Questions of Possibilitiy

questions of possibility

Questions of Possibilitiy: Contemporary poetry and poetic form
David Caplan
Oxford University Press. 2005. 165 pp.

Why study poetic form? Why write in metrical verse?

Haven’t literary and cultural history already doomed metrical poetry to irrelevance, or at least to political and aesthetic conservatism?

David Caplan, professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan, contends that much of the most vital and interesting contemporary metrical verse shows a voracious curiosity, an openness to seemingly incompatible techniques and procedures.

And contemporary poetry demands catholicity, he writes. Many readers enjoy poetry that literary criticism insists on separating into different groups.

Two reasons in particular recommend the study of metrical poetry, Caplan argues. Poetic form obsesses twentieth- and twenty-first century American poets, and our current understanding of poetic form, especially contemporary metrical verse, remains inadequate.

Caplan focuses on five verse forms to trace the contours of contemporary metrical verse and poetic culture: the sestina, ghazal, love sonnet, heroic couplet, and ballad, including examples of contemporary poets working in each form.

He aims to “move discussion beyond the simple oppositions that often impede discussions of contemporary American verse” by highlighting the interplay between allegedly antagonistic practices, between prosody and “theory,” between “traditional” and “experimental” poetry.

Younger poets, he argues, tend to place different traditions in dialogue, not put them in competition. Instead of manufacturing another “poetry war,” younger poets present themselves as a generation whose “game will become an entire century.”

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