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Monday, May 20, 2013

Channeling Richard Wilbur's "Junk"

Do you know this poem by Richard Wilbur, written in Anglo-Saxon accentual-syllabic meter, titled "Junk"? I believe I first came across it about twenty years ago, when I was trying to learn something about poetry while enrolled in the MFA program at the University of Washington. I found that one of the best ways to do that was to go back and read all the poetry textbooks I pushed aside as an undergrad in favor of my plant taxonomy textbooks. Anyway, "Junk" gets anthologized a lot. At first I didn't understand what was going on, never having really grokked Beowulf, but I think it was Shannon Borg (fellow UW student) who helped me to understand, finally, the kenning and the caesura, in a way that I could teach it to others, which I started doing about ten years ago at Bellevue College, but I could never find the right subject for this kind of verse -  I would write ten lines of consonant lines with a break in the middle, but the poem would just die there on the page.

Another student in the UW program at the time, I think it was Allan Nicoletti, pointed out, about form, that the point was having them all in your tool box at the ready, just in case you were in the middle of drafting a poem and realized you were writing a villanelle - I mean, imagine if you hadn't written a dozen or so bad villanelles, read all the best villanelles out there - where would you be?

So last night I looked at some notes from the day before, and I had that moment of recognition: this poem wants to be written in accentual-syllabics! How exciting to know that my twenty or so years of thinking about "Junk" and its predecessors would finally pay off. Here's the draft, but it will go poof in a day or two as I continue to revise and revise.

The Architect of the Inevitable


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