UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rhythm and sound in contemporary Canadian poetry Livesay, Dorothy


Since World War II Canadian literary criticism has tended to be either historical or aesthetic in its emphasis. Little or no interest has been shown in the linguistic approach to criticism; no work has been done on Canadian poets comparable to the writing of Donald David and David Abercrombie on English poets, or of Chatman or Miles on American poets. It is the purpose of this thesis to make a preliminary survey of contemporary Canadian poets from Pratt to Newlove, with particular reference to their style and technique. Special attention will be given to rhythm, and sound, relating Canadian poets' experience to contemporary trends elsewhere. Central to this study is the concept of rhythm in poetry. For the older poets, Pratt and Klein, rhythm was contained in the traditional metres. Raymond Bolster, influenced by the Chicago poets, directed attention to the imagist conception of free verse; and this led, among the poets of the forties, to an increasing interest in the experiments of Pound and Williams. In the fifties, Olson, Duncan, Creeley and Ginsberg began to emphasize the oral and linguistic side of poetry-making. Their influence, first felt in Eastern Canada, has recently gained recognition on the West Coast. The Canadian poets dealt with in this study are those specifically concerned with new experiments in rhythm and sound, and for this reason such poets as Birney and Layton have been excluded. Their eclecticism and frequent changes in style would seem to deserve specialized. research. In this present work, Chapter I defines the terms used and summarizes various critical views on verse techniques, from the Russian Formalists up to the present. Chapter II deals with the forerunners of experimentation, Pratt and Klein. Of the two, Klein was the greater technician, a poet who played with many metrical forms. Both men, however, were deeply concerned with language and its relation to poetry, and this linguistic interest undoubtedly Influenced younger poets. Chapter III examines the imagist movement and in particular its effect on the poet of the thirties, Raymond Knister. Although he used metaphor and symbol, the emphasis which Knister put upon the object— "little things and great"— did great service to the growth of an indigenous, objective movement in Canadian poetry. This movement is the subject of chapters IV and V, in which the work of Souster and Dudek is examined. Chapter VI considers the poetry of Milton Acorn as it relates to the imagism and social commentary already present in the poetry of Souster and Dudek. An unusual aspect of Acorn's verse is its didactic note, expressed in resonant rhythms. Chapter VII examines the style of Alfred Purdy. Although he eschews rhyme, he uses the Iambic stance whenever it suits his purpose. Purdy's own personal rhythm dominates the content and structure of all his poetry. In conclusion Chapter VIII refers to the contemporary scene in British Columbia, attempting to show that the experimental trends from the western States and from eastern Canada have united in the work of Phyllis Webb, James Reid and John Newlove. Each one, though markedly individual, is profoundly conscious of the spoken word, the linguistic collecation of words, and the importance of syntax as a propeller of rhythm and sound. Newlove's poetry is especially singled out as being an 'oral' and 'aural' reflection of his place and time. An Appendix is attached which described the Trager and Smith approach to stress, intonation and juncture, with some critical notes on its application to the art of poetry. Throughout this thesis, the emphasis is on an examination of a poet's style rather than an evaluation of his content. Nonetheless it should be borne in mind that "Sound and meter...must be studied as elements of the totality of a work of art, not in isolation from meaning." An examination of Canadian poetry from Pratt to Purdy must recognize the intimate interplay that exists between thought and expression.

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