On the Strict Use of Verse in (Epic) Poetry
A reflection of a poet alien to English language
By MARTIN REZNY
Though I understand the utility that classical verses like the one you mention had in the days even before books were around for the memorization of long texts and their public performance, I generally choose to follow no strict form. I do try to infuse some rythmic form into all of my writing though, especially into my poetry of course, but I try to keep it always evolving throughout the piece, organic, unpredictable. If anything, in the case of my musical poems, it’s supposed to be inspired by the flow of the music, though again, not strictly.
It may have something to do with my experience learning to write within the Czech literary tradition clashing with the postmodernism’s effect on poetry. That perhaps sounds like a lot of history to untangle, but it’s not that complicated of a context. You see, Czech language is very different from English — it’s extremely flexive. What that means is that there’s virtually no limit to how much words can be bent and altered, allowing infinite rhyming.
The practical consequence of that for poets, along with nearly perfectly regular stresses under each odd syllable in Czech language, is that where English prefers metric verse (allotting a certain number of “feet” as you point out for each line), in Czech you don’t rely on a certain amount of time to pass as a unit of verse, you can (and very much have to) be absolutely precise with each syllable. That means that going strict in Czech means going totally strict.
As the Czech language was becoming standardized, the 19th century “obrozenci” did indeed heavily prefer the so called bound verse, which meant not only that there was a clear system in where the rhymes go, but also a completely rhythmically perfect sequence of stresses on each line. Compared to Czech, English rhymes only approximately. As for the postmodern influence, or in the case of poetry, pretty much a countercultural revolution abolishing verse altogether, that resulted in most new Czech poetry lacking any system.
Unfortunately, many contemporary aspiring poets (there are virtually no paid professionals anymore) mistakenly believe they started using the opposite of bound verse, the free verse, while in reality, free verse doesn’t actually mean no verse at all. Free verse is supposed to have no repetition, but it is supposed to have some aesthetically interesting patterns of melody and rhythm at least, even rhymes, just not at the places where you’d expect them. Personally, I find bound verse boring and no verse as no art, but I don’t prefer free verse either.
Which lead to me having perpetual arguments with what’s left of Czech poetic community over whatever the hell I was doing that they both didn’t like and didn’t understand, until I decided to just stop writing in Czech language so that I don’t have to deal with those people anymore. Anyway, what I prefer is called mixed verse, or as I like to think about it, whatever the hell works the best at any particular moment for any particular artistic purpose. It is infinitely better received in English, too, because for English, it’s actually a more precise verse than what’s usual, but without it being very repetitive.
If you’re interested in what inspired my style the most, I did make one translation of a famous Czech poem into English, my favorite poem. It also has a dynamic verse, as well as many examples of precise rhyming and general sense of “soundpainting” (nearest English translation is onomatopoeia), which I tried to preserve in the translation as much as it’s possible in English language. At any rate, thank you for your interest in my poetry. Who knows, if I ever decide to write a book long epic poem, perhaps I will follow the classics for a change.
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