Pippa Roberts on Prosody

OK, I’m calming down. Why I should get so het up about standards in poetry I don’t know. Maybe it’s because poetry is, to me, one of the most important things in the world. I don’t care if nobody much sees mine. (Most of it sits on my hard drive, and in notebooks). I’ll only read things if they are at least a decade old. I just love it, because it is beautiful, and I want to see that beauty going on.

I’m all for playing around with forms that have become outdated. I even had a go at writing a few pages of modernised Anglo-Saxon poetry. But iambic pentameter still works in the English language because it is a form that is natural to it. (Anglo-Saxon English must have been very different, with a huge number of unstressed syllables, which are needed by the form.) It is so different that it is like a different language, and that is why – with the best will in the world – it will never work very well with modern English.

We have borrowed a great deal from Welsh poetry now, and I’m all for it. I just don’t think that you have to throw away the baby with the bath water. We have beautiful, serviceable forms, that you can use to write about anything. (One of my first published sonnets was about morning sickness, and it was written in a completely traditional way. It’s in an anthology somewhere, where they were prepared to take a bit of a risk.)

That’s what it’s about. Taking risks. Daring to use old forms in modern ways… Not putting together a lot of slipshod lines that don’t scan at all. It makes you wonder how many excellent poets have been lost. Do let me know if you happen to know any of them….

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