Death of a "Formalist" - Blog

Theory of Poetry Blog

Posted by on in Poetry Is
  • Font size: Larger Smaller
  • Hits: 45733
  • Print

Death of a "Formalist"

Today's NY Times has an obituary on Daryl Hine, characterizing him as "an admired poet who adhered to classical themes, complicated formal structures and intricate rhyming patterns to explore themes of philosophy, history and his own sexuality."  The article explains that Hine "wrote more than a dozen books of poetry, using traditional forms like the sestina."  It continues to say that:  "His work . . . often put him out of step with the times, which were more apt to celebrate the raw, free-form work of poets like Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso," and that "Louis Dudek, a literary critic who focused on modern poetry, once described Mr. Hine's poetry as 'a series of extremely recherché, abstract, contrived word forms, containing oblique and ambiguous philosophical essays and meditations.'" 

Most poets and critics today tend to think of poetry as occupying two poles of a spectrum, either the "formalist" style of Hine or the "free verse" style of Ginsberg.  An assumption is made that "modern poetry" embraces the latter style.  People who hold this view are misguided.  The two poles of the spectrum are between "formalists" and the "modern poetry" style of José Garcia Villa.  Free verse is disqualified because, contrary to popular belief for the past half century, it is not poetry, not even verse, and most important is not art.


A biography of Allen Ginsberg found on the Poetry Foundation website at has this to say:  "Ginsberg's early poems were greatly influenced by fellow northern New Jersey resident William Carlos Williams.  Ginsberg recalled being taught . . . that Williams 'was some kind of awkward crude provincial from New Jersey,' but upon talking to Williams about his poetry, Ginsberg 'suddenly realized [that Williams] was hearing with raw ears the sound, pure sound and rhythm--as it was spoken around him, and he was trying to adapt his poetry rhythms out of the actual talk-rhythms he heard rather than metronome or sing-song archaic literary rhythms.'  Ginsberg acted immediately on his sudden understanding.  "I went over my prose writings," he told an interviewer, "and I took out little four-or-five line fragments that were absolutely accurate to somebody's speak-talk-thinking and rearranged them in lines, according to the breath, according to how you'd break it up if you were actually to talk it out, and then I sent 'em over to Williams.  He sent me back a note, almost immediately, and he said 'These are it!  Do you have any more of these?'"

What better admission can you find anywhere that what the poetry world embraces as "modern poetry" is nothing but prose, utilizing the ordinary and everyday language of common speech as appropriate language for poetry rather than the heightened and sensory language of true poetry and utilizing the movement of prose (pausing at the "breath" rather than at the pivot words known to those who have studied the craft of poetic versification)?

The symbol of poetry is Pegasus, the winged horse that flies rather than treading along the ground.  Like Pegasus, true poetry gives the poem and the reader a lift.  A miracle occurs when the lyrical spirit enters the work -- the work is no longer flat, no longer "at street level," rather it takes to the air.  Today's poems not only do not provide that lift; they are off-putting and will be scoffed at by future generations.

If anyone cares about true poetry these days, "Poetry is" is a must-read for it identifies how "modern poetry" differs from both "formalism" and "free verse."  

Vocation: Wall Street Trial Lawyer (Retired)
Avocation: Poetry and Poetics
Studied poetry with Jose Garcia Villa 1970-1997
Writer and Publisher of Poetry


  • Guest
    Ruth bolton Saturday, 25 August 2012

    The art form has my vote every time..
    The eclectic magical mix never leaves one disappointed; only waiting for more!

  • Guest
    an African loving poetry Tuesday, 01 October 2013

    You distinguish here what the modern poetry differs from free verse, I'm eager to know about that. That must be an amazing lecture in the theory of poetry, since as usual we are inclined to confuse the two concepts and take them as identical.
    So eager to see your book come out.

Leave your comment

Guest Tuesday, 20 February 2018