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Before Prosody: Early English Poetics in Practice and Theory

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.

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The Science of Prosody, Circa 1677

Paul Fussell argued that “the history of prosody is . . . inseparable from the history of ideas.” Scholarship examining this relationship has emphasized how science helps explain prosody, but this direction of influence isn’t the only possibility. Weiss Smith aims to tell a story about a moment when the lines of influence reversed—a story about the “science of prosody,” where the of signifies not about or behind but characterized by. She wants to tell a story, that is, about an attempt to use poetry as an instrument of cutting-edge science.

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

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.

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Metricalness and Rhythmicalness: What Our Ear Tells Our Mind

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.

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

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.

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Verse Scored Free: Scansion, Recording, Notation

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? 

Reported speech in the heroic couplet
While Beckett once advised another writer to stop "blazing away at the microcosmic moon," it's sometimes an irresisitible temptation to try to "flush the coverts of the microglot," as J.L. Austin put it (in "A Plea for Excuses"). And why resist it?
Theory of the Lilt
The phenomenon of "swing" has received a lot of attention.  Does it swing or doesn't it?  Today I'd like to consider another quality, which I am going to call the "lilt," a rapid up-and-down motion seen in stride piano and in later forms of jazz as well.  (I'll get to my related consideration of "swing" in a subsequent post.)