More than one way to scan a cat

I have a confession: I kinda really like scansion. From past experiences with poetry, I always felt meters and feet and stress were the drier elements that the old traditional people at the poetry headquarters forced new poets to learn. Stiff, formal scansion just didn’t jive with my image of hip, newfangled free verse. And maybe I’m just bad reading a room, but I never get the impression that scansion is anyone’s favorite to go over. I’d be happy to hear that I’m wrong, though; just about every one of my posts on here is about how past me was wrong about something (including this one).

My intrigue is morbid, probably. Scansion feels like a dissection of a poem, which, for those who haven’t dissected anything before, requires the specimen be dead. Scansion kills the poem in that sense, takes the life out of it until it’s bludgeoned down to a couple slashes and semi-circles, but it’s also the reason we can cut open and learn so much about a poem’s sentence structure and form.

But that may also be a reason why some people don’t enjoy it as much. Not necessarily weaker poems, but ones that don’t take stress and meter into such high account may seem like all the guts and gross parts of a frog, for instance, have rotted out leaving only a sweet-sounding goo behind. Those types of poems tend to outshone by poems that incorporate stress and meter centrally to the poem, maybe the frog’s leg muscles still twitch with a little shock.

I love understanding how mysterious things, like poems, are able to be so… so poem-y and lean on itself to create something worth more than the sum of its words. I love doing that with all sorts of things, even things like frogs. I mean, I could look at my hands for hands for hours and have an existential exploration of how we’re all just a series of self-sufficient pulleys and levers between our muscles, bones and tendons. On the other hand, I can see how this kind of incessant mechanical thinking can maybe go to far and outshine the actual content. I can’t make a fist without thinking about the weird stringy tendons controlling my fingers like piano hammers.

With all this in mind (and believe me I have a lot of this in mind), scansion can’t be a way to diagnose how good or bad a poem is, it merely identifies a pattern in a poem. It’s a tool (I think I’ve come to same conclusion that most techniques are tools in most of blog posts, but every time it feels like a revelation to me, maybe it’s a crutch). And like all tools, we’re welcome to use it at our own discretion. I just think it’s fun to take a scalpel to things. Anyway, I have to go stare at my hands some more.

Thanks for reading.

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