Prosody: Alternative Histories


What are the historical stakes of prosody, and why should we ask? ‘Prosody’ refers both to the patterning of language in poetry and to the formal study of that patterning.

Reduced to Rhyme: Contemporary Doggerel
David Caplan

Hip hop suggests that doggerel can achieve a surprising flexibility, ranging from the comic to the serious, from the delicate to the vulgar. It would be a mistake, though, to say the technique determines the result. 

Verse Scored Free: Scansion, Recording, Notation
David Nowell Smith

The epistemological problems of the score, notably concerning the relation between the body that produces the sound, and the body that notates the sound, is bound up with an even broader epistemological problem, namely—how do we conceive of linguistic sound as a whole? 

Metricalness and Rhythmicalness: What Our Ear Tells Our Mind
Reuven Tsur

Tsur suggests that a reader’s rhythmical performance of complex lines (i.e., lines in which the linguistic pattern and the versification pattern diverge) may be regarded as a problem-solving activity that makes the conflicting patterns perceptible.

Global Englishes, Rhyme, and Rap: A Meditation Upon Shifts in Rhythm
Natalie Gerber

This essay considers how the Somali-born hip-hop artist K’naan occasionally uses rhymes that embody a slight but perceptually noticeable shift in the rhythms of global Englishes. Our verse prosody is being reshaped by the rhythmic contours of speakers who bring the prosody of their first language to bear upon their rhythmicization of English. This is no matter of local or virtuosic performance but a structural shift in the texture of our language.

"Imperfectly Civilized": Ballads, Nations, and Histories of Form
Meredith Martin

Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Lays of Ancient Rome—his 1842 collection of poems written as if they were lost Roman ballads—are all but absent in our current understanding of the Victorian era. This essay explores what is at stake in such a critical erasure and shows why and how these erasures have shaped our contemporary understanding of poetic form.

The Science of Prosody, Circa 1677
Courtney Weiss Smith

Over sixty years ago, Paul Fussell argued that “the history of prosody is . . . inseparable from the history of ideas.” I want to make a case for taking this claim seriously as a way of understanding the relationships between prosody and science—a case, indeed, for taking this claim further than Fussell himself did.

After Scansion: Visualizing, Deforming, and Listening to Poetic Prosody
Marit MacArthur and Lee Miller

Scansion, for generations of American students, has been the dominant method of studying prosody in poetry. How and why did this happen? What if scansion had never become dominant? What alternative methods for understanding poetic prosody have been passed over?

Before Prosody: Early English Poetics in Practice and Theory
Eric Weiskott

The purpose of the essay is to offer medieval English poetry as a case in point for historical poetics, bringing a different literary archive to bear on the methodological debate. Medieval English poets practiced literary form at a time when vernacular poetics had not yet become an academic subject or a sustained cultural discourse. Through three case studies from the alliterative tradition, this essay seeks to demonstrate what is distinctive about the cultural work of early English poetics.

Juliana Spahr

I have never really understood prosody. It has always felt like some sort of coded speech that only those who were well trained in the tradition understood. It felt for many years as if there were some who had prosody so deep in their blood that even when they were merely two cells, it beat within those two cells and then as their cells divided, the understanding was built into their body cell by cell and then it came to define how their heart beat. My heart seemed to beat otherwise.

How to Find Rhythm on a Piece of Paper
Thomas Cable
Wimsatt and Beardsley’s essay illustrated what was once again a central rift in English prosody of the past two centuries, between timers and stressers.

My Colloquies are shareables: Curate personal collections of blog posts, book chapters, videos, and journal articles and share them with colleagues, students, and friends.

My Colloquies are open-ended: Develop a Colloquy into a course reader, use a Colloquy as a research guide, or invite participants to join you in a conversation around a Colloquy topic.

My Colloquies are evolving: Once you have created a Colloquy, you can continue adding to it as you browse Arcade.