hoped to reestablish something like the mainstream audience still enjoyed by serious writers of fiction like Oates, John Updike, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, and Jane Smiley."
Intrigued both by the debate and by the sense of pleasure he had experienced reading the New Formalist poetry of Gioia and Vikram Seth, McPhillips began to research the growing controversy between Free Verse and New Formalist poets.
He later wrote, "When I first decided to write about the New Formalists, I discovered that there were essentially two schools of thought concerning them. One school consisted of the tenured free-verse poets of the nation's numerous writing programs who viewed the emergence of New Formalism as a politically conservative rejection of their 'democratic' mode, the other younger poets who were banding together with narrative poets to form a literary movement they described as 'Expansive Poetry'. What both groups had in common was that they were made up almost exclusively of poets; and they tended to talk in broad generalisations about what they perceived to be the strengths and weaknesses in each poetic aesthetic while seldom candidly assessing the relative virtues or flaws of the individual younger poets writing rhymed and metered poetry in the 1980s."
1986 also saw the publication of outspoken Atheist and LGBT Anglo-Indian poet Vikram Seth's novel in verse The Golden Gate, which had a major effect on the New Formalist Movement. The anthology Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Forms was published that same year.
In his influential 1987 essay Notes on the New Formalism, Gioia wrote: "Literature not only changes; it must change to keep its force and vitality. There will always be groups advocating new types of poetry, some of it genuine, just as there will always be conservative opposing forces trying to maintain the conventional methods. But the revival of rhyme and meter among some young poets creates an unprecedented situation in American poetry. The New Formalists put the free-verse poets in the ironic and unprepared position of being the status quo. Free verse, the creation of an older literary revolution, is now the long-established, ruling orthodoxy, formal poetry the unexpected challenge... Form, we are told authoritatively, is artificial, elitist, retrogressive, right-wing, and (my favorite) Un-American. None of these arguments can withstand critical scrutiny, but nevertheless, they continue to be made so regularly that one can only assume that they provide some emotional comfort to their advocates. Obviously, for many writers the discussion between formal and free-verse has become an encoded political debate."
According to William Baer, "In 1989, I established a small poetry journal, The Formalist, as an outlet for younger Formalist poets who were still having difficulties getting published in most of the mainstream literary journals. I fully expected the journal to run for an issue or two, but things turned out quite differently, and The Formalist lasted fifteen years."
Also in 1990, Ira Sadoff published the essay Neo-Formalism: A Dangerous Nostalgia in the American Poetry Review. In the essay, Sadoff alleged that the New Formalists' preference for Iambic poetry exposes, "their attempt to privilege White Anglo-Saxon rhythms and culture." To bolster this, Sadoff commented that Afro-Saint Lucian poet Derek Walcott was the only non-White New Formalist included in a recent anthology. Sadoff further alleged that the New Formalists, "want to restore art to the nostalgic view of fixed ideals," and that they, "uphold the values of a decaying imperial culture."
In 1991, Dana Gioia published the influential essay, Can Poetry Matter? in the April issue of Atlantic Monthly. In the essay, Gioia argued that American poetry had become imprisoned in college and university creative writing programs and was no longer being read or studied by the vast majority of the American people. He alleged that, to say that a living poet was well-known, meant merely that he or she was well known to other poets, who were generally professors and graduate students. He further wrote that poetry was no longer a fruit of Literary Bohemia, but of academic bureaucracy.
Gioia concluded with the words, "The history of art tells the same story over and over. As art forms develop, they establish forms that guide creation, performance, instruction, and analysis. But, eventually, these conventions grow stale. They begin to stand between the art and its audience. Although much wonderful poetry is being written, the American poetry establishment is locked into a series of outmoded conventions - outmoded ways of presenting, dissecting, and teaching poetry. Educational institutions have codified them into a stifling bureaucratic etiquette that enervates the art. These conventions may once have made sense, but today they imprison poetry in an intellectual ghetto. It is time to experiment, time to leave the well-ordered but stuffy classroom, time to restore a vulgar vitality to poetry and unleash the energy now trapped in the subculture. There is nothing to lose. Society has already told us that poetry is dead. Let's build a funeral pyre out of the dessicated conventions piled around us and watch the unkillable Phoenix rise from the ashes."
Writing in 2002, Gioia recalled, "When the original essay appeared in the April 1991 issue of Atlantic Monthly, the editors warned me to expect angry letters from interested parties. When the hate mail arrived typed on the letterheads of University writing programs, no one was surprised. What astonished the Atlantic editors, however, was the sheer size and intensity of the response. Can Poetry Matter? eventually generated more mail than any article the Atlantic had published in decades. The letters arrived in three familiar varieties - favorable, unfavorable, and incomprehensible. What was unusual was that they were overwhelmingly positive. Hundreds of people wrote - often at great length - to express their agreement, frequently adding that the article had not gone far enough in criticizing certain trends on contemporary poetry. The responses came from a great cross section of readers - teachers, soldiers, lawyers, librarians, nuns, diplomats, housewives, business executives, ranchers, and reporters - mostly people who were not then normally heard in the poetry world. As their testimonies demonstrated, they cared passionately for the art but felt isolated and disenfranchised from the official academic culture of poetry. An outsider myself, who worked in an office during the day and wrote at night, I felt a deep kinship with their situation. I probably learned more from those readers than they learned from me. Their comments provided clear and candid insight on the place poetry still occupied in the lives of many Americans. For me, the response to Can Poetry Matter? will always reside in those individual letters, which have never entirely stopped coming."
Of his work as editor of The Formalist, William Baer recalls, "In 1993, I began conducting interviews for the journal with the senior poets most admired by the younger formalist poets. The first poet interviewed was Richard Wilbur, and that interview was followed by conversations with Derek Walcott, Maxine Kumin, Anthony Hecht, and many others. In 2004, University Press of Mississippi collected these earlier interviews with the senior poets into a book entitled Fourteen on Form: Conversations with Poets."
In 1994, Feminist poet Annie Finch argued against the idea that New Formalism is not open to poets with other political viewpoints. In the Introduction to A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women, Finch wrote, "Readers who have been following the discussion of the 'New Formalism' over the last decade may not expect to find such a diversity of writers and themes in a book of formal poems; the poems collected here contradict the popular assumption that formal poetics correspond to reactionary politics and elitist aesthetics ... The passion for form unites these many and diverse poets. As Marilyn Hacker writes, 'When I see a young (or not so young) writer counting syllables on her fingers, or marking stresses for a poem she's writing, or one she's reading, I'm pretty sure we'll have something in common, whatever our other differences may be.'"
In the same collection, Dominican-American poet and fellow feminist Julia Alvarez wrote, "Sometimes I get in a mood. I tell myself I am taken over. I am writing under somebody else's thumb and tongue. See, English was not my first language. It was, in fact, a colonizing language to my Spanish Caribbean. But then, Spanish was also a colonizer's language; after all, Spain colonized Quisqueya. There's no getting free. We are always writing in a form imposed on us. But then, I'm Scheherazade in the Sultan's room. I use structures to survive and triumph! To say what is important to me as a Latina. I think of form as a territory that has been colonized but that you can free. See, I feel subversive in formal verse. A voice is going to inhabit that form that was barred from entering it before!"
Lesbian poet Marilyn Hacker's contribution to the same book said, "The choice and use of a fixed or structured form whether I learned it or invented it - has always been, for me, one of the primary pleasures of writing poetry. I have no political or aesthetic rationale for it except that I like it."
Also in 1994, poet Peter Russell wrote, "The naiveté of even graduate students is borne out by the report of a U.S. Creative Writing professor who States that none of his students had even hear of Neruda (Prof. Quincy Troupe, Poets and Writers, Feb. 1992, p. 3). The imputation of ignorance to the young is no mere reactionary or blimpish humbug of an ancient; it is a fact. Last month a more or less educated German political journalist of forty or so came to interview me for a Hamburg newspaper. It quickly transpired that he had never even heard the name of Ezra Pound. Unbelievable, but true."
Russell continued, "It seems to me that now, in the '90s, we are living in the degeneracy of the modernist movement. To call it the Post-Modernist period solves no problem - it merely poses new enigmas. Post-Modernism as a specific movement is interesting in its way, but unlike structuralist[disambiguation needed] semiotics, it is no more than a mish-mash of many fashionable ideas loosely held in common by a closely knit group of operators. Modernism itself, starting with Whitman in the U.S.A. and Rimbaud and Mallarmé in Europe, seems in retrospect, to have got underway by its abolition of genre, or at least its merging of genres. Five or six generations later, in the fall of modernism we find ourselves in the rank proliferation of every imaginable kind of poetry but without any recognizable hierarchy of genres or styles. This makes it exceedingly difficult for today's poets - and there are plenty of 'interesting' poets even if there are no truly major ones - to orient themselves and to clarify for their all too confused readers, just where they are and where they stand."
In an interview with William Baer, Dana Gioia recalled how he and fellow poet Michael Peich came up with the idea for the conference. They were having dinner at the home of Gioia's parents in Sebastopol, California, when they both realized, "that although there were, at that time, over 2,000 writers' conferences in the United States - several of which I was involved in - there was not a single place where. a young writer could go to learn the traditional craft of poetry in any systematic way. Having just finished a bottle of Pinot Noir, it occurred to us that it would be a wonderful thing to start such a conference. So we did, even though we had no budget, no staff, and no other visible means of support.
"We drew up what we thought would be a model curriculum - classes in meter, the sonnet, the French Forms, narrative poetry, etc. - and next to each subject, we put the name of the person we thought would be the best younger poet to teach that course. We felt that it was important that these techniques be taught as living traditions by younger writers who were actively using them. We also wanted to honor our elders, and so we decided to recognize, as keynote speaker, some writer who we felt confident had an enduring place in the canon of American letters. We invited Richard Wilbur to be our first keynote speaker. We had no money to pay our faculty, so I called each of them up to explain why it was important that we all do this, and everyone said, 'yes.'
"Initially, we thought that the conference would probably be a one time only thing, but when it was over, nobody went home. People stuck around because they'd enjoyed themselves so much, and we realized that we should do it again."
Rhina Espaillat, a Dominican-American poet of mixed Afro-Dominican, Spanish, French, and Arawak descent, attended the first conference and later recalled, "I was the only Hispanic there, but I realized that these people were open to everything, that their one interest was the craft. If you could bring something from another culture, they were open to it."
Espaillat subsequently took charge of, "teaching the French Forms and the forms of repetition," but also made sure to teach classes in, "the Spanish and Hispanic examples of the forms" such as the décima and the ovillejo."
Due to Espaillat's teaching and encouragement, the ovillejo, particularly, has become very popular among younger New Formalists writing in English. While being interviewed for a book about her life, Espaillat gleefully commented, "On the internet and in the stratosphere, everybody loves it."
In 1999, Story Line Press published the anthology, New Expansive Poetry: Theory, Criticism, History, which was edited by R.S. Gwynn. It included Dana Gioia's Notes on the New Formalism, Frederick Turner and Ernst Pöppel's The Neural Lyre: Poetic Meter, the Brain, and Time, Brad Leithauser's Metrical Illiteracy, as well as statements and essays from female New Formalists, and from adherents of the New Narrative.
In a 2017 review of William Baer's Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets for the LA Review of Books, Patrick Kurp wrote, "Among the many reasons poets choose to write formal poetry in the 21st century is an intuitive distaste for the imitative fallacy. To write about chaos, one need not write chaotically. It's only a minor paradox to say that discipline and constraint unlock freedom."
Even as the new millennium dawned, the movement continued to have its detractors. In the November/December 2003 issue of P. N. Review, N. S. Thompson wrote, in a throwback to the attacks by tenured professors during the 1980s, "While movements do need a certain amount of bombast to fuel interest, they have to be backed up by a certain artistic success. In hindsight, the movement seems to be less of a poetic revolution and more a marketing campaign."
Writing in 2006, Robert McPhillips commented, "In the past quarter century, the literary landscape has changed much from when the New Formalists began to publish their earliest work. The New Formalists have become firmly established in the canon of contemporary American literature. There is an entry on the movement (by myself) in The Oxford Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry in English (1994), edited by Ian Hamilton, as well as individual entries on many of the movement's poets. An anthology of poetry, Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism (1996), edited by Mark Jarman and David Mason, established a Canon of some of the strongest poets in the movement. Further anthologies of poems and essays continued to give the New Formalism at once a broader and more cohesive identity than it could have had in 1989."
Also in 2006, William Baer's Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms was published by Writer's Digest Books. The book is a guide for aspiring poets in how to master traditional poetic forms and rhythms.
In an appendix to the book entitled The Formalist Revival: A Brief Historical Note, William Baer defends poetic forms against William Carlos Williams' charge that they are reactionary and fascist by pointing out that Marxist and LBGT poets like Federico Garcia Lorca and even Communist poets like Pablo Neruda have regularly written in traditional verse forms.
In another appendix titled Pound, Flint, Imagism, and Verse Libre, Baer argues further against Williams's claim by laying out the instrumental role played in the free verse revolution by American poet Ezra Pound, the mentor to T.S. Elliot and founder of Imagism. In addition to showing Pound's overwhelming influence over both American and world poetry, Baer also describes Pound's pathological narcissism and embrace of far-right politics, anti-Semitism, and Fascism.
Baer continues, "While living Italy, Pound not only supported the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini, but he actually broadcast over Radio Rome a series of rather incomprehensible attacks against the United States, encouraging the American GIs to throw down their weapons. Thus, the most influential poet in the world had become a kind of Fascist Tokyo Rose."
Baer continues, "When the war ended, Pound was arrested for treason and placed in a restraining cage in the city of Pisa, and the following year, after being brought back to America, he was committed of 'unsound mind' to St. Elizabeth's mental hospital in Washington, D.C.. Despite his behavior during the war and his blatant anti-Semitism, countless American poets visited Pound in the hospital, and his influence continued. In 1958, due to the intercession of a number of well-known poets (including Eliot, Archibald MacLeish, and even Frost), Pound was released from St. Elizabeth's, and he set sail for Italy. As soon as he arrived, he gave a Fascist salute, called America 'an insane asylum,' and continued to mistreat his wife and avoid his son."
Baer also describes how, in 1962, Pound said that he had been, "wrong, wrong, wrong. I've always been wrong." The following year, he claimed, "Everything I touch I spoil. I have blundered always." In 1966, Pound said that The Cantos, the 803-page poem which he had begun writing down on toilet paper while imprisoned at Pisa, "doesn't make sense." Pound called the whole poem, "stupidity and ignorance." Pound also called his entire body of work, "a botch," and added, "I picked out this and that thing that interested me, and then jumbled them into a bag. But that's not the way to make a work of art."
In response, Baer commented, "Like Picasso, the founders of Imagism came to disavow their methods. It's a true story that, unfortunately, is not often told to young aspiring writers. Certainly, serious poetic artists need to experiment, but not all experiments are necessarily useful or permanent... Oddly enough, even now, after nearly a hundred years of vers libre, the current Random House Webster's still defines poetry as 'literary work in metrical form' and prose as 'the ordinary form of spoken or written language, without metrical structure, as distinct from poetry or verse.'"
In a 2007 essay titled Why No One Wants to be a New Formalist, A.E. Stallings wrote, "People debate over who gets to be in the church of the Avant Garde — who gets to be among the Elect, who gets to be in the Canon Outside the Canon. It is clearly a privilege, a badge of honor." Stallings added, however, that no one, herself included, wants to be dubbed a New Formalist, which she likened to the kiss of death. Stallings continued, "People come up with other terms: Expansive poet, poet-who-happens-to-write-in-form (and 'I write free verse, too', they hastily exclaim), formalista... If I have to be labeled, I myself prefer the term Retro-Formalist, which at least sounds vaguely cool, like wearing vintage clothing and listening to vinyl, something so square it's hip."
In the 2010 essay, Afro-Formalism, A.E. Stallings described her attendance at, "the best panel I attended at AWP, titled Afro-Formalism: Owning the Masters (after a famous essay by Marilyn Nelson)." The panel was meant to celebrate the many contributions made to the New Formalist movement by African-American poets.
Stallings further recalled, "Charles Fort spoke about Robert Hayden and how he had not been considered 'black enough' in his time — something that in retrospect seems a bit bizarre for the author of the great sonnet Frederick Douglas. In America, use of form has long been an oddly politicized choice. (Women are sometimes criticized in the same way for using it — that false dichotomy of free verse = democracy and empowerment and progress whereas formal verse = oppression and elitism and kowtowing to dead white males.) Tara Betts gave a fascinating discussion of forms invented by African-Americans (as the Bop, see below), and of how we can all use forms invented in other cultural contexts — that they are all open to everyone, and gain energy from cultural cross-fertilization. Erica Dawson, who has something like rock star status in the formal world, and who has the presence to go with it (this is a tall woman who has written an ode to high-heeled shoes...), spoke about her relationship to the tradition, tossing off some seriously dead white male influences like Anthony Hecht and James Merrill, and reminding us of just how raunchy the Metaphysical poets could be. A decade ago she was told at a recitation contest that 'form was dead', but now she has served as judge at that same contest. She exuded confidence and vindication, taking on the canon in her own terms."
In the Preface, Baer described the book as a follow up to the 2004 volume Fourteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, which had gathered his interviews with an older generation of Formalist poets. He added, "The present book, Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, contains the thirteen subsequent interviews with poets of the New Formalist generation: six of which were published in The Formalist and seven of which were published in Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry. Only three of the poets included in this collection are not members of the Baby Boom generation: Frederick Turner, who was born in 1943; the influential senior poet Rhina P. Espaillat, who'd delayed her own literary career until after she's raised her children; and A.E. Stallings, born in 1968, a recent MacArthur fellow who seems the perfect transition into subsequent generations."
In a 2017 book review for the LA Review of Books, Patrick Kurp wrote, in a sign that the conflict between free versers and New Formalist was ongoing, "Poets, critics, and readers on both sides of the form/free verse divide are frequently guilty of the Manichean heresy. Stated bluntly: Free verse, the more unfettered the better, is good; meter and rhyme, bad. Or vice versa. The schema turns political and nasty when form is associated with conservatism and free verse with progressivism, as though Ronald Reagan commanded poets to compose villanelles."
Kurp continued, "Baer collects interviews he conducted with first- and second-generation New Formalists, most of whom are squeezed into another convenient pigeonhole, baby boomers: Wyatt Prunty, Dana Gioia, Timothy Steele, Rachel Hadas, Brad Leithauser, Charles Martin, R. S. Gwynn, Frederick Turner, Mary Jo Salter, David Middleton, Dick Davis, Rhina P. Espaillat, and A. E. Stallings. The oldest is Espaillat, born in 1932; the youngest, Stallings, in 1968. The rest cluster between 1942 and 1954. Reading the interviews sequentially, the reader comes to appreciate that the New Formalists do not constitute a monolith. None is an ideologue. None believes a formal poem is automatically superior to its free verse cousin, and some write free verse themselves. But most agree that adherence to form enables them to express what they wish in the most efficient manner."
In 1986, Anglo-Indian poet Vikram Seth published The Golden Gate, which is both a sonnet sequence and a novel in verse inspired by Alexander Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. Like the latter, The Golden Gate is narrated using the Onegin stanza.
English-American poet Frederick Turner has published two epic poems which are also science fiction novels in verse. The first is his 1985 poem The New World, which celebrates world culture in the year 2376 A.D.. The second is the 1990 poem Genesis, which is heavily influenced by Greek Mythology and is about the human colonization of Mars. Genesis has not only, according to Turner, done well in terms of sales, "it's even been adopted by NASA."
When asked about his decision to write epic poetry, Turner replied, "People are willing to read novels, and they're willing to read the classic epics. I suspect that Robert Fitzgerald's wonderful translation of The Odyssey has been ready by as many people as most contemporary novels. So I don't think that there's anything wrong with the form itself; it's rather a problem of old-fashioned expectations, along with the general incompetence with which it's usually done in our times - when it's done at all. Also, the perceived difficulty of modern poetry is a problem. If readers struggle with a short modern poem, they'll often dread the idea of reading a 200-page poem, but if it's crafted correctly and really tells a story,then it isn't a problem. You can read Fitzgerald's Odyssey more easily than most novels, it's much more direct."
Since the beginning of New Formalism, the Movement has advocated a return to more traditional practices of literary translation.
In his 1987 essay, Notes on the New Formalism, Dana Gioia sharply criticized the then common practice of making free verse translations of Formalist poems. He commented, "...although the past quarter century has witnessed a explosion of poetic translation, this boom has almost exusively produced work that is formally vague and colorless. Compared to most earlier translation, these contemporary American versions make no effort whatsoever to reproduce the prosodic features of their originals. One can now read more of Dante or Villon, Rilke or Mandelstam, Lorca or even Petrarch in English versions without any sense of the poem's original form. Sometimes these versions brilliantly convey the theme or tone of the originals, but most often they sound stylistically impoverished and anonymous. All of the past blurs together into a familiar tune. Unrhymed, unmetered,and unshaped, Petrarch and Rilke sound alike."
In a subsequent essay criticizing free verse poet Robert Bly, Gioia further wrote, "What can one say about translations so insensitive to both the sound and nuance of the originals? By propagating this minimal kind of translation Bly has done immense damage to American poetry. Translating quickly and superficially, he not only misrepresented the work of many great poets, he also distorted some of the basic standards of poetic excellence. His slapdash method not only ignored both the obvious formal qualities of the originals (like rhyme and meter) and, more crucially, those subtler organizing principles such as diction, tone, rhythm, and texture that frequently give poems their intensity. Concentrating almost entirely on syntax and imagery, Bly reduced the complex originals into abstract visual blueprints. In his hands, dramatically different poets like Lorca and Rilke, Montale and Machado, not only all sounded alike, they all sounded like Robert Bly, and even then not Robert Bly at his best. But as if that weren't bad enough, Bly consistently held up these diminished versions as models of poetic excellence worthy of emulation. I promoting his new poetics (based entirely on his specially chosen foreign models) he set standards so low that helped create a school of mediocrities largely ignorant of the pre-modern poetry in English and familiar with foreign poetry only through oversimplified translations. Bly's weaknesses as a translator underscore his central failings as a poet."
In the years since, many New Formalist poets have taken up Gioia's challenge.
One of the most acclaimed New Formalist verse translators is English American poet Dick Davis. Davis lived in Iran during the reign of the last Shah, taught English at the University of Tehran, and married an Iranian woman, Afkham Darbandi, in 1974. After the Islamic Revolution turned Dick and Afkham Davis into refugees, he decided to begin translating Persian poetry into English.
In 1984, Davis published a translation, made with his wife's assistance, of Attar of Nishapur's The Conference of Birds. Since then, Davis has published literary translations of a collection of medieval Persian epigrams in 1997, Ferdowsi's The Shahnameh in 2006, and Fakhruddin As'ad Gurgani's Vis and Ramin in 2009.
In 2012, Davis also published Faces of Love: Hafez and the Poets of Shiraz. The book is a collection of verse by the poets of Medieval Shiraz, which was so secular compared to other cities in the Islamic World that Davis compares it with the Venetian Republic during the same period. The collection includes many poetic laments written after the Royal House of Inju was overthrown by Mubariz al-Din Muhammad, an Islamic Fundamentalist, who implemented Sharia Law in Shiraz, closed the wine shops, and forced the women of the city to wear the Chador and be confined indoors unless escorted by a male relative. According to Davis, Mubariz was sarcastically dubbed "The Morals Officer," by the poets and people of Shiraz, who were overjoyed when Mubariz was ultimately overthrown and blinded by his son, Shah Shoja Mozaffari, who reversed his father's Fundamentalist policies.
The three poets Davis translated for the collection are Hafez, "who's without question, the most famous lyric poet in Iranian history," Princess Jahan Malek Khatun, who, "is the only Medieval woman poet whose complete works have come down to us - well over a thousand poems," and Ubayd Zakani, "the most famous obscene poet from Medieval Iran."
Most recently, in 2015, Davis has published a book of translated poetry by Fatemeh Shams, an award-winning Iranian female poet and vocal critic of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Shams, like the Davises, is currently living in exile in the United States.
While being interviewed by William Baer, Davis said, "There's a great 17th century poem by Wentworth Dillon about translation that has the line, 'Choose an author as you choose a friend', and that would be my best advice. Unless you feel a real sympathy for the poet, there's no point in trying to translate his work. You need a certain zeal and eagerness to proselyze - to bring the original work out into the open for other people to appreciate. The translator, also, needs to be a very good reader and truly understand the original. It's undeniable that the translator's voice will always be present in the translation, but you need to keep it as muted as possible."
Of her translations of Frost, Espaillat once said, "...something like The Witch of Coos seems to be written in a kind of New Hampshirese that's very hard to translate into Spanish. It's too idiosyncratic. But I've been pleased with the shorter lyrics I've done. In the past, I've only seen a few translations of Frost into Spanish, and I don't care for any of them. One of them actually translated Frost into free verse, which I don't think is appropriate at all, and I'm sure that Frost was turning in his grave."
According to biographers Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillant, Espaillat, "has also accrued a solid track record as English translator of Spanish and Latin American verse from across diverse historical periods."
From other Latin American countries, Espaillat has translated the poetry of Miguel de Guevara, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Manuel González Prada, Rafael Arévalo Martínez, Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro, and Alfonsina Storni.
During an interview with William Baer, Espaillat said, "I can't imagine a world without translation because we'd have no Bible, no Homer, and no Virgil. All of our libraries would shrink down to a single room. So we desperately need translation, but it's crucial for the translator to face the fact that he's not going to get it all. There are going to be losses, which he should try to keep to a minimum, but he can never flatter himself that he's really bringing the poem into another language because it simply can't be done. I think the translator needs to begin with humility. As far as the actual process goes, I think a translator first needs to understand the poem as much as he can, try to get under the author's skin, and see if he can reconstruct the thought process of the original author. The primary job of the translator is to carry the poem from one language to the other with as little damage as possible. Personally, I enjoy the challenge very much, even though I'm never fully satisfied."
Espaillat continued, "Whenever I speak to Hispanic groups, I tell the young people to make sure they hold onto their Spanish, and keep it clean, and constantly increase their vocabulary, just as they're doing with English. Then I encourage them and say, 'Now, since you know two languages, for heaven's sake, translate! We need you! Both languages need you to bridge the gap.'"
Robert McPhillips has praised his translations of the complete poems of Catullus, for Martin's, "prosodic skill in rendering the Latin hendecasyllabic line to English, and for preserving his colloquial vulgarity in contemporary American idiom."
Martin has also produced literary translations of the sonnets of Giuseppe Gioachino Belli, a 19th-century poet from the Papal States, who wrote, "over twenty-seven hundred sonnets, and all of them are about the people of Rome, all written in different voices... It's a kind of polyphonic symphony of sonnets about Rome and the people of Rome. But he's not easy to translate because he wrote in a Roman dialect."
Poet David Middleton has translated several Latin language poems by Samuel Johnson. During an interview with William Baer, Middleton recalled, "I'd studied Latin in graduate school at L.S.U., and when R.S. Barth decided to do a small anthology of Johnson's Latin poetry in English translations, I was glad to translate a few of his poems. It's clear that Johnson put many of his deepest feelings in his Latin verses, and in one of those poems, On Recovering the Use of His Eyes, he relates his profound gratitude to God for curing him of an eye ailment, which was quite terrible, and which the poet believed might lead to blindness. It's also about using one's personal 'gifts', and I often close my poetry readings with that poem. Johnson is clearly saying to God, 'You've given me a gift to be a writer, and I want to be able to realize that gift, and I thank you for giving me my eyesight back.' It's like a happier version of Milton's famous sonnet about his blindness. He's saying that all such gifts come from heaven, and I end my poetry readings by reminding the audience, especially the young students, that they all have specially gifts that they should pursue, whether they're religious or not."
American poet A.E. Stallings, who is well known for her imaginative retellings of stories from Greek Mythology, has also translated poetry from both Greek and Latin. In 2007, she published a verse translation of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (The Nature of Things) and in 2018, a verse translation of Hesiod's Works and Days, both through Penguin Classics. Stallings' translation of the The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, an ancient Greek mock epic and parody of Homer's Iliad, was published by Paul Dry Books in 2019.
In an interview, William Baer asked Anglo-African poet Frederick Turner about his 1992 collection of translated poems by Miklós Radnóti, a Hungarian Jewish poet, convert to Roman Catholicism, and critic of the Arrow Cross Party, who was murdered by the Royal Hungarian Army during the Holocaust.
Turner responded, "One day, one of Radnóti's friends saw him on the streets of Budapest, and the poet was mumbling something like, 'Du-duh-du-duh-du-duh,' and his friend said, 'Don't you understand?! Hitler is invading Poland!' And Radnóti supposedly answered, 'Yes, but this is the only thing I have to fight with.' As his poetry makes clear, Radnóti believed that Fascism was the destruction of order. It both destroyed and vulgarized civil society. It was as if you wanted to create an ideal cat, so you took your cat, killed it, removed its flesh, put it into some kind of mold, and then pressed it into the shape of a cat. That's what Fascism does, and that's what Communism does. They both destroy an intricate social order to set up a criminally simple-minded order."
About his work alongside his co-translator Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, Turner said, "Well, we made an agreement right from the start that we would maintain the Hungarian formats. We also wanted to capture the sound of the Hungarian, which is quite unusual. Fortunately, Hungarian poets use a lot of meters and forms that we also use. Iambs and sonnets, for example, but the language has many more trochees and dactyls, and the Hungarians often combine the two rhythms in fascinating ways, and ways that work extremely well in English. As George Steiner once said, Hungarian poems shouldn't sound like American poems. So we worked hard to create the Hungarian sounds."
When asked about his translations of Chinese poetry, particularly poems dating from the Tang Dynasty, Turner commented, "That was quite a bit more difficult, but eventually I realized that the Chinese syllable is roughly equivalent to two syllables in English, and that made things much easier. Chinese poetry needs to be recited much slower than English poetry, and when a line of Chinese poetry has five syllables, it will probably take ten syllables to render it into English. Whenever I translate, whether from the Hungarian or the Chinese, I always listen to the poem recited first. Then I write a 'score' for the poem, marking stresses, and the rhyme scheme, and the cadence, and so forth."
Love and erotic poetryEdit
During an interview, William Baer asked English-American poet Dick Davis about the many love poems addressed to Davis' wife, Afkham Darbandi. Davis replied, "It's often occurred to me that there are so few poems that celebrate love within a marriage. It's been suggested that Petrarch would never have written all this sonnets to Laura if he'd slept with her. But marriage exists all over the world, and it's very real for many people. It's not some fantasy or illusion, and it's something I've always wanted to write about. As for my children, they're immensely important to me. You certainly don't want to burden them with your emotions; but, on the other hand, the emotions are still there, and I've tried to write about it. I must admit that I find those poems very hard to write, much more difficult than writing poems about my wife."
In addition to translating an Ancient Roman poetic drama by Seneca the Younger, Dana Gioia has also published the opera libretto Nosferatu, which is based upon the 1922 silent movie of the same name. Gioia's script was intended to be, "a libretto that could work as a poetic tragedy on the page and as a musical drama on stage. I believe that the libretto is one of the great unrealized poetic genres in the English language."
Gioia has also written the libretto for the, "long, phantasmagoric, one-act opera", Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast, "which contains four levels of language - prose, doggerel, Latin, and Italian language."
While interviewing poet Dick Davis, William Baer mentioned the, "powerful spiritual resonance," in many of Davis' poems, as well as several of his poems are, "about specifically religious subjects," such as Maximilian Kolbe, Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son, A Christmas Poem, and others.
Davis replied, "Spirituality has always been very difficult for me, and I think I'm an Atheist. On the other hand, I'm very sympathetic to religious emotion. If I'd lived in the Middle Ages, I probably would have been a monk. I would have been a very bad monk because I would have been tormented by lots of non-monkish desires. But I'm very drawn to spirituality, and I'm very drawn to those people who live a truly spiritual life. Having said that, I'm often very revolted by the way in which most religions are actually practiced in the world. I've lived in the Middle East, and I've seen the damage that religious sectarianism can do. I'm not picking on any particular religion, but I feel, overall, that they often do more harm than good. So I feel very conflicted about organized religion, but I must admit that there's some religious art, both visual and musical, but especially musical, that takes away my will to resist it. There are particular pieces of Christian music that are so moving that I find myself assenting to their spirituality while I'm listening to the music. I suppose I tend to think of my religious feelings as kind of an 'evening' thing. At the end of the day, you often allow it. But when you wake up in the morning and the sunlight comes in, you think, 'Oh, that can't be true.' But later, when the evening comes, you're ready for it once again. I also have the feeling that the same thing might happen in the 'evening' of life."
According to William Baer, "...religion is a subject that many contemporary poets shy away from." He added, however, that, "some of the best Christian verse of recent times," has been written by poet David Middleton.
Middleton, a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, was raised as a Southern Baptist. He recalls, "The best part about my Southern Baptist upbringing was learning the King James Bible and my many years of close Bible study. This is, of course, crucial for anyone interested in literature, whether he or she's a person of faith or not, since, if you don't know the Bible thoroughly, you won't understand much of the literature of the Western tradition."
Middleton added, however, that he, "went through a long period of not attending church and not necessarily being a person of faith." He explained that this was because he, "no longer appreciated other aspects of the Southern Baptist denomination - such as the great emphasis on guilt - and, as a result, I lapsed from the church and my faith."
Middleton added, however that before the birth of their daughter, Anna, "Francine and I felt that we had to raise her in a Christian church, whatever my doubts might have been. I didn't want her growing up in a community where everybody went to church and where she wouldn't even have the opportunity to decide for herself. Eventually, my wife and I decided to come back to the church as traditional, conservative, High-Church Anglicans. I did want to get all those adjectives in there because I feel less comfortable with many of the current teachings of the Episcopal Church than I do with Anglicanism as it was known and practiced by persons such as George Herbert, Samuel Johnson, C.S. Lewis, and T.S. Eliot, different as they are from one another in some ways (and not all of them Anglo-Catholics). So it was fatherhood that really brought me back to religion, and it also led me to shift from my previous Liberal/Moderate perspective on things to a more Conservative one."
Middleton, who lives in Thibodaux, Louisiana, has published three full length collections, The Burning Fields in 1991, Beyond the Chandeleurs in 1999, and the Habitual Peacefulness of Grouchy: Poems after Pictures by Jean-François Millet, in 2005. All were published by Louisiana University Press. As of 2016, Middleton was also the poetry editor at Modern Age and The Classical Outlook, and had previously served in the same position at The Louisiana English Journal and The Anglican Theological Review.
When asked about his own religious poetry, poet and scientist Frederick Turner said, "In the 20th century, it became more and more frowned on to advertise your religious views. Partly it was a reaction against the 'tolerant hypocrisy' of the Victorian's, but the primary reason, of course, was the intellectual fashion of the death of God. You really couldn't be a respectable thinker unless you made an act of faith that there is nothing but matter in the world. We now know,of course, from countless scientific discoveries, that matter itself has a relatively late appearance in the universe, and if the universe looks like anything,it looks like a gigantic thought, which Eddington claimed a long time ago. The best metaphor for the universe is not a gigantic machine, but rather a thought, which from a theological point of view is perfectly reasonable. But there's still a lot of pressure to conform in the arts and academia, and it also has professional ramifications. People could certainly lose their jobs for expressing themselves like Hopkins, Dickinson, or Milton - or they wouldn't get those jobs in the first place."
According to Robert McPhillips, the New Formalist movement has led to a revival of satirical verse, which is a subject few literary scholars have ever studied.
Thomas M. DischEdit
One of the most prominent satirists of the movement was outspoken Atheist, LGBT poet, and science fiction novelist Thomas M. Disch. Disch, a native of Iowa, grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and, beginning in the 1950s, spent his life in Manhattan. Writing in 2006, Robert McPhillips called Disch, "among the most literate and provocative of living science fiction writers." Of Disch's science fiction and horror writing, McPhillips commented, "All three of these novels draw, to some extent, upon Disch's Catholic upbringing in the Midwest, one that he looks on with loathing as a lapsed gay Catholic living in a more cosmopolitan environment." McPhillips added that even though Disch's poetry was, "for a long time known only to a small group British and American readers," he added that it was enough by itself to, "establish Disch as a first rate literary talent."
McPhillips writes that Disch's poetry collections include satires of the tedium of reading Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and the, "decidedly politically incorrect The Rapist's Villanelle (reminding us how savage satire can be); as well as more personal lyric satires Entropic Villanelle and the self-deifying Ballade of the New God."
Furthermore, in his poem Ritin: A Manifesto, Disch satirizes the verse and poetic idiom of English-Canadian poet Robert W. Service, while also defending Service against the attacks of tenured professors who prefer, "more elitist poetry," in the mold of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.
Robert McPhillips writes, "Tom Disch's black and mordant voice comes closest to satire's scathing Roman models. He exposes without forgiving human vices and imperfections."
R. S. GwynnEdit
R.S. Gwynn, who was born in North Carolina in 1948, is described by Robert McPhillips as, "a critic of integrity, conversant with the entire range of contemporary American poetry (as well as a thorough grounding in the history of English and American poetry and prosody), who deflates the reputations of overrated poets, but, more importantly, praises the virtues of poets whose mastery of their craft has often not been significantly recognized by the poetic establishment."
Dana Gioia has written of The Narcissiad, "Formal and satiric, this mock epic in heroic couplets pilloried the excesses of contemporary American poetry by recounting the adventures of Narcissicus, an ambitious but talentless poet. In Gwynn's mercilessly satiric tale American poets simultaneously realize that to achieve artistic fame in the overcrowded field of contemporary verse they must kill all competitors. After a series of outrageous comic battles fought by recognizable caricatures of fashionable American poets, Narcissus ineptly triumphs. Gwynn's irreverent poem cannot have pleased the irreverent targets of his humor, but it enjoyed a lively underground life and has been repeatedly reprinted."
Gwynn has also published The Drive-In, in 1986, one quarter of the anthology Four Texas Poets in Concert in 1990, two collections of satirical poetry, and No Word of Farewell in 2001.
According to McPhillips, "In Gwynn's poems, lyric, narrative, and satiric impulses are often combined. Gwynn's greatest poetic strength is in pointing out the sublime absurdities of contemporary American life. His poetic eye focuses on the foibles of middle-brow often Southern blue-collar culture, with compassion underlying his satiric bite."
According to McPhillips, Gwynn's, "most representative poem," is Among Philistines, "which updates the story of Samson and Delilah for our sex- and celebrity-obsessed age." The story is told from the perspective of Samson after his hair has been cut off, his great strength destroyed, and after he has been enslaved by the Philistines. McPhillips comments, "The Biblical story is narrated in the low style of contemporary American public speech, a combination of obscenity, tabloid-speak, advertising jargon, Yiddish. This language satirically contrasts not only with its Biblical source in Judges 13-16, but to the heightened style of John Milton's tragic drama Samson Agonistes. The contrast among these styles at once hilights the vulgarity of contemporary American culture - calling explicit nature to its philistinism - as it presents a sympathetic view of Samson as a man who transcends as he laments the image that the media -- embodied by the gossip columnist 'Miss Sleaze' - presents of him."
According to Robert McPhillips, "R.S. Gwynn's satire, like much of traditional British wit, points out the foibles of contemporary society to make serious moral points. Although his poetry has darkened in recent years, as death has become a major theme of Gwynn's, his work retains an amiable humanity."
Charles Martin, who was born in 1942 into an Irish- and German-American family in The Bronx, attended Catholic school before continuing his education at Fordham University and the State University of New York at Buffalo. Martin became a satirical poet through the influence of Catullus, whose complete poems he has translated from Latin into English.
Like Catullus, Martin's satires combine subjectivity, irony, and eroticism. Martin often contrasts the sexual free-for-all that existed in the Pagan Roman Empire with the alleged sexual repression of Victorian and early 20th century American culture.
Robert McPhillips concludes, "Charles Martin's gentle and inclusive satire unravels the contradictions and duplicities of perception. Whether writing about high culture or family life, he tries to create a deeper understanding of moral existence."
By the end of the 20th century, poems in traditional forms were once again being published more widely, and the new formalist movement per se was winding down. Since then, the effects of new formalism have been observed in the broader domain of general poetry; a survey of successive editions of various general anthologies showed an increase in the number of villanelles included in the post-mid-'80s editions. The publication of books concerned with poetic form has also increased. Lewis Turco's Book of Forms from 1968 was revised and reissued in 1986 under the title 'New Book of Forms. Alfred Corn's The Poem's Heartbeat, Mary Oliver's Rules of the Dance, and Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled are other examples of this trend. The widely used anthology An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art (University of Michigan Press, 2002), edited by Annie Finch and Kathrine Varnes, defines formalist poetry as a form on a par with experimental, free verse, and even prose poetry.
New Formalist canonEdit
The 2004 West Chester Conference had a by-invitation-only critical seminar on 'Defining the Canon of New Formalism', in which the following anthologies were discussed:
- Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism edited by Mark Jarman and David Mason, 1996.
- The Direction of Poetry: An Anthology of Rhymed and Metered Verse Written in the English Language since 1975, edited by Robert Richman
- A Formal Feeling Comes: Poems in Form by Contemporary Women, edited by Annie Finch, 1993
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction: Expanded Edition, Textos Books. Page xiii.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, Textos Books. Page xv.
- Jay Parini (2004), Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature, Volume 3, page 251.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, Writer's Digest Books. Page 236.
- Crosby, Peter R (2000). "Postmodernist Poetry: a Movement or an Indulgence? (A Study of Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton": 1–14 – via Academia.edu. Cite journal requires
- Ousby 1998, pp 89
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, Writer's Digest Books. Pages 236-237.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, Writer's Digest Books. Page 237.
- The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics E. P. Dutton & Company, New York, 1968. A few years later Turco published a college textbook which presented poetry from the writer's perspective and emphasized the use of formal elements, this was Poetry: An Introduction through Writing, Reston Publishing Co, 1973. ISBN 0-87909-637-3
- Norman Thomas di Giovanni and Frank MacShane (1973), Borges on Writing, The Echo Press. Pages 5-11.
- Norman Thomas di Giovanni and Frank MacShane (1973), Borges on Writing, The Echo Press. Pages 69-70.
- Norman Thomas di Giovanni and Frank MacShane (1973), Borges on Writing, The Echo Press. Page 74.
- Norman Thomas di Giovanni and Frank MacShane (1973), Borges on Writing, The Echo Press. Pages 74-75.
- Norman Thomas di Giovanni and Frank MacShane (1973), Borges on Writing, The Echo Press. Page 75.
- Robert Bagg and Mary Bagg (2017), Let Us Watch Richard Wilbur: A Biographical Study, University of Massachusetts Press. Page 198.
- Jay Parini (2004), The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature, Volume 3, page 251.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, Writer's Digest Books. Page 238.
- The Year in Poetry was contributed by Lewis Turco from 1983 to 1986.
- for example, see Salmagundi 65 (1984) with Mary Kinzie's piece "The Rhapsodic Fallacy," (pages 63 – 79) and various responses; Alan Shapiro's piece "The New Formalism," in Critical Inquiry 14.1 (1987) pages 200 – 13; and David Wojahn's "'Yes, But ...': Some Thoughts on the New Formalism," in Crazyhorse 32 (1987) pages 64 – 81.
- Thompson, Nigel S., 'Form and Function,' P. N. Review, 154; the Associated Writing Programs article was written by Ariel Dawson
- Lake, Paul, 'Expansive Poetry in the New Millennium', a talk delivered at the West Chester Poetry Conference on 10 June 1999.
- Jay Parini (2004), The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature, Volume 3, page 252.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Page 192.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, pages 192-193.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 193.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, pages 3-4.
- Diane Wakoski, The New Conservatism in American Poetry, The American Book Review, May–June 1986.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, pages 3-4.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, page 4.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, page 4.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, pages 4-5.
- James Matthew Wilson (2016), The Fortunes of Poetry in an Age of Unmaking, Wiseblood Books. Pages 95-96.
- Robert McPhillips (2005), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction: Expanded Edition, Textos Books. Page xi.
- Robert McPhillips (2005), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction: Expanded Edition, Textos Books. Page xi-xii.
- Robert McPhillips (2005), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction: Expanded Edition, Textos Books. Page xii.
- Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Forms edited by Philip Dacey and David Jauss
- Dana Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture, Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Pages 29-30.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page x.
- Ira Sadoff: Neo-Formalism: A Dangerous Nostalgia, The American Poetry Review, January/February 1990.
- Dana Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture, Graywolf Press. Pages 1-20.
- Dana Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture, Graywolf Press. Pages 20-21.
- Dana Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture, Graywolf Press. Pages xi-xii.
- R.S. Gwynn (1999), New Expansive Poetry, page 167.
- R.S. Gwynn (1999), New Expansive Poetry, pages 169170.
- R.S. Gwynn (1999), New Expansive Poetry, pages 171.
- R.S. Gwynn (1999), New Expansive Poetry, page 177.
- Peter Russell (1994), Dana Gioia and the New Formalism, in The Edge City Review #2 (Reston, Virginia). Pages 13-14.
- Peter Russell (1994), Dana Gioia and the New Formalism, in The Edge City Review #2 (Reston, Virginia). Page 14.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, pages 57-58.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 58.
- Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillant (2018), The Once and Future Muse: The Poetry and Poetics of Rhina P. Espaillat University of Pittsburgh Press. Pages 83-84.
- Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillant (2018), The Once and Future Muse: The Poetry and Poetics of Rhina P. Espaillat University of Pittsburgh Press. Pages 84-85.
- R.S. Gwynn (1999), New Expansive Poetry, pages 15-27.
- R.S. Gwynn (1999), New Expansive Poetry, pages 86-119.
- R.S. Gwynn (1999), New Expansive Poetry, pages 148-156.
- R.S. Gwynn (1999), New Expansive Poetry, pages 167-187.
- R.S. Gwynn (1999), New Expansive Poetry, pages 188-251.
- A Negative Freedom: Thirteen Poets on Formal Verse by Patrick Kurp, LA Review of Books, October 26, 2017.
- Five Poems at The New Formalist
- Four Poems at The New Formalist
- N. S. Thompson, 'Form and Function,' P. N. Review, 154.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, Textos Books. Page xiii-xiv.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, pages 18-206.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, page 237.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, pages 226-232.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, page 232.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, pages 232-233.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, page 233.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, page 234.
- William Baer (2006), Writing Metrical Poetry: Contemporary Lessons for Mastering Traditional Forms, page 235.
- Why No One Wants to be a New Formalist by A.E. Stallings.
- Afro-Formalism by A.E. Stallings
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Pages x-xi.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 195.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 196.
- Dana Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture, Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Page 35.
- Dana Gioia (2002), Can Poetry Matter? Essays on Poetry and American Culture, Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Page 153.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, pages 231-275.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Pages 273-274.
- Fatemeh Shams translations by Dick Davis.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Page 270.
- Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillant (2018), The Once and Future Muse: The Poetry and Poetics of Rhina P. Espaillat, University of Pittsburgh Press. Pages 86-87.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 296.
- Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillant (2018), The Once and Future Muse: The Poetry and Poetics of Rhina P. Espaillat, University of Pittsburgh Press. Page 87.
- Nancy Kang and Silvio Torres-Saillant (2018), The Once and Future Muse: The Poetry and Poetics of Rhina P. Espaillat, University of Pittsburgh Press. Pages 88.
- Rhina Espaillat's translations of Alfonsina Storni
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 295.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 60.
- The Poetry Foundation > Poets > Rachel Hadas Biography
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, pages 155-156.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, page 105.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Pages 244-245.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 200.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, pages 200-201.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 201.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 201-202.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Page 266.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Page 263.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Pages 265-266.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Page 244.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Page 227.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Pages 237-238.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Page 237.
- William Baer (2016) Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, Measure Press. Page 238.
- William Baer (2016), Thirteen on Form: Conversations with Poets, page 197.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, page 89.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, pages 89-90.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, page 91.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, pages 93-95.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, page 90-93.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, pages 97-98.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, Textos Books. Page 112.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, Textos Books. Pages 98-99.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, Textos Books. Page 98.
- Dana Gioia (2004), Twentieth Century American Poetry, page 962.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, Textos Books. Page 98.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, Textos Books. Page 99.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, pages 104-105.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, pages 105-112.
- Robert McPhillips (2006), The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, page 112.
- French, Amanda Lowry, Refrain, Again: The Return of the Villanelle, a doctoral dissertation, August 2004, page 13. Archived July 21, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
- Schneider, Steven, 'Defining the Canon of New Formalist Poetry', Poetry Matters: The Poetry Center Newsletter, West Chester University. Number 2. February 2005
- Levinson, Marjorie, What Is New Formalism?, In: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, Volume 122, Number 2, March 2007, pp. 558–569
- McPhillips, Robert, The New Formalism: A Critical Introduction, expanded edition 2005, Textos Books, Ohio ISBN 1-932339-68-X.
- Waniek, Marilyn Nelson (1995). "Owning the Masters". The Gettysburg Review. Archived from the original on November 22, 2017. Retrieved November 22, 2017.
- Stallings, A.E. (April 21, 2010). "Afro-formalism". The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved November 21, 2017.