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Modernism's Metronome

Meter and Twentieth-Century Poetics

In the twentieth century, meter became an object of disdain, reimagined as an automated metronome to be transcended by new rhythmic practices of free verse. Yet meter remained in the archives, poems, letters, and pedagogy of modern poets and critics. In Modernism's Metronome, Ben Glaser revisits early twentieth-century poetics to uncover a wide range of metrical practice and theory, upending our inherited story about the "breaking" of meter and rise of free verse.

Glaser argues that diverse poets wrote in meter as a self-conscious residual form or vestige of the poetic past. Meter as vestige resists ideologies of modern form that foreclosed fundamental questions about literary history, identity, and poetry as a genre. This tension is most acute for women and African American poets, as they negotiate literary history through prosody. Revealing the range and intensity of metrical practices and studies of versification, Glaser reorients the modern poetry canon around this historical field of production. Through close readings and scansions grounded in both history and contemporary metrical theory, Glaser attunes modernist studies to the felt limits of aesthetic autonomy and avant-garde form, anxiety about unstable literary publics, and hesitation about the future of poetry criticism. Bringing recent work in historical poetics firmly into the twentieth century, he also establishes the abstraction from meter to rhythm as essential to the idealization of lyric in and after New Criticism.

The book provides new inroads into well-known poets like Frost, Eliot, and Pound, placing them in conversation with poets less known for formal intervention, such as Louise Bogan or James Weldon Johnson. Its sustained explorations of meter as a fraught space for the articulation of race and gender argues for a broad centering of poetry criticism around prosodic ideologies and desires. Addressing recent debates about disciplinary investments in formalism by emphasizing our deafness to historical prosody, Modernism's Metronome will be valuable to teachers of poetry and creative writing who want to convey the value of prosodic analysis through new tools and historical evidence for performing scansion.

About the Author

Ben Glaser is an assistant professor of English at Yale University. He is the coeditor of Critical Rhythm: The Poetics of a Literary Life Form.

Endorsements

"Glaser's very structure contains an argument: we have not been paying proper attention to the writers we know, and the contemporary criticism of modernism—that which considers 'form' to mean only whatever Eliot might say it means—leaves out writers like Teasdale, Douglas Johnson, Bogan, Toomer, Johnson, and Brown. Modernism's Metronome is controversial and field-changing."

- Meredith Martin, Princeton University, author of The Rise and Fall of Meter: Poetry and English National Culture, 1860–1930

"Modernism's Metronome is excellently researched, often scintillating, and written with brio. Glaser has a sensitive ear for verse rhythm and outstanding, at times overpowering, technical prowess. This book is a major asset to modernist studies."

- Josh Epstein, Portland State University, author of Sublime Noise: Musical Culture and the Modernist Writer

"Whether you're interested in modernism or prosody, Modernism's Metronome is a book that must be read. Are we still fighting over iambs in the twenty-first century? Every poet knows that a poem is made of patterned syllables, and Glaser clears the way to our future by examining closely our recent past."

- James Longenbach, University of Rochester, author of The Lyric Now

"Modernism's Metronome powerfully puts to rest the notion that experiments with and against meter mark progress over traditional forms associated—not coincidentally—with women, African Americans, and others deemed 'unsophisticated.' Glaser reads US modernist poets' claims for themselves, and subsequent claims about them, in the context of early twentieth-century literary cultures and soundscapes to reveal the continued stakes of poetic form."

- Anthony Reed, Vanderbilt University, author of Freedom Time: The Poetics and Politics of Black Experimental Writing

"Modernism's Metronome is anything but metronomic. Glaser's exposition of Frost's thoughts on meter is as convincing as the poems themselves. He advances scholarship on James Weldon Johnson's teaching of metrics, gives a healing critique for those who have stubbed their toes on Pound's poems, and brings back the voice of Sterling Brown theorizing about his 'folk iambics.' It's got a beat; you can dance to it."

- Aldon Nielsen, Pennsylvania State University
Johns Hopkins University Press
Hopkins Studies in Modernism
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