5 oct 2011

How To (Learn To) Scan A Poem

First, type out the lines as a prose paragraph.. This is a crucial step if you are a beginner, because most people start off by trying to fit the language into what they think the meter should be, instead of actually hearing the language as it is. All of a sudden they start putting stresses in strange, unnatural places.

Now read the paragraph aloud a few times in as natural a way as you can. Make a recording if you want.

Now circle or highlight all the content words. Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs. Make sure you know which syllable is accented in each of them, if any are unfamiliar. Every content word will have stress on one of its syllables. Listen to your recording and see if you have stressed any of the other words, like pronouns, prepositions. Suppose one like is "He is hiding under the table." There is no question about hiding and table. Did you stress is, under, the? Mark the other words you might have stressed.

By now you will have a good sense of the natural linguistic prosody of the poem. In other words, the way a naturally-speaking native speaker of the language (or competent 2nd-language speaker) would pronounce those sentences. You are almost done and you are miles ahead of almost anyone else.

Now get out the original poem, before you wrote it out in prose. Read it again outloud, naturally. Don't pause at the end of lines (very much) unless there is punctuation, but note where the line breaks are.

Now start to listen to see whether you hear any patterns, and observe whether these pattern happen to coincide with your vague memories of meters. At what point does the pattern you perceive not line up exactly with the stresses you've already determined? Does that make you want to speak the line in a less natural way ? Or does it make you want to ignore the pattern? Find a way of saying the line that makes it sound good without either emphasizing or de-emphasizing the meter.

There, now you are done. If you go any further than you will get severe headaches.

2 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

Thumbs up, with the caveat of course that more experienced readers will skip the step of writing out the unlineated form.

I once took a music composition class from Olly Wilson at Berkeley, and though he's a capable composer, his comments on text-setting showed he was stuck in that beginning stage, unaware of the wide space of possibilities between the "prose" rhythm and the meter, and of the "poetic" rhythm as a negotiation between them. (To say nothing of the possibilities between those two and the musical rhythm.) To learn to scan -- as I began to do some years after that, from Kenner's old textbook, Fussell, etc. -- felt like coming into an inheritance.

Clarissa dijo...

This is the most useful list of suggestions I ever read on how to approach poetry. I'm going to use it on my students.

To hell with students, actually. I will use it myself to learn how to appreciate poetry more.

Thank you, this is amazing!!!