This entry probably delivers less than it promises, as it’s not really my take on New Formalism, New Narrative, Expansivism, and the various closely related movements that seem damn near indistinguishable for those of us who were children in the 1980s. Rather, it’s about this stupid fucking tendency of so many reviewers to make a big goddamn deal out of “formalism” every time that a book that deploys meter and rhyme is under review. (This is especially true in the United States–the Irish are generally saner.) While the decision as to whether or not to use meter, rhyme, and all the rest is, of course, an important one–and prosody should be on the table when reviewing–one too often gets the sense that each book of American metrical poetry that comes out is somehow a barometer on the use of meter in poetry in general. Which is a bit odd, as metered poetry has been in the norm in Indo-European poetry, at least, for almost three millenia, whereas free verse has come into its current prominence within the last century, which would seem to me to indicate that metrical poetry can be successfully pulled off in multiple epochs.
But even still, one finds, in way too many reviews, an apparently almost unstoppable need to waffle on about the efficacy of “traditional” prosody–from whatever perspective. This blog takes the position that making too big a goddamn deal out of prosody qua prosody shortchanges the poets. There are technically brilliant collections that are boring as hell, though I have yet to read a prosodically impoverished collection that was any good. (There’s a lot of prosody in good free verse.) If a collection is filled with sonnets, yes, the reviewer should note the fact, as well as evaluate if the author knows what he/she is doing with the sonnet. But we’ve had enough referendums on the sonnet to be spared another one.