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Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Saturday, January 2, 2010


in prose is related to the illusion of fluency. A lot of stylistic revisions I make have the aim of fixing unwanted rhythmic hiccups, interruptions of the flow. Once again, the process of writing (how you achieve that flow) is less important than the product, or having achieved that fluency at the end. Unfortunately, few of us are fluent writers in early drafts.

Take that paragraph above, which is basically written on the fly. It's fine for a blog post, but wouldn't really cut it in one of my books. Almost no prose is as well-written rhythmically as poetry. That would be an impossible standard. Of course most poetry doesn't achieve that standard either.

I'm writing something in Spanish now to give as a talk later this month. The rhythm of Spanish prose is quite different because the information structure of sentences is more flexible and sentences tend to be longer, with more seemingly unimportant material in the beginning of sentences, so this makes me conscious of having to achieve a different sort of flow in my writing.


Vance Maverick said...

I like your variation on Pound's dictum: poetry should be as well-written as poetry.

I would have said that prose rhythm is distinct from poetic rhythm, and that syllabic or stress rhythm, which is often the part of poetic rhythm to which we pay most attention, is less important in prose than the "harmonic rhythm" you refer to in your last paragraph; but now you've sown a seed of doubt.

Andrew Shields said...

It would be interesting to return to this post (if you like) to show how a "paragraph written on the fly" is rhythmically unsatisfactorily.