To rhyme with proper meter in the cause
Of classic forms is nothing anyone
Should derogate, but old poetic laws
Were fashioned to enshrine a style, not stun
The poet into incoherencies
By forcing words to fit a fractured sense.
Adhering blindly to a rule may freeze
Inventiveness; the pitfalls are immense.

The God of Formalism has a say,
But writers still command the worldly realm—
The area remaining somewhat gray
Is who should man the sail, and who the helm.

The only limit inescapable
Is that to which a poet’s capable.



We’re asked to keep our distance from cliches,
from anything connected to the past,
from sentiment or any turn of phrase
that might in classic forms have once been cast.

They urge us to refuse to knuckle under
to counterrevolutionary forces,
though we be drawn and quartered, torn asunder
by diametric literary horses.

But I would say, it’s much the greater sin
to fault a poet’s atavistic traits
than it would be to laud the discipline
secured within tradition’s pearly gates.

A couplet (A quatrain …)
___________completes a sonnet
(adds headroom where a brain
___________may dwell upon it.).



C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden.  Hundreds of his poems have appeared in scores of print and electronic journals out of North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Australia and India.  His collection, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder was published in 2013 by White Violet Press.

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15 Responses

  1. Steve Shaffer

    Excellent! Thanks for writing those.

    This reminds me of one of my other arts — martial arts. People will complain about kata (pre-styled forms), saying that it’s not realistic. But one has to master the forms before one can transcend them. We can all count and use rhyming dictionaries (or algorithms), but what really matters is knowing when to step away from the form for the purposes of the art.

    And yet this is not to say that one can just skip over learning the kata and go right to the kumite (fighting) — at least not if one wishes to learn the art.

    So, one learns to master the kata, then transcend the form when the situation calls for it.

    Or, what you said… 🙂

    • C.B. Anderson

      Steve, I should remind myself not to pick a fight with you if we are physically present together. I have urged young poets before, and I will continue to do so: Until you are up there with Yeats, Frost or Yankevich, pay strict attention to the ideal rules of prosody. Don’t be like Icarus, but rather emulate the Apollonian order.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    Both of these poems by Kip Anderson touch on hot-button issues in poetry today. “Delimitation” points out the dangers of an absolutely rigid adherence to ideal metrical patterns, without due attention to the fluidities and idiomatic structures of our language. One poet will write an iambic pentameter line that sounds perfectly natural and smooth; another poet (a syllable-counter) will force the language into some godawful contortion just to maintain a da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM pattern.

    On the other hand, “Formalities” deals with a much wider and malignant problem: the hatred of anything old or historical or apolitical. This attitude is essentially totalitarian, since it holds that poets are not allowed to touch upon subjects if they are in any way associated with traditional Western culture, or which celebrate it, or which decline to address contemporary politically correct issues.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Joe, you are correct in your analysis of what these poems mean, but I assure you that what you pointed out was the furthest thing from my mind when I wrote them. I’d have to look it up in my records, but I’m pretty sure that both were written more than a decade ago, when I was still trying to figure out my place in the whole poetic process. There were three others like this I submitted, which Evan declined to publish, but I think he caught the best two.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Kip, that’s interesting, because when I read them I sensed that the poems were not quite in your usual style. This was especially the case in the couplet ending of the second poem, with the stepped lines.

    • Peter Hartley

      These are two fine little poems by CBA, and the second, in light of remarks upon it made by Dr Salemi about the prevalent “hatred of anything old”, made me think a little. A few days ago I questioned Martin Rizley’s use of self-conscious archaisms like “betwixt” where the more familiar word “between” would do exactly the same job. But sometimes unfamiliarity can be a small price to pay for appositeness or accuracy or the “suspension of disbelief”. And it is very true, as somebody else has pointed out, that some of our greatest poets have used the language of an earlier age, and to considerable dramatic effect. Coleridge with his “stoppeth”, his “eftsoons”, his “uprist”, and “Rime” in the title of his Ancient Mariner certainly help to plonk us squarely in an earlier age than the one in which he was writing. And if I were reading a work of fiction about, say, Mary, Queen of Scots, it would only help to maintain that fiction in my mind if the text were sprinkled with the odd word more current in the sixteenth century than the twenty-first, a word such as “mislike”, for example or “bruit”. So certainly archaisms have their place, and I must admit to having been very tempted, more than once, to use an o’er when slavish adherence to a ‘correct” syllable count has prevented my using an “over”. To say that the archaisms that were the precursors and the building blocks of the language we use today should be avoided altogether would be a bit like hearing Tracey Emin eschew the achievements of the Renaissance as old hat. As well she may.

      • C.B. Anderson

        Peter, I too have often shrunk from using archaic words, and I try to use them only when the context is appropriate, though “o’er” might be viewed simply as a natural contraction. Saving the meter isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially when so many persons don’t care or simply cannot find ways to do it. Alas, for some of those who comment on this site, metrical imprecision is a sign that true poetry is being written, to which I say “phooey.” Show me a bad poem written by Richard Wilbur or Anthony Hecht where the meter was as precise as can be. The difference is, they looked long and hard, and came up with ways to accomplish all their aims, while compromising nothing, thus avoiding the “da-dum” syndrome adverted to by Dr. Salemi above. Yes, sometimes poems seem to arise out of nothing, full-fledged, but most often it takes a great deal of effort to produce something that seems effortless to the reader.

  3. James A. Tweedie

    My four guidelines for using archaisms:

    1. I do not use them in a poem that is set in the contemporary world.
    2 I do not use one merely to solve a random metrical challenge;
    3. If used, I use them consistently throughout the poem with at least a passing nod to correct Elizabethan grammar and syntax (i.e. thee/singular, you/plural, etc.)
    4. The exception is also a rule when I intentionally and self-consciously use an archaism for an effect that further’s the poem’s greater purpose.

    Note: Not all archaisms are archaisms. Many quaintly-sounding words still exist in our contemporary vocabulary; words such as “apace,” “perchance,” “fray” (as in “fight”), “wherefore,” anon,” “oft,” “alas,” “yen” “ken” (as in to know–still used commonly in Scotland) and “fancy” (as in “to desire”) to name a few. Words of this sort can be useful in adding depth and substance to a poem without necessarily turning it into an Elizabethan parody.

  4. David Watt

    We are fortunate that you have a store of poems to draw from, additional to those poems written more recently. The fact that these are more than a decade old brings to mind the value of formal poetry-that it may stand the test of time, and still have something relevant to say, even with the passing of years.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Thanks, David, though I must say that a decade is very small compared to centuries. What I did then, I do now, and I hope it pleaseth both myself and the reader. What more can be asked?

  5. Joseph S. Salemi

    Peter Hartley’s comments about archaic or obsolete usages touch upon something important. Older contractions like “e’en” or “o’er”, or certain words that are no longer in common currency, aren’t really what the argument is about. As poets, we do have the right to use whatever vocabulary items we wish, if they seem appropriate to the poem at hand. The reason for this is that English, like any other well-established language, isn’t just English as spoken today. It is a treasure house of ALL English, as far back as the history of the language goes, and we have the cultural and creative right to use whatever we find in that treasure house. All that matters is that we use it well, and effectively.

    But the arguments of our enemies in modernism and mainstream free verse are based on the false idea that “English” only means English as spoken today, by the lowest common denominator of the semi-educated. For them, any word or structure or idiom that is no longer generally current simply doesn’t exist, and must be banned from poetic usage. I have heard persons object to the use of the preposition “upon,” because one doesn’t normally hear it in speech, or the subjunctive mood in verbs, because the average person no longer uses or understands it.

    It’s one thing to dislike “e’en,” or “betwixt,” if they are used simply as a means of showing off, or posturing poetically. Too many of us here seem to do that. But our modernist enemies are opposed to ALL FORMS OF ENGLISH that are in any way strange, unusual, uncommon, or simply not part of the mental equipment of a community-college graduate. Don’t give me an argument about this — I’ve been in the po-biz world for too many decades not to have listened to the generalized rules that are drummed into young poets by their workshop masters and their on-line buddies. The slightest hint of archaism, or recondite vocabulary, will get you a ton of brickbats from the Plain Language Police.

  6. Sally Cook

    Too often we forget that art of any kind is not all blossoms and butterflies. To make any kind of successful poem or painting there must first be intent.
    Second, what you construct must, like a sturdy building, have a skeletal structure, to make it stand. That would be found in form, or design. From there, the fun is to apply a specific flesh to the form.

    Many think that art must be easy, spontaneous, and fun. This may be because any great musician, writer or visual artist makes what they do look easy.

    Reading a great poem gives one a sense of inevitability – the poem could not have been written any other way. Thru same goes for a great painting.

    These are larger issues that often get put aside as we seek to understand why some do what they do. I believe that many simply do not understand their goal, or how to reach it, but as Dr. Salemi often says, poetry is a fictive art. Keeping this in mind also keeps one on track to a successful completion of a coherent poem; one which carries the message succinctly. Mr. Anderson is one who achieves this more often than not.

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    Actually, Sally, I prefer to say that poetry is a form of “fictive mimesis,” in that it presents us with a feigned and imaginative version of life and experience, rather than a scrupulously honest cinema-verite version of what you “really” feel,” or what “really” happened.

    When prospective students tell me that they want to write poems that “tell it like it is,” or that “give the real truth” about their experiences, I refuse them permission to sign up in my class. I know they will be hopeless cases.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Oh, Joe, you are such a cruel authoritarian, who dares to speak the patent truth! God forbid that the least feather of any undergraduate be ruffled in the slightest way.

  8. Monty

    I’ve only just spotted these, CB: what a cuppla little gems they are. Especially the first one . . a stylish poem about how to write stylish poetry. And how disciplined and economical of you to manage in 14 words what’d surely take me 500 to get off my chest: “.. not stun the poet into incoherencies by forcing words to fit a fractured sense.” – in a nutshell.
    And analogies don’t come any better than: “.. who should man the sail, and who the helm.” – in regarding the ‘coherency versus meter-fitting’ dilemma. Well captured, CB.
    The poem’s very concept somehow puts me in mind of a masterpiece on these pages last year: ‘The Composition Teacher Addresses His Class’.

    In the second piece: I like the clear assertion you make in the 3rd stanza; it is indeed “the greater sin”. Well thought . . and well defended.
    I wish I could say that I understand the meaning of the final couplet in the scheme of the poem . . but I can’t. It don’t matter.

    Still regarding the 2nd piece: the “pickiness” in me (as you recently put it) couldn’t help noticing that the words “would be” in line 11 might be better if replaced with an ‘is’, to maintain the present tense with the ‘it’s’ (or ‘it is’) in line 9.. as in:
    ‘IT IS much the greater sin to fault a poet’s atavistic traits than IT IS to laud the discipline . . ‘. “it would be” is in the future tense, is it not?

    And one further “pick”, albeit a minute and personal one: I promise you sincerely that I would never and could never write “counterrevolutionary” without putting a hyphen between the TWO words. Not only ‘cos I feel that it’s fit and proper to do so; but also to avoid the visual imbalance – which such a disproportionate amount of unbroken letters exudes – when looking at the whole stanza as a piece of visual art.

    Overall, I’d say that both of these well-written pieces are a noble and impassioned defence of ‘real’ poetry. Bien Joué.


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