Ed Gein Becoming: Or, How To Write A Great Poem In An Hour

Photograph of Ed GeinAlmost 20 years ago, Dan Schneider of Cosmoetica was filmed doing something novel: writing a great poem in just a bit over an hour, with a running commentary not only on the process, itself, but why certain choices are made over others, and how this might apply to writing as a whole. The poem, “Ed Gein Becoming”, and the video which engendered it, is something I could have used when first learning my own craft. I’d often read biographies, famous poets’ notebooks, and anything else, really, that might have offered a glimpse into the creative process, mostly due to ignorance over whether I was doing things right. Mature writers will realize that this is usually a dead end, since artists are so dissimilar, and because few have ever had any real insight into their own talents. Simply read, for instance, Shelley’s famous essay on writing, or observe the temperamental differences between a recluse Emily Dickinson and public campaigner Judith Wright to see how little such things really matter. Yet what if artists could, in fact, guide one through a thought process, a set of lines, or the use of a color in a way that’s tangible and replicable? That’d actually be a lot more valuable, and why this recording might help those who are still working through such self-definition.

Prior to getting any further, here is the video:

Notice Dan Schneider’s strategy: he looks through a few books for salient (that is, not necessarily known, nor even truly defining, but salient) elements of Ed Gein’s life that have the architecture for poetry. Too often, artists focus merely on what they care about, and while emotion is certainly a strong motivator, it can also be blinding, encouraging both artist and critic to be too charitable to what they might subjectively love, or unfair towards what they hate. By contrast, forcing oneself to deal with a topic one is merely neutral on is great practice for noticing patterns and seeing how art works in a purely mechanistic sense without discoloring the result with one’s own biases.

Note, too, the things Schneider refuses to consider. Ed Gein was a serial killer, and most writers will merely do the predictable: a portrait of Gein, say, mid-murder, or using obvious and violent imagery out of a fear of being accused of empathy, an inability to see further, or both. He sees Ed Gein’s possible Oedipal complex, but immediately rejects it as “overdone” artistically (even if it’s 100% apropos to Gein’s life), choosing, instead, to focus on an interesting insight: that while he was a psychopath when let loose into the world, he was a “model prisoner” and psychiatric patient “while under someone else’s strictures”. Is it the ‘right’ assessment of sociopathy? Can the idea be tested? Re-applied? Perhaps, but, as before, these would not be the right questions. The point is that, artistically, it’s a fresh angle to take, particularly since it is so far removed from the man’s most famous and defining actions. The ingredients are thus ready, and Schneider begins to write.

Instead of trying to come up with a first line independently, Schneider combs through sheets of old work: lines that might have been good, but simply unusable in whatever context they were ripped from. He doesn’t dwell on this much, but it’s worth noting that it’s a good idea to keep a separate file for exactly this. In my own practice, for example, a novel might have to be cut down by thousands or even tens of thousands of words, including some good passages that simply do not fit the narrative. By adopting this strategy, it only takes Schneider a few minutes to get something that fits his strategy: a line which prop ups the poem’s (and subject’s) artifice, forcing all else to parallax against it. It also allows him to settle on a narration – third-person omniscient – both as a jump-off as well as in the recognition that Ed Gein was likely too dumb, himself, to have the kind of thoughts the narrator will express. This avoids the issue of letting artifice go too far in taking a reader out of the experience, yet still allows the artifice to make its intellectual thrusts.

The other lines take a similar tack: not too overtly philosophical, nor heavy-handed in other ways, which means that Schneider has to depend on technique to get some richer ideas across. To this end, he employs punctuation expressively, and uses sound to both create a sense of complacency as well as to jar against the reader’s ear. Just listen, for example, to his explanation of the word “sways” as something which is “innocent enough” yet finds itself at odds with the poem’s content- or rather, the purported content, as Schneider plays with both tradition and expectation.

Schneider’s use of the title is also spot-on. As he looks through a book of Vermeer, whose style help define parts of the poem, he also looks at the painting titles: nouns and verbs, mostly, with actor X doing Y, and decides this is usable for his own purpose here. In too many cases, poets will simply have a title re-iterate what the poem makes clear, or waste space in an already limited set of lines describing the poem’s key figures, setting, and the like, when it could more aptly be a part of the title and sub-note. Realizing this, Schneider indicates how both title and poem work side-by-side, fulfilling separate functions that nonetheless maximize both space and effect. Nor does the title’s actual content force just one reading of the poem, either, since there are several possible layers to work with…but not, of course, an infinite number of layers, as Post-Modernists would claim, as Schneider in fact does the bulk of the hard work and forces the reader to meet him part-way.

Normally, at this point, I’d analyze the poem line by line, but I suppose it’s time for you to do some work, yourself. And, in the spirit of the film’s pedagogical import, I will leave you not with answers – not this time! – but with questions to work through, to get a better understanding of not only “Ed Gein Becoming”, but of poetry as a whole:


The uncaused moment that is this comma,
is the bough that for, but, a moment sways,
as only its motion relates the day,
beyond the bars that this sonnet infers,

as the mellifluous light of morning,
inters his eyes within this space of time,
without that joy, undeterred by this rhyme,
where he smiles in a way, just seeming,

to hint at a skull, which only relates
to his past, this poem finds so distractive,
unlike that bough which, for a moment, stays,

within its rhythm, or its beginning
to end. And it ends. And then there is life.
And the mellifluous light of evening.

1. Schneider uses punctuation not merely for its own sake, but expressively. Note 3 instances of such, and the cumulative effect upon the poem.

2. As I wrote, above, why might Schneider use “sound to both create a sense of complacency as well as to jar against the reader’s ear”? Find an example of such, and expound on it.

3. In keeping with the above, observe any instances of slant-rhyme, and why it was included here.

4. The poem parallels “the mellifluous light of morning” and “the mellifluous light of evening” to accomplish what?

5. What is the function of “and” as a start-word in the poem’s final line?

6. Note any words or phrases that contradict one another in meaning and/or sound. Why do you think these words were used as they were?

7. What does the poem mean? Note any hesitation you had in answering, and write down why it is such a poor question to begin with.

8. Re-write the poem in a way which damages its strengths, and observe why this is so.

18 Comments Ed Gein Becoming: Or, How To Write A Great Poem In An Hour

  1. Billy

    Hi Alex,

    I have a slightly off-topic question (I didn’t know where else to post this). Can you recommend books on the mechanics of poetry (and maybe another one for historical overview)? I’m a total beginner with regards to poetry and I want to learn how to understand and (intellectually) enjoy poems (I don’t want to become a writer but a reader of poetry, so to speak). While Dan’s video is certainly interesting (although I haven’t watched the whole video, yet), I’d say it works on a higher level and presupposes that the viewer knows the basics. I need something more low level, something along the lines of “What different kinds of rhymes are there?”, “What is a sonnet?”, “What is poesy?”, etc.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Avatar photoAlex Sheremet


      Have you read Dan Schneider’s “This Old Poem” series? He takes famous poems and improves them- sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, sometimes not that much if they’re really bad to begin with. It’s a nice way of learning what poetry ‘is’, in a fundamental sense. If you haven’t read any of those essays, maybe start there, but first think about how YOU would improve each poem (even if you think your musings are dumb) then see how Dan does it, and why.

      Besides that, I actually grew up a bit on Paul Fussell’s “Poetic Meter And Poetic Form”. If you can get a PDF somewhere or a cheap used copy, or the library, it’s worth taking a look since he discusses the basics of how rhythm, music, form, etc., intersect with one another. That said, he’s wrong on a lot of stuff and there is a lot of pro-metrical propaganda. He dismisses much of Walt Whitman, for example, despite the fact that Whitman was the greatest poet up until that time in all of human history.

      Robert Shaw’s “Blank Verse” is a good historical overview of the form. “Where The Bee Sucks” is probably the best published set of poetry essays although not completely for the beginner. Ezra Pound’s “Spirit Of Romance” and “ABC’s of Reading” is are an odd mix of what to do and NOT to do when reading and criticizing, yet his insights are more interesting than others’ even if often completely wrong. I’d read those after you’ve spent a couple of months with more basic stuff, and with Paul Fussell’s little book.

      If you look under my “Poetry” section (where I categorize my essays), you will also see some break-downs of a few famous poems in a way that’s easy to understand and unique compared to most analyses you’ll find.

  2. Billy

    Hi Alex,

    thanks for your recommendations. I’ll look into them.

    Yes, I know about TOP and read a few essays here or there, but couldn’t get much out of them. I come from a technical field (computer science), so fiction writing and especially poetry are completely alien to me. So I thought it might be better (for me personally) to get the terms and technicalities straight (the low level stuff) and to get a rough overview before trying to operate on a higher level.

    I had the same “problem” (a problem first and foremost on my part) with your essays. I’ve been actually lurking here for a while now (and on Cosmoetica) and I’ll sure keep reading, but so far I’m having trouble to *really* graps things. I mean, when I read your or Dan’s essays I can roughly follow them and they seem to make sense (and the all are really interesting), but when I look at a work you discuss on my own I’m completely lost. So I thought really starting from scratch, sorting out the technicalities first, would help me get into things.

    But yeah, thanks again.

    1. Avatar photoAlex Sheremet

      Try some of that- and, also, you can obviously Google the basic stuff, like why a sonnet is structured in the way it is, other poetic forms, literary devices, etc. You don’t necessarily need a book for that.

      Oh, almost forgot- maybe the most modern book for all this is Mary Kinzie’s “A Poet’s Guide To Poetry”. I read it along Fussell as a kid, and it’s less distracting, although I’d still start with Fussell while keeping everything else I’ve said in mind.

      Let me ask you this- read the following poem. Do not Google the poem nor author, and tell me why you think it works or doesn’t work? What is its strategy? What lines contribute to this overall effect? Do you notice any flaws, as far as you can understand the word ‘flaws’ in this sense?

      If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
      That you were gone, not to return again —
      Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
      Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
      How at the corner of this avenue
      And such a street (so are the papers filled)
      A hurrying man — who happened to be you —
      At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
      I should not cry aloud — I could not cry
      Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place —
      I should but watch the station lights rush by
      With a more careful interest on my face,
      Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
      Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.

  3. Billy

    Hi Alex,

    thanks again for taking your time, I really appreciate it.

    So I’ve been sitting in front of this poem for a while now and read it probably two dozen times. Here are my thoughts so far (most of which is just a gut feeling that I can’t pinpoint intellectually):

    Let me start by pointing out what I perceive to be the flaws (it’s easier for me that way). One of the things I noticed was that this poem is very regular. If I counted correctly every line has 10 syllabels. Also, I’m able to read it in a very “regular” way, i.e. there is a rhythm going on in this poem. But then you have lines 6 (“And such a street …”) and 9 & 10 (“I should not cry aloud …”) that really stick out because they break the rhythm. And to me it seems that the only reason those lines were included is to fit rhyming scheme, at least I couldn’t come up with any other reason. Especially breaking the line like “cry / aloud” is really “bad music”.

    (I don’t know whether you intentionally formatted the poem in this particular way, or if the poem was formatted like this orignally (as you asked I didn’t Google the poem), but going by content I would group lines 1-4, 5-8, 9-11, and 12-14 into one verse each. While taking a break and skimming through Rilke’s collected works, I found that the poem “Die Gazelle” has the same verse structure, so I presume this is a rather formalized structure for a poem, thus reinforcing my conclusion drawn in the previous paragraph.)

    Although I’m somehow emotionally drawn to this poem (at least slightly), there is nothing that *I* could pinpoint as standing out intellectually. I think the point of this poem is to communicate the feeling of being unable to express grief (in public). I guess one could argue that the plain imagery (someone reading a newspaper in a subway) does actually support this, because the narrator has to—despite his/her grief of losing someone—project a plain facade to the outside world (I don’t know how to express this any better). I think the last two or three lines contribute to this effect by having the narrator read mundane advertisment. But I’m not sure if these are marks of actual quality.

    Also, something irks me about the expression “I should/could not cry aloud”, but I don’t know what.

    Overall, I’m slightly leaning towards that the poem does *not* work, because I don’t think anything stands out really and also the execution fails in a few places because of “bad music”. Given that this is probably a well known/formalized poem structure (I’m obviously no expert; that’s why I asked for books), I think one could definitely do better (especially wrt “music”).

    1. Czach

      Hi Billy,

      I’ve been reading your exchanges over here with Alex, and it’s quite interesting. Here are some of my thoughts on your criticism.

      To me, music isn’t just about a poem’s flow, but how that flow itself can be utilized in the meaning of the poem. In other words, sometimes having a jarring feeling is necessary to be able to create certain effect – just as modern music might sometimes use atonal/dissonant parts to match against the smooth-sounding parts. Some poems of Sylvia Plath have this feeling, in that she’ll combine smooth flow with jarring rhythm to accentuate the sense of madness.

      Your take on the split in ‘could not cry aloud’ for example. I think Edna St. Vincent Millay herself would have a clear idea of what the effect of the split is, because the mere fact of repeating the same line as the previous part makes the split all the more apparent – since now the grammar is broken. But, if you look at what the split creates, where the word ‘cry’ is forced to linger, before exploding into ‘aloud’ – can imply much about the internal state of the poetic narrator that she’s not willing to reveal. Given that this is the only line where this kind of split takes place, while the rest will complete one clause per line – the effect is magnified.

      Furthermore, after the use of that ‘aloud’, she adds a ‘wring my hands in such a place’. The word ‘wring’ (as well as the ‘cry’) is significantly stronger in tone than the rest of the poem. The overall effect of this in the poem – the narrator starts off by making languorous descriptions of her surroundings (first eight lines), suddenly the pace picks up and gets stronger emotionally (next two lines), then it returns to the same kind of tone as the first six – ending on an image of mundanity. So, unlike merely telling the feeling of trying to contain grief – the music of the poem replicates it.

      There’s also some things more hidden and subtle, like the repetition of ‘happened’ in the two lines 7-8 – which makes it seem as though the narrator is saying things in a way that places a focus on the randomness and banality of such events like accidental death (imagine someone saying something like: “Oh, it just happened that I decided to buy a lottery ticket, and it just happened that I won a million dollars, and I just so happened to spend it on a new car!”). Placed together with lines 9-10, it also helps facilitate that moment in the poem.

      In this way, this poem isn’t necessarily just a love poem – but could also expand to something more fundamentally human – like how we return to the baseline of daily life after such tragic events occurs, or, a person could even read the opposite and see it as commenting on how a tragedy seeps into everything, including the most mundane aspects of daily life.

      This is probably what makes poetry & art so hard to critique, because you can’t focus on just a fixed view of rhythm alone or any single aspect (e.g. like people who are exclusively formal poets or exclusively study Classical poetry), but you have to look at the largest picture of how everything, including the seeming flaws and breaks in rhythm, coheres together to communicate something. In a way, kind of like how we have many moods and interactions with the objects around us and the world itself. To a certain extent, there has to be interpretation of the lines and meaning – which necessitates stepping into places where things are a bit more ambiguous. Taken too far, though, and it could lead to tenuous and conspiracy-theorist like interpretation & criticism which holds a lot of personal meaning but communicates little to others, so there’s always a cut-off point.

    2. Avatar photoAlex Sheremet

      Hi Billy,

      Not a bad analysis. I don’t necessarily agree with some of what you say, but you’re obviously thinking about things and are attempting to formulate a reason for those thoughts.

      First, when you say that the poem is “very regular”, let’s disregard, for a second, whether or not this regularity works for THIS poem. Can a more regular rhythm work in another poem, theoretically? Why or why not?

      Second, to clear things up- this is actually a sonnet. It is 14 lines long, but a sonnet is more than that. Most are divided into an octave (first 8 lines) and sestet (last 6) which have a special relationship with one another. Perhaps, for example, the octave sets up an idea or image, and the sestet either comments on it, brings it out more deeply, or inverts it in some way. In this poem, the first 8 give you the conceit; the last 6 bring out the reality.

      Generally, sonnets have traditionally been written in iambic pentameter. This may or may not be iambic pentameter (I’ve stopped scanning poems a long time ago), but the rhythm is definitely close- and I disagree that the poem itself is too regular. Even if each line is 10 syllables exactly, this does not preclude genuine music from emerging within the syllable count. Look at the first line:

      If I should, in some quite casual way,

      It starts off muscular (‘If I should’, which in context can be read as 3 stressed syllables in a row), then sort of lessens its grip by the hypothetical it introduces. The second line

      That you were gone, not to return again —

      continues the hypothetical, but it is the third line that nicely mirrors the first, both rhythmically and sense-wise, and becomes more and more insidious as details pile on, implying this is all somehow in fact real.

      You have a specific objection to “I could not cry/ Aloud”, yet I read it differently. Remember, first, the “should” is simply the grammatical mirror of the “should” in the first line rather than the “should” we normally use ca. 2017 (this poem was written in the early/mid 1900s). Second, I disagree that cry/Aloud is a bad line break- it can be under some circumstances (and it’s good you notice this), but it jars against ‘cry’ since the narrator is clearly emotional and perhaps crying internally (rather than ‘aloud’) as the situation unfolds. You get an expectation, then, that is pushed against, and while I get it is not very satisfying in some ways, one can compellingly argue that it works in others.

      I think your interpretation of the poem’s last few lines is spot-on, and, yes, the last 2 lines in particular are part of the narrator’s “facade”. I do find the final lines a bit of a letdown, partly because “read with greater care” sounds too much like a description of what SHE is ‘in fact’ doing rather than the facade she is projecting to avoid a public show of emotion. This is not entirely logical, and some of the meaning is already implicit in the preceding lines- which means that rather than having a density of meaning, there is a little bit of needless redundancy here.

      It’s not Edna St. Vincent Millay’s best poem, and perhaps not even a flat-out great sonnet, but it’s a classic sonnet that has stood the test of about a century and at the very least a very good one, overall.

      By the way, since we discussed meter, I’d recommend this essay by Dan Schneider. It really set me on the path to understanding poetry better when I was 20, and 2 weeks after I’d read it, I wrote my first good poem:


      Look, also, at this response to Dan, and judge whether or not it’s fair:


  4. Billy

    Hi Czach,

    thanks for your insights. And yes, you’re right about the “music” aspect. I sure didn’t want to imply that every poem has to be “tonal”. It just seemed *to me* that there was nothing more to it in this particual poem. But then again, I’m a total beginner and this is the first poem that I “analyzed” since high school. Your thoughts are the kind of thoughts I’m usually unable to come up with myself. I hope this gets better with time. But as I mentioned in my first post, I’m not trying to become a great poet or critic, I just want to figure out how this stuff works and hopefuly enjoy some poems myself.

    1. Czach

      Honestly, even though I took Literature as a main subject throughout my high school (or, the Asian equivalent) education, I felt as though it never really taught me how to grapple with the text in a meaningful way. I picked up the terminology, like assonance, sonnet, and alliteration – but I never considered how to look at the higher level and consider the work as a whole, beyond just technique. It wasn’t until I read up critics like Dan that all if it came together.

      I do think though that, even as a reader, the act of trying to write your own poems – place words on a page, think about structure, subvert cliches & get the music down – does help in the act of reading because it gets you to consider the core of the craft. Especially since you don’t need to invest any large sum of money – unlike a medium like music.


    Thank you, guys, for these exchanges. I have been trying to read and understand some poetry myself as per Alex’s recommendation on one his essays. Like, Billy, I am also kind of beginner but it’s been almost a month since I started dabbling here and there.
    I guess the being unable to express what we feel intuitively also stems from the lack of writing, since it is where our thoughts become explicit and are actually put into action. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks and hopefully I

    1. Avatar photoAlex Sheremet

      Writing poetry may or may not help in this regard. But know that the reverse is often completely untrue- great artists have usually said little to nothing of genuine worth about art, and writers are notoriously bad at critiquing other writers.

  6. Billy

    Hi Alex,

    (Btw. I don’t have a WordPress (?) account, so I’m using the “Leave a Reply” field. Is there a way to reply to a reply?)

    thank you again for your comments. I sure am glad that I’m not completely off track.

    I think regularity can work, just as it can work in a (pop) song. Although, one has to be careful that it does not become tooboring. I mean, for a poem (or a song) not every line has to have the exact same rhythm so that the overall work sounds regular (e.g. in a song there is a verse, a bridge, a chorus, etc.). But also, I’d say a poem with the exact same rhythm in every line adds another challenge (when writing it), much like e.g. how a haiku has severe “constraints”. But then I also have to add that I only have a very foggy idea about what (good) music is in a poem (as mentioned, I was mainly arguing on instinct).

    Regarding the “cry / Aloud” split: yes, I thought about the fact that it could be used to stress *something*, but I couldn’t come with what that something was/could be (this is, of course, a shortcoming on my part).

    I’m surprised that you “stopped scanning poems”. Sure, it is in some sense “just a technicality”, but I assumed that at your level (or even more so at Dan’s level) you would just do it automatically/unconsciously, much like how an expert tennis player does not have to think about how to correctly hold his racket (instead, he does so completely naturally).

    I didn’t notice that the second “should” is supposed mirror the first one, but I thought the repetition of “should”/“could” was there to emphasize that the content of the poem is a mere hypothetical. Also, I find it interesting that you would describe the introductory phrase as “muscular” (nothing I could have come up with).

    Yes, you got a point there wrt “cry / Aloud”. As I’ve said, I thought about it, but I couldn’t pinpoint anything. I think I still have to ponder about this a bit. Same goes for your remark about “read with greater care”. (When I read your remarks, they make sense, but I don’t truly understand them yet on my own.)

    Ah yes, the metric fallacy. I know about that one. Actually, I have both links bookmarked in my browser, but I can’t remember whether I finished both essays (at least I know the gist of the first one), so I can’t give any clear thoughts right now. But from a very quick scan of the second essay, it seems the author was very agitated by Dan’s essay and was arguing emotionally (instead of intellectually; but again, just a very quick scan). But since you went through the trouble to point them out, I’ll make sure to read them again (and properly).

    Actually, when I tried to figure out a way to read this poem, I was thinking about the metric fallacy and I tried carefully not to read it “too metricly” (“da-daa da-daa da-daa”), but I stumbled so heavily on “And such a street”, and especially “cry / Aloud”, that I found those two lines just too odd.

    I just feel bad that no one here talks about “Ed Gein Becoming” (currently, it it’s way over my head; there are also a lot of words in it that I don’t know) …

    1. Avatar photoAlex Sheremet

      Hey Billy,

      Unfortunately, the reply system here has only 2 tiers, so that’s just how they stack. I might change the WP theme next year to something a bit more minimalist next year with more emphasis on engagement.

      Anyway- I agree, regularity can work, particularly for content/ideas that naturally lend themselves to something a bit more ‘plodding’. But I think you’re confusing the so-called regularity of strict 10-syllable lines with musical regularity as a whole. If you in fact scan the poem, you’ll see that Edna St. Vincent Millay does not merely wallow in regularity- that would be, literally, 5 iambs for each line. Instead, you get a bunch of substitutions (trochees, spondees, etc.) plus lots of stuff that might not even scan ‘properly’, if one merely lets go of the metrical fallacy. There is definite variety in the music, particularly in some of the lines you had a negative reaction to, since they’re a break from some of the more measured sounds.

      I mean I stopped ‘scanning’ poems in the literal sense- sitting down with a poem, and writing stress marks (sometimes of different levels) for each line. I stopped doing this when I realized I was getting far too obsessed with traditional scansion as opposed to true poetic music. Moreover, these scanning techniques absolutely failed when I’d try it with John Donne, despite knowing Donne was an excellent poet. I couldn’t fit him into my biases, which troubled me. It meant either my biases were wrong, or Donne was in fact a failed poet- the latter of which was clearly untrue. I had to re-adjust my vantage as a result.

      Now, I feel and hear the music instinctively, both in poetry and prose- more so in prose these days, since that is what I write. In my novels, for example, I am very careful to have a very specific sound to each line as it relates to the ‘flow’ of the paragraph, or the page, or the book as a whole. This is quite different from picking up any old random shit in a bookstore, and flipping through pages and pages of ugly sentences and haphazard rhythms. I’m often shocked at how bad it all sounds, really. I mean, I get that folks might not know what a cliche is, or doesn’t understand the fundamentals of character, etc., but shouldn’t you understand when you’ve written an atrocious sentence and merely let it pass? I guess not.

      Well, I guess my only advice is to continue reading as much as you can and thinking about your reading. There’s definitely a learning curve with poetry, and I had to start with easier stuff- Philip Larkin, Rimbaud, Keats, Countee Cullen, Byron, Longfellow, Bukowski, Yeats, Allen Ginsberg were all big for me early on, although they are wildly different in quality. The first poem of Dan Schneider’s I ever truly ‘got’ was Holy Sonnet #1, and from then on things were much smoother.

  7. Billy

    Hi Alex,

    just wanted to clear up one last thing. Yes, I completely agree with you and rationally, I completely understand the metric fallacy. I just have to sort out my intuition, so to speak. As you’ve said, there’s a learning curve and I’ve just started to learn. Furthermore¸ as I mentioned, I still don’t understand really what “poetic music” is, but again, this needs time. And that’s why my reasoning so far has been mostly (almost intentionally) haphazard, because I’m still learning and trying to figure things out. (Also, I’m German/from Germany, so maybe I should try out some German poems first (wrt poetic music).)

    And thanks for the list of poets. That would have been the next thing I would have asked for.

    1. Avatar photoAlex Sheremet

      Well, if you read German, then the natural place to start is Rilke. Definitely one of the greatest poets to have ever lived, and his work (at least in Mitchell’s translation) is great even in English.

      That said, I find a lot of great music tends to be similar in the greatest of the great poems. Look at this excerpt from Wallace Stevens, for instance:

      Is there no change of death in paradise?
      Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
      Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
      Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
      With rivers like our own that seek for seas
      They never find, the same receding shores
      That never touch with inarticulate pang?

      If you read it slowly, and aloud, you will see how ‘muscular’ this is- the words have a gravitas that would be there just in the music alone, even if the meaning or individual word selections were different.

    2. Ezekiel


      Georg Trakl, too, and even Holderlin peaks nicely, from time to time. Rilke, of course, although as a beginner, a lot of his stuff flew over my head. Poems like “The Swan” and “The Panther” are great examples of masterful, accessible poems of his. I still wrestle with his Duino Elegies.

      Since you’re German, you probably have a more extensive knowledge of German poetry than I do, but that’s what I’ve found helpful.

      Poets like Poe and Kipling and Browning write in a great “classical” vein of “poetic music,” i.e. what is usually expected when the phrase is brought up. As mentioned earlier, Robinson Jeffers sidesteps the metric obsession yet still contains superior music in his best stuff. The better translations of Neruda’s love poetry, great “plainspoken” music with Carl Sandburg, etc.

  8. Billy

    > Since you’re German, you probably have a more extensive knowledge of German poetry than I do, but that’s what I’ve found helpful.

    No, I have none. I might have heard a name here or there, but since my final high school exam six years ago I haven’t thought of poetry even once. And during my time in school I didn’t understand the slightest bit about poetry nor was I even interested (during exams I was just bullshitting around and so was everyone else; and looking back, so were the teachers, judging from what I learned so far from Alex and Dan; we never discussed why a poem or novel was good/bad or even relevant, but instead only talked about “What does the author mean by this?”). You probably already know vastly more German poets than I do (I practically remember only Rilke and his poem “Der Panther”; oh, and Else Lasker-Schüler; and “Nie mehr” by Ulla Hahn, although I can’t say if this poem was any good).

    I really only got interested in poetry (and art in general) when I discovered this site (and then Cosmoetica) a year ago. What got me to stay was how Alex and Dan dispelled the notions of DIF and art as being 100% emotional and how they instead showed that art is actually based on intellect and skill, which made it immediately more interesting (and accessible) to a STEM guy like me.

    But thanks again to both of you for further recommendations. In fact, I already bought the collected works of Rilke a few months ago, but so far wasn’t sure how to approach it (and I am still not a 100% sure).


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