"Notes from Rhyme's Reason: a Guide to English Verse"
John Hollander

John Hollander, Rhyme’s Reason: a Guide to English Verse, 3rd edition (1981; New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2000)

"Since the original edition of this manual twenty years ago, I have noticed that a considerable number of good younger poets are now writing accentual-syllabic (rhymed or blank) or syllabic verse with deep skill, or various modes of free verse that generate their own conventions and rules with the same kind of power that measured verse deploys. This is perhaps because a century-long tradition of great poetry written in free verse can supply models, not for imitation, but – and this is true of all poetic verbal patterns – for creative revision. And yet the preponderance of very bad verse is still the same weak vers libre that has all of the inanity of rhymed greeting-card jingle that was the analogous default-mode of badly written verse in the first half of the twentieth century. Good verse of any sort is nevertheless only half the story of good poetry, whose essential character is what Wallace Stevens called ‘fictive,’ and Robert Frost ‘ulterior,’ or ‘saying one thing and meaning another,’ or what we could simply call not being literal" [emphasis added] p. x

"This is a guide to verse, to the formal structures which are a necessary condition of poetry, but not a sufficient one. The building blocks of poetry itself are elements of fiction -- fable, "image," metaphor -- all the material of the non-literal.The components of verse are like parts of plans by which the materials are built into a structure. The study of rhetoric distinguishes between tropes, or figures of meaning such as metaphor and metonymy, and schemes, or surface patterns of words. Poetry is a matter of trope; and verse of scheme or design. But the blueprints of verse can be used to build things made of literal, or nonpoetic material -- a shopping list or roadside sign can be rhymed -- which is why most verse is not poetry." p. 1

"It is nonetheless common and convenient for most people who don't read carefully to use "poetry" to mean"writing in some kind of verse," and to regeard thereby the design without considering the materials. The most popular verse form in America today — the uqiquitous jingle readers identify with "poetry" even as fifty or sixty years ago, they did anything that rhymed — is:

"... I shall content myself ... with tapping out my self-explaining diagrams and illustrations ..." p. 3

"The schemes and designs to be explored here include: the structures of lines of verse; patterns of rhyme, alliteration, and assonance; schemes of syntax and word order; groups of lines called strophes or stanzas; overall patterns of repetition and variation (refrains, etc.); and larger arrangements of these. Over the centuries, these forms have come at various times to be associated with one or another kind of poetic use — or with what some critics would call a "theme," a "subject" or an occasion. Sonnets, for example, start out by being about a particular philosophic conception of love, and end up in the twentieth century as description of pictures, explanations of myths, or analytic meditations. And yet the later poems in the history of a form's life — when written by the finest poets — are always in some way aware of, and always engage, that history and the burden it puts on originality." pp 3-4. .

"... But it should be remembered that all poetry was originally oral. It was sung or chanted; poetic scheme and musical pattern coincided, or were sometimes identical. Poetic form as we know it is an abstraction from, or residue of, musical form, from which it came to be divorced when writing replaced memory as a way of preserving poetic utterance in narrative, prayer, spell, and the like. The ghost of oral poetry never vanishes, even though the conventions and patterns of writing reach out across time and silence all actual voices." p. 4

"Verse can be organized according to very many metrical systems, depending upon the structure of the language in which the verse is written. The systems relevant to verse in English are:

"Since accentual-syllabism has been so dominant, and so important, during the course of the poetic history of the English language, we will start with it.
   Accentual-syllabic verse is built up of pairs or triads of syllables, alternating or otherwise grouping stressed and unstressed ones. Syllables usually keep their word accent, or the accent they would have in phrases in normal speech. Iambic pentameter, a line pattern made up of five syllable pairs with the first syllable unstressed, can be illustrated by a line which most perfectly conforms to the pattern itself:

or this:

(for a monosyllable, with its preceding article, is accented like a word of two syllables). But actual lines of iambic pentameter, because they can't simply repeat identical pairs of syllables, have individual and particular rhythms which depart from the metrical pattern slightly. It is in this variation that the sound of poetry lives. ..." pp. 5-6

"Most interesting with regard to poetry are the variations -- and almost every line of poetry exhibits them -- that lie between these extremes. Any poem will be cast in one metrical form or another, and after we read three or more lines it will be obvious which of two patterns even the most ambiguous line is a variation of. Frequently, richness and significance of sound depend upon the ear hesitating for a while between patterns; but there is real ambiguity only at the start of a poem." pp. 6-7

John Hollander, Rhyme’s Reason, p. 30

“And finally, a unique kind of rhymed free verse, but of a sort that can only be considered anti-verse: