Friday, February 10, 2023

Re:Pulse – on pulse and Richard Andrews’ A Prosody of Free Verse: Explorations in Rhythm

Re:Pulse – on pulse and Richard Andrews’ A Prosody of Free Verse: Explorations in Rhythm (New York, Oxford: Routledge, 2017). More about the author here: Richard Andrews

Re-pulse. I’ve not thought a lot formally about rhythm since writing ‘Pulse’. (This is a ‘treatise on metre’, or rather, on rhythm, and I write about it here: an excerpt appears in Tentacular here: (I am hoping that someone will publish the whole of ‘Pulse’ at some point.)

Richard Andrews’ A Prosody of Free Verse brought me back to the subject, but didn’t convince me that I was wrong. It didn’t convince me that he was wrong, either, though I wasn’t convinced by his attempts to draw in several other ‘rhythmic’ disciplines, though he does consider ‘groove’ by the end (but not in the way Tiger Roholt managed it; my ‘Pulse’ is a writing-through of Roholt’s book Groove, an odd method, I know). The more specific he becomes, the less useful it seems. He elaborates elaborate schema for parsing rhythmic contours, and then suggests there’s little point in extensively using them. (He often gestures to areas of ‘further study’, indeed, there's a later book.) He seems to be describing a kind of well-behaved free verse very different from my own (or Lee Harwood’s, or Roy Fisher’s, or Maurice Scully’s, etc.).


To fill it an allograph


Of utter utterance

Caught through the aperture


Of belonging longing

To think a moon


Pressing close to kiss the earth


Rhythm, as in free verse, is additive, he tells us, which is fundamental to his thesis.


… event-sized shapes, both men in front,

loose ties around hot necks, the next clouds’


black rims fringed with greying and blueing,

she slows to light her cigarette, laconic,


steps to a kerb, leather bag over her

shoulder, it slaps her thigh, reminds her,


somewhere inside this body I’m happy, yes, she

walks across the ceiling with her red hair …


‘The opening line or lines of a free verse poem can set the template via which subsequent lines position themselves, both aurally and/or visually … one line provides the ground for the next, one strophe for the next, and so on…’ (a ‘so on’ that can include the super-cadences (my term, made up on the spot) of whole books, Pound, Whitman…) – ‘with the reverse operation that subsequent lines reflect back on the opening lines or strophes’. (68) Another good thing about this attempt is its refusal of traditional metrics to account for any of the rhythmic effects of what really happens in a free verse poem.


walks across the ceiling with her red hair,


negotiating reefs of felt under window clouds,

climbs the ringed bark


into a sky of river,

cools her wrinkled feet


Andrews writes of ‘pulse’ slightly differently from me: ‘Pulses are crucial in that they provide periodic markers; they establish anticipation and predictability’. (68) I’ve used Abrahams’ phenomenological readings of ‘anticipatory’ consciousness a little like this. (See page 3 of the online excerpt: ‘has a foundational and often unheard or invisible function in free verse’. (69) Pulses ‘are not the same as beats’. (68) (I need to consider this distinction more. Andrews uses the plural often.)


There’s no end to it line-

Break its little one


The dead their own deity it’s

Best to offer tactile thanks


Twitching under

Fingerprinting pulse


‘Turns’, what I call (above) ‘line-/Break(s)’, ‘are more literal than in formal, metrical, verse. (104). They are ‘part of the form’ (104), ‘the turn is more significant because the articulation required is multifunctional. It joins two rhythmic phrases together (they are ‘articulated’) and also signals a shift that is, at the same time, rhythmic and syntactic’. (104)


– To think with particular and

Articular interruptions


Never to unthink skinned-in

Ecstasies in the poem that


Sees the world as well

As itself


I find his use of ‘turns’ suggestive, but we mustn’t think of this too closely as actual ‘turns’ (whether we relate it to dance, as Andrews does, or not).


To think through

The tune of the thing


Andrews’ use of Lanham’s ‘economics of attention’ – ‘it takes more attention to respond to free verse because the rhythmic framework is not “given”’ – is also suggestive (the telling adjective of my response). ‘If’ – note! – ‘the additive model is accepted … the reader or listener has to hold each line in isolation to those that follow and precede it’ etc (184). Thus the attention has to be greater, ‘getting to the heart of the creative compositional process’. (185)


To shiver with joy drive

Pattern against violence


The theory is ‘multimodal’, and the future is ‘to recognize how gesture, movement, choreography, music, sound and other modes are embodied in the ostensibly two-dimensional nature of the poem on the printed page … to show not only how the various modes (and their rhythmic impulses) inform the words on the page but how the words on the page evoke those very same modal dimensions.’ (186) Andrews looks as if he’s about to launch into speculations about hypertext but he brings it back to the page (or simple screen). (These final pages will bear some re-reading.)


Spectral email template

Pre-addressed to the dead one


One final plea: ‘A new prosody or multimodal notational system for rhythm can open up possibilities for poets, enabling them to see connections and affordances of which they were previously unaware.’ (192) It seems to me we should imagine such a system, assume the possibilities, and create connections and affordances that then may be seen – but possibly not measured. (I never use the term ‘free verse’ unless I can help it; ‘non-metrical’ verse at a pinch; ‘poem’ ordinarily of verse and (much) prose.)

Prosody as part of a poetics of anticipation (as we anticipate the next pulsation of sound and meaning). (Which is a summary of my Pulse, as well as of much of Andrews' work.)

A couple of times (I’ve lost the page references) Andrews writes of free verse ‘taking form’, which sounds like a gesture towards Derek Attridge’s sense of the literary (although Attridge only appears here as a prosodist). (I’m thinking of what I’ve written here what I have long ago amassed here: Form as a gestural thing, as an active mode of forming in both the acts-events of writing and of reading. And pulse or rhythm is part of that.

NB The excerpts from my poems which interposed themselves as I typed up my response to Andrews from my poetics journal come from ‘Six Poems Against Death’ in Berlin Bursts (and ‘Five Poems Against Death’ in History or Sleep: Selected Poems) See here for both books (and others) :

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