The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  132 ratings  ·  24 reviews
With intelligence and precision, Ellen Bryant Voigt parses out the deft and alluring shape of poetic language in The Art of Syntax. Through brilliant readings of poems by Bishop, Frost, Kunitz, Lawrence, and others, Voigt examines the signature musical scoring writers deploy to orchestrate meaning. “This structure—this architecture—is the essential drama of the poem’s comp...more
Paperback, 120 pages
Published June 23rd 2009 by Graywolf Press
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Art of Syntax, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Art of Syntax

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 340)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Leanna
This was awesome. Voigt's prose is clear, lively, and specific. She basically does close readings of a handful of poems, and shows how these poems both establish some kind of structural grid (be it form, meter), etc., and also deviate from this grid. She early on has a useful jazz comparison, in that she discusses how many poems create a form only to improvise away from it and riff on it, and I think this analogy works to describe the book’s overall argument. The book also has a very helpful glo...more
Pamela
In The Art of Syntax, Ellen Bryant Voigt does not insist that poets study syntax and deliberately organize their poems around a consideration of sentence structure. She does argue, however, that syntax is as important as lineation and meter in driving the pace and mood of a poem. She goes into elaborate detail, mapping sentences and scrutinizing patterns of sonic and structural repetition, to show how various effects are achieved in a select handful of poems, including (to name the first poems s...more
Laura Cowan
This little book is brief, but lays out just what I was looking for: a theory of how syntax, rhythm, counterpoint and so on affect the meaning and emotion of the words they serve. I'm looking at this for improving my wordcraft in prose, and this is written for poetry, but the rules apply across the borders of form. Voigt is obviously a university-level teacher of these subjects and even includes a glossary of terms at the end so you can follow her if you didn't analyze poetry in college yourself...more
Erin Lyndal
I admittedly didn't go through this with a fine-toothed comb, but I also didn't feel like I needed to. It's a good primer, but not all that helpful for more advanced poets.
Mat
This short (144 "chunky" pages) book details the tension between syntax and meter. A major premise of the book is the suspension or "right branching" of the fundament (subject-verb-object) through hypotaxis and other strategies. Voigt gives detailed critiques of several poets' work including Stanley Kunitz, D. H. Lawrence, William Shakespeare, Phillip Larkin, Elizabeth Bishop, Donald Justice, and Robert Frost. She ends the book with an interesting Nietzschean analogy, comparing the tendency towa...more
Ryan
For all of their technical prowess in the English language, why can't the authors of these pamphlet-criticism type books arrange their thoughts a little better?

Voigt actually makes some brilliant points about the function of syntax in poetry. and it's complex relationship between the more often studied figurative language and meter. Unfortunately you almost have to do a close reading of her book itself to really understand what she is saying, and for a text that is supposedly didactic I felt th...more
david blumenshine
ok, this one started strongly enough, but quickly circled it's academic rhetoric around a loose & unnecessarily importancized association of musical notation build ups, crescendos, and falling action, with that of literature, specifically poetry. the author uses mostly antiquated reference points, and as such seemed to be flailing well before the halfway point. it is, however, a quick read, and if one is able and eager to will oneself through the baffling rigor, there are a handful of helpfu...more
Kitty
Until I read this book, I had not really thought about the power of syntax to drive the poetic line. Ellen Bryant Voigt has produced a gem of a book with great examples (Kunitz, King of the River; Elizabeth Bishop: The Moose --
D.H. Lawrence: The Snake—and Song of a Man Who Has Come Through; Shakespeare (one sentence sonnets! and how to understand embedded clauses, phrases); Donald Justice: To the Hawks
(McNamara, Rusk, Bundy)

Coupled with a study of "the pleasure of the sentence" offered by Anais...more
Erin
This little book from Graywolf Press contains a lot of information! Voigt writes about phrasing and syntax in poetry from the perspective of someone who knows about the parallel terms in music. It is an interesting and helpful book in the way that it made me think of how my reader's "chunk" words and phrases together to create meaning. But, I don't know really anything about music, so I sense that a lot of the book went over my head...
I can see how someone who understands music would find this...more
Wendy Babiak
This is an excellent book for the beginning poet or the established poet who wishes to deepen her understanding of, and therefore her skill with, the language. Ms. Voigt, a musician as well as a poet, continually draws analogies between the rhythmic structures of music and the rhythmic structures of language. Through close readings of a variety of poems, she illuminates how syntax provides structure in counterpoint to meter and rhyme. A very useful book I'm glad to have on my shelf for further r...more
Carolyn Hembree
Best craft text I've read on syntax and line. Focuses on prosody a lot, but then free verse is fairly recent. Helps to know a bit about music theory, but that's not a must. Still, all cylinders afire when reading the EBV, as my students (affectionately?) call this text. Beautiful reflections on Bishop's drafts here. Nothing on the fragment a la Modernist and Po-Mo texts, but that's not what she sets out to do. She's very clear about intent in her intro.
Mark
Apr 03, 2010 Mark rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: a musician/poet. Maybe.
Shelves: poems-poetry
Read 90% (all but last chapter) but finally gave up. Made absolutely no sense to me. She uses lots of musical concepts (metaphors?) to explain syntax in poetry but unless one is a musician they do NOT help as an explanation.

Secondly, if poetry really involves that much syntactic analysis I want nothing to do with it. Syntax is important, no doubt, but that kind of anal analysis kills the joy in pretty much anything.
Wendy
It takes several reads to really draw the deep utility of this book. I assigned the first section of this book to my Intro to Creative Writing students and most of them complained bitterly. Oh, how they howled. Except for the best poets in the class. They really appreciated it.
Chris
Sounds fascinating, right? Well, it was -- through close reading of a few poems, Ellen Voigt does a very good job of showing how some poets achieve emotional effects with the syntactic rhythms of English, and how meter can work "with and against and inside" syntax.
Therese
I did not fully grasp every technical analysis by this major poet of word order, sentence, line, phrase, meter, rhythm, and pattern. But I learned enough to want to return to this challenging book again and again. The glossary at the back is handy and helpful.
Julie Kelly
I really enjoyed this book as it gives a much deeper and far more intellectual level of understanding to what some may view as simple 'Poem'
The book's author Ellen Bryant Voigt offers a dramatic yet wonderfully light insight into this amazing topic.
Kate
I really enjoyed this discussion of syntax in poetry, and I'm now reading other books in this series (on issues in writing).
Anna
Clearly, beautifully, and intelligently written -- though one would expect no less from a book on poetic syntax.
Catherine
Good information for people who care about language or teach language. Probably not interesting to anyone else.
Sally
The writing's complex, the book's not fun or easy to read, BUT there's good stuff in here for a writer.
Ploughshares
From Recommended Books and Writers in the Spring 2010 issue of Ploughshares. Recommended by Michael Morse.
Jenny
This was one of the most useful books I've read about the craft of poetry.
CELIA
Oct 30, 2013 CELIA added it
This one is strictly for the hard-core professionals!
Cliff
The last chapter was helpful.
Antonio Pina
Antonio Pina marked it as to-read
Sep 17, 2014
Jessa
Jessa added it
Sep 06, 2014
Lisa Hase-jackson
Lisa Hase-jackson is currently reading it
Sep 02, 2014
Bell
Bell marked it as to-read
Aug 22, 2014
Jayme
Jayme is currently reading it
Aug 12, 2014
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
Kyrie: Poems Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 The Flexible Lyric Shadow of Heaven: Poems Headwaters

Share This Book