The magic of vestigial metrical features in unmetered poetry

Alfred Corn on stanzas in contemporary poetry:

If we look at unmetered poetry being published now, the last vestige, apparently, of traditional prosody to be given up is regular stanzaic division. It’s often true that contemporary poems with no iambic feet to speak of and lines of varying lengths will nevertheless divide the text into distichs, tercets, or quatrains. It’s as though the poet were suggesting that some basic principle of quantification had been applied to the poem, even in an inaudible one. Without meter we have trouble hearing stanzaic divisions, especially when stanzas have been enjambed. If a poem keeps this vestigial metrical feature, it probably does so in order to invoke the mysterious power of number, which inspires unconscious respect in both poets and their audience. When poems are divided in uniform stanzas, spontaneous utterance is being made to encounter an abstract numerical principle, which lends something like magic or impersonal authority to the text.

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