The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song
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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
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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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I really enjoyed this discussion of syntax in poetry, and I'm now reading other books in this series (on issues in writing).
Clearly, beautifully, and intelligently written -- though one would expect no less from a book on poetic syntax.
Good information for people who care about language or teach language. Probably not interesting to anyone else.
The writing's complex, the book's not fun or easy to read, BUT there's good stuff in here for a writer.
From Recommended Books and Writers in the Spring 2010 issue of Ploughshares. Recommended by Michael Morse.
This was one of the most useful books I've read about the craft of poetry.
Oct 30, 2013 CELIA added it
This one is strictly for the hard-core professionals!
The last chapter was helpful.
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