Stop trying to teach young poets meter and instead teach them “strophic prose.” (?)


I urge that we frankly admit defeat on this front and completely give over all efforts to revive meter in any kind of a straightforward way, and instead teach the young people a “new” form, which I call STROPHIC PROSE, a form they are certain to like, and which will secretly, quietly, cunningly create conditions that, perhaps a hundred years from now, will ripen into a large-scale revival of meter. (Not that all poems will be metrical then. I only mean meter will be back in the toolbox, it will have a place at the table, it will be alive and well. Free verse, meanwhile, may continue as hitherto.)

….The candidate must set up her poem as prose, with white space between the same-sized paragraphs, each paragraph about an inch tall, no line breaks, only stanza breaks. There will be no rhythm-properly-so-called in the sentences. The rhythm will come from the strophic structure of the paragraphs.

-Anthony Madrid, “Strophic Prose,” Paris Review, September 13, 2016


2 thoughts on “Stop trying to teach young poets meter and instead teach them “strophic prose.” (?)

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  1. L. Kids not into meter? Rap poems have no meter?

    C. So, how exactly is this different from prose poetry!?

    D. And kids usually respond well not simply to “meter” but to the rhythmic effect given by meter. Yes, example rap. They aren’t thinking meter, just accent and pop and rhyme.

    NEW: I basically found “Strophic Prose” annoying.

    I’ve NEVER had any problem in teaching students, young or adult, rhyme and meter.
    It all depends on the examples you use. There are songs. There are nursery rhymes.
    But most important is how to combine exact and slant rhyme (something popular music does very well). Basics of rhyme and meter can be taught in about 15 minutes. Other key is to tell what to avoid: inversions in sentence structure, archaic words, and the like.

    Rap is basically just rhymed couplets, the most elementary form of rhymed poetry.

    Maybe the simple key is that, for many years now, the “norm” has been free verse, whereas previously people thought of poetry as rhymed and metered and it was free verse that had to be taught. Now the norm is free verse and it’s rhyme and meter that’s esoteric and fascinating and ripe to be taught again, transforming the old rhyme and meter methods and ways into today’s vernacular. Who did/does it wonderfully?

    Anthony Hecht
    Richard Wilbur
    Marilyn Taylor
    W.D. Snodgrass
    Elizabeth Bishop
    X.J. Kennedy
    Donald Hall

    among many others.


    M. Couldn’t agree with all of you more. The music of the poem— i.e. the rhythms (metrical or not) and the sounds, including rhyme, are indeed pretty easily taught, and result in some amazing responses, even from new poets. I am just finishing up a workshop… and have included rhymed and metered assignments as well as poems in free verse. The challenges were approached enthusiastically, even though the participants are mostly free verse poets. Each of them— all adults— will go home with a terrific new villanelle, some rhymed quatrains, “golden shovels”, and a free verse poem or two featuring anaphora, of all things. To consciously avoid these pleasures by replacing them with little chunks of prose because they’re “easier,” is to do the poet and the reader a disservice. Fer pete’s sake, why do we keep underestimating beginning poets, watering our lessons down, and giving them gold medals for participation?

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