One odd side effect of the growing interest in formal poetry over the last fifteen years is the continuing divergence of opinion regarding just what form is. In fact, there now seems to be as much if not more disagreement afoot (if you’ll forgive the expression) than there was in the free-verse-dominated 1960s and 1970s. In this day of the iambic triumphant, we still see metrical philosophies ranging from the liberal (i.e., allowing so many substitutions in the line so as to distort the beat), to the conservative (i.e., limiting substitutions so readers never lose that iambic pulse). Paul Valéry’s 1921 remark about the then-mushrooming free verse movement—“Our epoch has seen the birth of almost as many prosodies as it has counted poets”—could at century’s end apply with equal force to the formal poets of today.

I am happy to report that Timothy Steele—from whose new book I took the...


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