Advanced Class: Versification

Joshua Mehigan

Poets often proceed as if writing good poetry were primarily a question of mystical communion with supernatural forces, of a proverbial lightning strike, etc. But there is another, more palpably real form of esoteric knowledge and practice that has also been available to poets for thousands of years: versification, one of the oldest and most powerful means of rhetorical control, and much more reliable than lightning.

In this workshop, we’ll discuss versification at the levels of syllable, accent, and line, focusing on accentual-syllabic measures like iambic pentameter, the staple of English-language verse, and pay close attention to the ways that poets use versification to expressive effect in their work. We’ll look closely at poems by workshop participants, and also at poems by various masters of poetic technique in English. In particular, we’ll observe and try to become mindful of the many ways that the rhythms of fixed English verse can be modulated. We will look, especially, for variations in stress, phrasing, and enjambment, trying to discover those mysterious places where verse turns into poetry.


Sponsored by the Trustees of the Robert Frost Farm and the Hyla Brook Poets