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The last time I had the privilege of writing Critique Corner, we shared the gift of an amazingly well-crafted sonnet

crown focusing our attention on poetry's most potent sound device: rhyme. This month, with the help of two additional sonnets from Australian poet Norman Kearney, we'll take on the more subtle of the two major sound devices: meter. Why study sonnets to observeand practice for ourselvesrhyme and meter? Because sonnets are built, in general, as three and a half sets of four lines. In this way, they are not at all dissimilar from the structure of an American popular song. Think about it: the average popular tune has two sets of four lines, a breakcalled "the chorus"often two lines, then another set of four lines ending with some sort of repetition of the chorus. A sonnet is an arrangement of similar units. One difference is that, usually, each four-line section in a pop song covers sixteen bars of music, so, four downbeats. Traditionally, in a sonnet, there are five downbeats, as in Kearney's poem, "Meanings". Like the pop song, the sonnet is an exceedingly durable form with a long history and vibrant contemporary usage. As you can imagine, every "rule" of the sonnet has been broken. For example, Kearney's "A Winter's Night" has seven downbeats. Compare the first couplet from each poem and you can hear the difference: So sweet the rose, that opens in the sun, How soft the light, when day is almost done. A winter's day 'tho it be sharp might be a man's delight, When a hard days work is done, it quickly turn to night. Using traditional scansion, which is a way of counting the beats in a line of poetry, here is how the beats would fall: So sweet the rose, that opens in the sun, How soft the light, when day is almost done. A winter's day 'tho it be sharp might be a man's delight, When a hard days work is done, it quickly turn to night. Obviously, there is an intended pattern here. Understanding the pattern this way, the beats don't always fall naturally as shown, do they? They do in the second couplet, but not in the first. Their pattern is actually a little more complex than just stress/unstress. So, for our purposes, I'm going to give the same lines numbers for how I hear their degree of stresses. 1 3 1 3 0 1 3 So sweet the rose, that o 1 3 1 3 0 1 3 How soft the light, when day 1 2 1 3 pens in the sun, 1 2 1 3 is almost done.

See how this slight re-conception of scansion allows us to observe a slightly more nuanced pattern? Making meter is about creating sound patterns. Unmetered writing, such as free verse or prose, can also be analyzed for syllabic stress, but structuring it into pattern is called meter. Here's how Kearney's second couplet in "Meanings" would look if I used the standard system of scansion: Gardenias scent wafts gently on the breeze, And fresh the air across the lapping seas. We have to force a bit at "on" and, depending on your accent, perhaps on "cross". Let's try again with the number system: 1 3 1 Gar den ias 1 3 1 And fresh the 3 2 3 1 2 1 3 scent wafts gent ly on the breeze, 3 2 3 1 3 1 3 air a cross the lapping seas.

The numbered system allows us to give verbs such as "waft", which are rarely unstressed in normal speech, slightly more valence. Since the first syllable of "across" generally receives more stress than a word like "the" or "and", the sounds correspond in the first portion of these lines. What is unfortunate, however, is that the poet relied upon convoluted syntax to achieve his pattern, for example "fresh the air". Such inversions are always noticeable in a poem. They mayas I suspect they are intended to do hereaspire to a charming invocation of archaic syntax, a nod to the sonnet's history, but inversions can also be used to underscore emphasis of meaning or sound. They work well as cadence, for examplethat is, to end a pattern of soundas in Kearney's "These things there are" which signifies the end to his quatrain pattern and launches his final couplet. All of this is to say: inversions always call attention to themselves. Used very strategically in a poem, they can be expressive. Overused, they quickly overpower. Moreover, a great deal of the delight that comes from reading meter is reading it in natural language. With that in mind, I suggest rephrasing more naturally: The freshened air that crosses lapping seas Here's the same line scanned using both systems: The freshened air that crosses lapping seas 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 3 The freshened air that crosses lapping seas

To create a pattern within the couplet, I must return to the previous line using this new, revised, fourth line to guide the revision of the third. The main difference is that there is now an adjectival noun in the fourth. As a result, an article begins the line. The same is true of the first two lines of the four-line set. So: A Gardenia's scent wafts gently on the breeze Would unify the entire first four lines. Alas, however, the pattern no longer coheres without forcing. 1 2 3 1 3 2 3 1 2 1 3 A gard en ia's scent wafts gently on the breeze Perhaps it is possible to adjust: 1 2 3 1 3 0 3 1 A gard en ia's scent, gen tle 1 3 1 3 1 3 1 The freshened air that cros ses 2 1 3 on the breeze 3 1 3 lapping seas

The quatrain is now unified because each line begins with an unstressed article, yet made more interesting by the slight variation of pattern in the third line. The language is natural, unforced, yet still formal and tightly metered. Remember, a simple pattern makes a simple poem. The art of making sound pattern is achieved through its variation. Another way to vary sound pattern in a poem is to work with punctuation. The fifth line of Kearney's "Meanings" is a good example: The gentle touch, when love is said, and felt, Do be careful, though, not to over instruct the reader with punctuation. If, grammatically, no comma belongs in the center of the phrase "The gentle touch, when love is said" (it doesn't), then it doesn't belong there in a poem. Which is not to say that a poet should hesitate to break the rules of grammar for valid expressive reasons. The fourth line of Kearney's "A Winter's Night" is one such lost opportunity:

Original
Brings thoughts anew, and fresh, and keen perhaps ideas of love.

Revision
Brings thoughts anew, and fresh, and keen, perhaps ideas of love. One can also vary meter with punctuation by organizing into sentences of different lengths. End punctuation very much affects the way words are stressed. In the first four-line set of "Meaning" we have two couplets in which line 1 ends with a comma and line 2 with a period. So, in the next set, I am going to look for a way to vary the pattern. For example, if I invert the final two lines, I can combine them into a sentence: Sounds, far away, LIKE distant ringing bells OR songs of birds on blue and cloudless skies. We can even take this farther: The gentle touch, when love is said, and felt, Is like the sounds of distant, ringing bells or songs of birds on blue and cloudless skies. See how the traditional scansion is exactly the same as the first two lines in the poem, and yet the sound is quite different because of the sentence structure? This leaves either the line Sweet kiss of lips, when given in surprise, or some revision of it to either begin or end the four-line set. The line as it currently stands is awkward. The inversion does not highlight an image fresh enough to merit calling attention to itself. Nor does the reader know whether the poet is the kisser or the kissee. One can only guess that a paraphrase using natural language might be: How sweet your lips when giv en in surprise Obviously, the stress here is forced. Perhaps: Oh, sweet the kiss that's gi ven by surprise Or Oh, sweet your lips, gi ven by surprise Using the "Oh" (or just "O", if the poet prefers) retains the same sort of archaic allusion as the inversion without contorting grammar. More importantly, though, the long vowel sound of "by" makes a harder stress in natural language. Since it also rhymes with the final syllable of

"surprise", it offers a nice cadence. To make use of it as a cadence, it is best placed at the end of the four-line set, that is, following the three-line sentence: The gentle touch when love is said, and felt, Is like the sounds of distant ringing bells or songs of birds on blue and cloudless skies. Oh, sweet the kiss that's given by surprise Notice how both the first and fourth lines feature a phrase offset by a comma; this creates another pattern across the four-line group, especially when the other, extraneous, commas are removed. But even the best, most intricate, most sonorous sound pattern ever created will not make a strong poem if the language is not carefully chosen and the images fresh. "A Winter's Night", for example, contains no actual, specific, winter image. Or consider that, within the third fourline set in "Meanings," Kearney re-uses the words "light", "love", "songs" and "air". "Soft" even makes a third appearance. Alas, this is not the strategic use of repetition like those of Changming Yuan as discussed in the April 2011 Critique Corner. If the poet would like to improve this critical weakness in his work, I can suggest some remedies. First of all, use a thesaurus and rhyming dictionary to locate multi-syllabic words, especially those which place the stress on syllables other than the first. Sound patterns which utilize such words contribute greatly to the pleasure of reading them. In addition, two articles previously offered in this Critique Corner series might be of use. In October 2010, we discussed the function of metaphor in two poems, and in March 2011, we demonstrated how to create it using diction families.