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Modernism in other arts brought extreme difficulty. In poetry, the characteristic difficulty imported under the name of modernism was obscurity. But obscurity could just as easily be a quality of metrical as of free verse. -- James Fenton
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'Love' is so short of perfect rhymes that convention allows half-rhymes like 'move.' The alternative is a plague of doves, or a kind of poem in which the poet addresses his adored both as 'love' and as 'guv' - a perfectly decent solution once, but only once, in a while. -- James Fenton
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No poet is required to write in stanzas, or indeed in regular forms at all. Coleridge's 'Dejection: An Ode' has a rhyme scheme and sequence of long and short lines that goes without regular pattern, following the mood and whim of the poet. Such a form is known as an irregular ode. -- James Fenton
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The iambic pentameter owes its pre-eminence in English poetry to its genius for variation. Good blank verse does not sound like a series of identically measured lines. It sounds like a series of subtle variations on the same theme. -- James Fenton
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The Mormon mission to Africa, as to other dark-skinned parts of the world, was for a long time hobbled by the racism of the movement's scripture. -- James Fenton
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Metrics are not a device for restraining the mad, any more than 'open form' or free verse is a prairie where a man can do all kinds of manly things in a state of wholesome unrestrictedness. -- James Fenton
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The 1960s was a period when writers in the West began to be aware of the extraordinary eloquence and popular attraction of the Russian poets such as Yevtushenko and Voznesensky - oppositional figures who could draw crowds. The Russian poets recited from memory as a matter of course. -- James Fenton
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A nasty surprise in a sandwich -- James Fenton
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The voice is raised, and that is where poetry begins. And even today, in the prolonged aftermath of modernism, in places where 'open form' or free verse is the orthodoxy, you will find a memory of that raising of the voice in the term 'heightened speech.' -- James Fenton
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Hearing that the same men who brought us 'South Park' were mounting a musical to be called 'The Book of Mormon,' we were tempted to turn away, as from an inevitable massacre. -- James Fenton
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Oh let us not be condemned for what we are. It is enough to account for what we do. -- James Fenton
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The composer does not want the self-sufficiency of a richly complex text: he or she wants to feel that the text is something in need of musical setting. -- James Fenton
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There is no objection to the proposal: in order to learn to be a poet, I shall try to write a sonnet. But the thing you must try to write, when you do so, is a real sonnet, and not a practice sonnet. -- James Fenton
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The lullaby is the spell whereby the mother attempts to transform herself back from an ogre to a saint. -- James Fenton
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A really interesting and happy time was when I first went to Florence as a student and studied Italian. I was living in a pensione on an allowance of £40 a month, which was princely. I did a lot of work and enjoyed myself immensely. -- James Fenton
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A cabaret song has got to be written - for the middle voice, ideally - because you've got to hear the wit of the words. And a cabaret song gives the singer room to act, more even than an opera singer. -- James Fenton
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When Mr Ackroyd says that in the 18th century, stranglers bit off the noses of their victims, I feel that he probably knows what he is talking about. I just wish he hadn't told me. -- James Fenton
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In the writing of poetry we never know anything for sure. We will never know if we have 'trained' or 'practised' enough. We will never be able to say that we have reached grade eight, or that we have left the grades behind and are now embarked on an advanced training. -- James Fenton
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In rap, as in most popular lyrics, a very low standard is set for rhyme; but this was not always the case with popular music. -- James Fenton
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Babies are not brought by storks and poets are not produced by workshops. -- James Fenton
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One does not become a guru by accident. -- James Fenton
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One problem we face comes from the lack of any agreed sense of how we should be working to train ourselves to write poetry. -- James Fenton
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English poetry begins whenever we decide to say the modern English language begins, and it extends as far as we decide to say that the English language extends. -- James Fenton
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Sometimes I have thought that a song should look disappointing on the page - a little thin, perhaps, a little repetitive, or a little on the obvious side, or a mixture of all of these things. -- James Fenton
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Imitation, if it is not forgery, is a fine thing. It stems from a generous impulse, and a realistic sense of what can and cannot be done. -- James Fenton
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God, A Poem
'I didn't exist at Creation,
I didn't exist at the Flood,
And I won't be around for Salvation
To sort out the sheep from the cud-
'Or whatever the phrase is. The fact is
In soteriological terms
I'm a crude existential malpractice
And you are a diet of worms -- James Fenton
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The Italian word 'stanza' means 'a room', and a room is a good way to conceive of a stanza. A room, generally speaking, is sufficient for its own purposes, but it does not constitute a house. A stanza has the same sense of containment, without being complete or independent. -- James Fenton
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Free verse seemed democratic because it offered freedom of access to writers. And those who disdained free verse would always be open to accusations of elitism, mandarinism. Open form was like common ground on which all might graze their cattle - it was not to be closed in by usurping landlords. -- James Fenton
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Composers need words, but they do not necessarily need poetry. The Russian composer, Aleksandr Mossolov, who chose texts from newspaper small ads, had a good point to make. With revolutionary music, any text can be set to work. -- James Fenton
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It normally happens that if you put two words together, or two syllables together, one of them will attract more weight, more emphasis, than the other. In other words, most so-called spondees can be read as either iambs or trochees. -- James Fenton
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My feeling is that poetry will wither on the vine if you don't regularly come back to the simplest fundamentals of the poem: rhythm, rhyme, simple subjects - love, death, war. -- James Fenton
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The iambic line, with its characteristic forward movement from short to long, or light to heavy, or unstressed to stressed, is the quintessential measure of English verse. -- James Fenton
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The writing of a poem is like a child throwing stones into a mineshaft. You compose first, then you listen for the reverberation. -- James Fenton
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Rhyme is a mnemonic device, an aid to the memory. And some poems are themselves mnemonics, that is to say, the whole purpose of the poem is to enable us to remember some information. -- James Fenton
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Poetry carries its history within it, and it is oral in origin. Its transmission was oral. Its transmission today is still in part oral, because we become acquainted with poetry through nursery rhymes, which we hear before we can read. -- James Fenton
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The basic rhymes in English are masculine, which is to say that the last syllable of the line is stressed: 'lane' rhymes with 'pain,' but it also rhymes with 'urbane' since the last syllable of 'urbane' is stressed. 'Lane' does not rhyme with 'methane.' -- James Fenton
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In song the same rule applies as in dramatic verse: the meaning must yield itself, or yield itself sufficiently to arouse the attention and interest, in real time. -- James Fenton
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I don't see that a single line can constitute a stanza, although it can constitute a whole poem. -- James Fenton
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At somewhere around 10 syllables, the English poetic line is at its most relaxed and manageable. -- James Fenton
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I prefer writing in the mornings, so to that extent I have a routine. I do reading and other things in the afternoon. -- James Fenton
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A poem with grandly conceived and executed stanzas, such as one of Keats's odes, should be like an enfilade of rooms in a palace: one proceeds, with eager anticipation, from room to room. -- James Fenton
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It is not what they built. It is what they knocked down.
It is not the houses. It is the spaces between the houses.
It is not the streets that exist. It is the streets that no longer exist. -- James Fenton
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Considering the wealth of poetic drama that has come down to us from the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, it is surprising that so little of any value has been added since. -- James Fenton
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Generally speaking, rhyme is the marker for the end of a line. The first rhyme-word is like a challenge thrown down, which the poem itself has to respond to. -- James Fenton
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In my opinion, it is easier to avoid iambic rhythms, when writing in syllabics, if you create a line or pattern of lines using odd numbers of syllables. -- James Fenton
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My sonnet asserts that the sonnet still lives. My epic, should such fortune befall me, asserts that the heroic narrative is not lost - that it is born again. -- James Fenton
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Nobody really knows whether they are a poet. I knew I was interested from the age of 15. -- James Fenton
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At four lines, with the quatrain, we reach the basic stanza form familiar from a whole range of English poetic practice. This is the length of the ballad stanza, the verse of a hymn, and innumerable other kinds of verse. -- James Fenton
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Windbags can be right. Aphorists can be wrong. It is a tough world. -- James Fenton
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What happened to poetry in the twentieth century was that it began to be written for the page. -- James Fenton
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'What is this', and 'How is this done?' are the first two questions to ask of any work of art. The second question immediately illuminates the first, but it often doesn't get asked. Perhaps it sounds too technical. Perhaps it sounds pedestrian. -- James Fenton
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Great poetry does not have to be technically intricate. -- James Fenton
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Working alone on a poem, a poet is of all artists the most free. The poem can be written with a modicum of technology, and can be published, in most cases, quite cheaply. -- James Fenton
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The Ideal
This is where I came from.
I passed this way.
This should not be shameful
Or hard to say.
A self is a self.
It is not a screen.
A person should respect
What he has been.
This is my past
Which I shall not discard.
This is the ideal.
This is hard. -- James Fenton