Natalie Gerber and Nicholas Myklebust have released a call for participants to their critical seminar at the 2014 WCU Poetry Conference.
“The Inventive Force of Poetry”: Prosody and the Mind"
“One reads poetry with one’s nerves.”
--Wallace Stevens, “Materia Poetica” XXXI
For centuries, poets and critics have noticed how poems forge a delicate balance between the expected and the unforeseen. When a poem proceeds too smoothly, we get bored; too chaotically, we get confused. But when a poem manages a certain threshold of tension between surprise, on the one hand, and expectation, on the other, our bodies become the poem's instrument. A curious pleasure arises that eludes our understanding even as we revel in its mystery. As poets and prosodists, we delight in this conundrum: Why does the cadence of a well-wrought poem hold such primal power over us, and why must that power, as Stevens wrote, "resist the intelligence / Almost successfully"?
In recent years a new perspective has emerged that may help us shed light on these and other perennial questions of prosody, such as why we respond emotionally to some rhythms but not others; why certain meters take root in a language where others wither; how our earliest experiences with language shape the rhythms we write and hear later in life; or what sort of time is at work in the poetic line, and how we might measure it.
That perspective is cognitive studies, and it holds, with Stevens, that we read with our nerves—or, more generally, with our bodies. In this three-day critical seminar, intended for poets and critics alike, we will explore what such an approach may contribute to our study and appreciation of rhythm, free verse, and meter and what it may offer poets in pursuit of new creative horizons.
Can it help clarify the deep and enduring intuitive knowledge shared by readers and writers of rhythms—rhythms that we read and write with our bodies? Can it provide insight into the techniques poets use to exploit our predisposition to find and make patterns? What can it offer to longstanding approaches to prosody? Can there be, as Pound gestured to Whitman, commerce between them?
Participants should bring a fascination with questions of prosody—from any approach (poetic, literary, historical, linguistic, philosophical)—and a collegial disposition. A healthy skepticism is welcome, and no prior knowledge of cognitive studies is needed. In fact, a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds is desired. We intend the seminar to be an open investigation into the possible relevance of cognitive studies to the practice and theory of poetry, and a range of voices from different disciplines will bring convivial counterpoint to our conversations.
Prior to the conference, the organizers will provide a modest packet of accessible, entry-level papers bringing cognitive approaches to bear on questions of prosody. Each participant is invited to make a presentation (more or less formal) regarding two or three poems whose prosody seems relevant to—or to challenge—our readings; these may be original poems by participants, as well as poems by others. Inquiries are welcomed; please write to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with queries, comments, or suggestions.