Most poets alive during the 5,000+ years of recorded history have gone to some trouble to learn versification—poets from every region, culture and socioeconomic class on earth, writing in many thousands of languages. Why? Over the past hundred years, answers have become less and less clear, and harder and harder for poets to relate to. We’ll start there, with the expectation of finding substantial, recognizably human purposes that might make us want to challenge ourselves to learn meter. We’ll dive into technical essentials, beyond the usual terminological preoccupations, to think about how metrical patterns arise and how they relate to rhythms of natural spoken English. With particular attention to key English-language meters, we’ll address some widespread misunderstandings, and via writing, workshop and reading, gain as much practical experience as possible with meter. The first goal is competency. The second is to explore, in our own work, ways of placing the varied rhythms of natural English into meaningful, expressive relation with artificial metrical patterns. Versification is a rhetorical tool. It gives poets control at every verbal level, from the overall texture, movement and emotional character of a poem to the relative emphases and tensions that, line by line, help determine tone and pacing, down to the strings of syllables that act like a genetic code for indirect meaning. We’ll continue to ask Why throughout the workshop, hoping to discover our own best answers. Class sessions will meet synchronously via Zoom every Thursday, and assignments, poems and critiques will be shared via Wet Ink.
Joshua Mehigan’s first book, The Optimist, was a finalist for the 2004 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book, Accepting the Disaster, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2014 and cited as a best book of the year in the New York Times Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement and other publications. His poems have appeared in the New Yorker, New York Times, Paris Review and Poetry, which awarded him its 2013 Levinson Prize. The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, Mehigan has taught English and creative writing at Brooklyn College, College of Staten Island and other CUNY schools and is a faculty member of Poetry by the Sea: A Global Conference. He was an artist-in-residence at Northwestern University from 2017 to 2020. He lives in Windsor Terrace.