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The Poem's Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody

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The Poem's Heartbeat is a progressive, step-by-step introduction to prosody--the art and science of metrical composition in poetry. This second edition includes a new appendix of sample scansions, and a comprehensive index of poets and poems cited.

"This intelligent, user-friendly book is a quality guide to rhyme, rhythm, meter, and form for students, experienced readers, and practitioners of poetry... The Poem's Heartbeat may well be the finest general book available on prosody."- Library Journal (starred review)

"In lucid prose, Corn clears a straight path through the scansion of quantitative verse and free verse... A provocative, definitive manual on meter." Publishers Weekly

"A lively and well-informed primer to prosody, a current hot topic in poetic studies. Corn's aim is to introduce the novice poet or student to the vocabulary and understanding of English prosody, from its basic rules and definitions to the complexities of how sound is measured in poetry. Recommended for all academic libraries, this book could only have been written by someone who cares about the details, the relation of sound to sense, and fine, clear expression."- Choice

"The Poem's Heartbeat triumphs over the dryness-or supposed dryness-of the subject, treating every aspect of it with precision, dispatch, and apt illustration. That it is sorely needed in the present footless state of things goes without saying."-Richard Wilbur

176 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 1997

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About the author

Alfred Corn

46 books8 followers
Alfred Corn was born in Bainbridge, Georgia, in 1943. He grew up in Valdosta, Georgia, and received his B.A. in French literature from Emory University in 1965. He was awarded an M.A. in French literature from Columbia University in 1967, his degree work including a year spent in Paris on a Fulbright Fellowship and two years of teaching in the French Department at Columbia College.

His first book of poems, All Roads at Once, appeared in 1976, followed by A Call in the Midst of the Crowd (1978), The Various Light (1980), Notes from a Child of Paradise (1984), The West Door (1988), and Autobiographies (1992). His seventh book of poems, titled Present, appeared in 1997, along with the novel Part of His Story. Stake: Selected Poems, 1972-1992, appeared in 1999, followed by Contradictions in 2002, which was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award.

Corn has also published a collection of critical essays titled The Metamorphoses of Metaphor (1989), The Poem’s Heartbeat (1997), and a work of art criticism, Aaron Rose Photographs (Abrams, 2001). A frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review and The Nation, he also writes art criticism for Art in America and ARTnews magazines.

Corn has received fellowships and prizes from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Academy of American Poets, and the Levinson Prize from Poetry magazine.

He has taught at the City University of New York, Yale, Connecticut College, the University of Cincinnati, U.C.L.A., Ohio State University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Tulsa.

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5 stars
70 (29%)
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97 (40%)
3 stars
54 (22%)
2 stars
16 (6%)
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4 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 27 of 27 reviews
Profile Image for David.
Author 1 book91 followers
June 19, 2013
I read it. Then I (and please understand that I never do this) read it again. And then I got it. This three-star book that would have earned a solid five stars if I could have fully understood it in a single reading.

People who are already familiar poetic meter and forms will probably love this concise volume and have absolutely no problem following along with it at all. Folks for whom this is all new (such as myself) are not in for such an easy time.

I knew poetry had a lot of terminology. But I really wasn't prepared for the first seventy pages (fully half of the book!) to contain nothing but descriptions of meter (patterns of stresses in spoken words) in single lines of poetry. And the terminology, oh the avalanche of terms was overwhelming! Here's a taste:

"...might be tetrameter with anacrusis and an anapestic substitution in the third foot...in which case it is iambic pentameter, with initial truncation and an anapest substituted in the fourth foot. But is it really iambic? It might be trochaic pentameter, with the final two feet iambic substitutions."

The funny thing is that I now understand this quoted passage. But I didn't my first time through. Partly that was my fault, I'm sure. I could have spent more time reading and re-reading each page until it sunk in a bit more before moving on... But I do feel that Corn could have done more to help the rank beginner.

For example, early in the book (page 13 in mine), he is explaining the stresses in a line of poetry as they compare with how the line would be said conversationally, "If this were a line of poetry, however, experienced readers of metrical verse would attribute a stress to the word 'for.'" He then gives two more examples just like this one. As an inexperienced reader of metrical verse, I had absolutely no idea why the stress would change. Corn does not explain, so a beginner must simple read on, never learning the answer. On my second time reading the book, I could easily see that all three of his examples are in iambic pentameter. My first time, the book might as well have been two pages shorter.

To demonstrate a particular meter, he uses some examples (as I recall, one of them was from a Shakespeare sonnet) that used variation - in other words, it had less or more stresses than the meter was supposed to have! Surely Corn could have found some more canonical examples of lines that actually followed the meter in question! It's baffling to me why he would have chosen examples so utterly confusing to the beginner!

There are other instances of this sort of thing. And some really awkward phrasing that I have to assume made it past some lazy editors? (There is also a spelling error on page 74, "...to give French examples, connu/nu is regarded as more perfect that obscur/futur." He clearly meant "than.")

I see that there is a Second Edition of this book now. Perhaps a good number of these problems have been addressed. Who knows?

Probably the real key to fully understanding my second read-through was that I'd been actually attempting my own poems in some of the meters and forms from the book. So by the time I had reached the end, I actually had questions and the book answered my questions! It was like reading it again for the first time.

Embarrassing but true: my first time through, I managed to miss the entire point of the Metrical Variation chapter! I read all of that text without understanding that a poet could write in a meter (say, iambic pentameter), but not write five perfect iambs on every line. In fact, I now understand that many poets (and readers of poetry, presumably) actually prefer certain deviations (or "variations") from the meter. This is an incredibly important thing to know and it certainly makes writing metered poetry much easier!

I plunged into this headfirst, I suffered, then I adjusted to it, then enjoyed it. I'm just glad it's short!

Tags: meter, rhymes, pentameter, hexameter, alliteration, logoaedic verse, pyrric-spondee combinations, iambs, trochees, waltzing, verse forms, read twice, the pain, the suffering, the understanding
Profile Image for Jake McAtee.
163 reviews27 followers
September 14, 2017
Really thorough. The best introduction I've read. Favorite chapter was the last on "unmetered poetry." I had never really considered the impact that the Authorized Version of the bible had concerning free verse.
11 reviews3 followers
April 14, 2013
The Poem’s Heartbeat is the best manual of prosody I have ever read. In a clear and concise manner, Corn explains metered and unmetered verse. If you study poetry, this book is a must have.
Profile Image for Andrew Stone.
Author 3 books62 followers
May 20, 2013
Great manual to prosody (especially for beginners). I read it for a class and found it useful for what it is. Not necessarily "fun" to read, but definitely helpful.
Profile Image for Karl Agan.
Author 7 books80 followers
November 12, 2014
Albert Corn menulis esei berkenaan sifat puisi traditional yang menekankan unsur meter, stress, stanza, verse, dsb. Dalam perkembangan penulisan puisi akhir ini, mungkin seseorang akan bertanya, apa gunanya mengenali teknik-teknik tersebut dalam era sajak moden ini?

Untuk menjawab persoalan tersebut, saya memetik kata Albert Corn yang berbunyi "As already noted, the placing of stresses becomes moatly indeterminate by readers, who will remain in doubt about the author's rhythmic intentions and wikl therefore be unable to grasp the complete meaning of the poem." Ketika Albert Corn memberi kenyataan ini, dia tidak pula menyuruh agar para penyajak menulis dalam gaya puisi tradisional, cuma mengajak para pembaca untuk melihat semula bagaimana teknik penulisan puisi disatukan dengan naluri puitis si penulis.

"Those who have made a close study of traditional prosody usually write better unmetered poems than those who haven't, acknowledging regular patterns by making intelligent departures from them." Penyajak yang pandai dan bersikap innovatif sahaja yang akan melakukan hal seperti yang disebutkan dalam excerpt ini.

Walaubagaimana pun, penulisan dalam gaya tradisional mahupun moden mempunyai kelemahannya sendiri. Kata-kata dan perumpamaan lama misalnya, sudah terlalu sering dipakai dan kelihatan seperti sudah lelah. Sajak moden pula bergumul dengan nada puisi yang kurang rimanya sehingga pembaca cuma menangkap suara dan maksud sajak yang hanya samar-samar. Tak kira gaya mana sekalipun, masing-masing mempunyai kekuatannya sendiri. Di akhir buku ini, Albert Corn berkata, "..it's impossible to please all the people all of the time, and one advantage of writing poetry is that it offers an occasion, before all else, at least to the author."

Buku ini berhak mendapat lebih dari 3 bintang namun suasana di dalam buku ini seperti memasuki sebuah kelas pula.
Profile Image for Emilia Hamra.
38 reviews4 followers
February 4, 2015
I don't know how to rate this. Four stars for usefulness - I'm actually thinking I'll keep it for future reference. It was wonderful in that it introduced basic topics but then went slightly in depth with them - never so much it was overwhelming, but it was still thorough, at least for someone new to prosody. However, it was fairly dull, and Corn's silly little commentaries didn't do a very good job of making it any more interesting. Some of the bits were amusing but also just ludicrous. So, two stars for the way it was written.
Profile Image for rory.
210 reviews
June 24, 2010
This book leads me to conclude that poets worry about some of the most ridiculous things. But I can now appreciate that that spaced-out look they get might be due to an intense inner debate about whether they have sufficient expressive justification to substitute this or that iamb with a trochee.
Profile Image for hh.
1,105 reviews58 followers
November 13, 2014
this is the first prosody book to make solid sense to me. will reread a number of times. basic familiarity with poetic terminology and a willingness to embrace technical language recommended.
Profile Image for John Rimmer.
292 reviews3 followers
November 10, 2021
This is a subjective review, meant to reflect more on my deficiencies as a reader of poetry than Corn's ability to explain the practice.

This subject of poetry is like a dinner party, a very popular and exclusive affair that many would count it an honor to attend. And among those who do, they really have a time among themselves. Now I for some reason have been invited to this dinner party, but find it a bit above my place in society, rubbing elbows with all those important people. It just doesn't sound all that interesting to me, but there's no getting out of the affair, so here I am. Uninterested, and worse, uninitiated.

The person who insisted I attend this thingy did me a solid by putting me in the hands of this man named Corn, who for his part really knows his way around these poems. It'll be his job to show me around and introduce me to everybody. And he does. Names, forms, terms, excerpts, and other things are furiously slung at me as he bounces me from face to face at the party. And by the end of his book I feel just as lost in the crowd, but worse in that I've been given dozens and dozens of names I've already forgotten, both who they are and what form they correspond to. I'm as lost as ever, and almost more uninterested. This feels like the sort of club that you have to work really hard to be a part of and I'm too late to the party.

Thank you very much for showing me around Mr. Corn. It was delightful to meet everyone. Please forgive me for forgetting all of your names.
Profile Image for Tandava Graham.
951 reviews53 followers
February 7, 2019
I wouldn’t start with this book if you’re new to poetry or poetic terminology, but it’s very interesting if you have a bit of experience under your belt. The author does a good job, while walking us through all the possible variations of rhythm, meter, and rhyme, of always keeping us connected to why these things happen in poetry. Actually, I’d be worried if he were my editor, since I don’t think he would allow any variation without a deliberate, expressive purpose. But as an author/teacher, it’s good that he keeps that ideal in front of us constantly, reminding us that, as Swami Kriyananda put it, “there are no fillers in a true work of art.” The final section on free verse was also very good, balanced, and held to the same standards as traditional verse.
Profile Image for Kaye.
Author 6 books34 followers
September 5, 2020
Very useful book, especially the examples in the back. I appreciated the careful detail in the chapters about accentual-syllabic verse and metrical variation. (The latter chapter was especially illuminating because I remember discovering that there were 11-syllable lines in some of Shakespeare's sonnets but being baffled as to why when I was in my teens.) Alfred Corn's disdain for unmetered poetry was a bit amusing.

There could have been more women poets given as examples, though, and the recommended reading for future study didn't seem to have women authors in the list, either.
Profile Image for Andrea.
Author 12 books12 followers
January 26, 2021
Concise yet info-packed book, great for non-beginners. Learned some interesting tidbits, like quantitative versus qualitative meter, and how Japanese/French/Chinese count the number of syllables only and not stresses. This was eye-opening for me, as I studied French lit in college and was always confused when studying the syllable-stressed English poetry. Also learned some new terms like "final hypercatalexis" and "anacrusis." Helpful insertion of examples from famous poets.

Great resource, but again, definitely not for beginners.
Profile Image for Gerry LaFemina.
Author 39 books57 followers
May 29, 2017
Corn's prejudices against what he calls unmetered verse (verse libre) standout a little much, but his discussion of meter and prosody are well written, clear, and progressive in many ways. It's a good book, sometimes even very good, particularly for those interested in the workings of prosody.
Profile Image for Jacob Rush.
87 reviews5 followers
January 11, 2017
A fair introduction to the topic. Not particularly entertaining and terms/history could be overwhelming for a novice.
3 reviews
February 5, 2021
Thorough and precise, with enough detail to interpret traditionally metered poetry and a little too much to write free-verse. Overall a must-read for any aspiring poet.
Profile Image for David West.
265 reviews13 followers
July 1, 2022
A very helpful guide to scansion, rhythm, rhyme, unmetered poetry and all things related. Looking forward to practicing what I learned and returning to this book often.
Profile Image for Ezra.
51 reviews27 followers
March 5, 2017
A good introduction to prosody. More accessible than some of the manuals on formal verse.
Profile Image for slp.
103 reviews8 followers
April 28, 2012
I think Corn is not a poet. I do appreciate that he acknowledges how important secondary stress can be, even in metered poetics; and while I agree with his argument that a readership unfamiliar with/intimidated by conventions of metered verse will lose access to a critical mass of English-language poetry, his understanding of prosody is not helpful to poets thinking about current approaches to the line/metrics. Actually, I think some of his assertions in that are just plain bad, and kind of insulting.
Profile Image for Josiah DeGraaf.
852 reviews203 followers
October 10, 2015
This book did what it was supposed to do: it taught me about how to better recognize complex forms of rhyme and rhythm in a poem and helped me to gain a greater appreciation for what poets do. It was a denser read, but it was aimed at the beginner level that I was at, so while I had to read the book carefully, it was an appropriate fit for my understanding of prosody and ended up teaching me a lot. Given that I'm not personally the greatest fan of poetry, this book wasn't spectacular for me; but I learned a fair bit from it nonetheless.

Rating: 3.5 Stars (Good).
Profile Image for Will.
45 reviews1 follower
July 10, 2011
I found this manual not especially lively or revelatory, but it is a fair introduction to the topic--or a good review (or second opinion) following more involved and engaging books on versification, such as Derek Attridge's Poetic Rhythm or Timothy Steele's All the Fun's in How You Say a Thing. It helped me synthesize perspectives on substitution, truncation, and hypermetrical syllables.
122 reviews2 followers
February 22, 2013
The book takes a scholarly approach and as a result is rather dry, but is so thorough and competent on its subject-matter that I can't help but recommend it for those interested.

It explores all sorts of poetic forms, from the ground up, looking at meter and rhyme and structure and the lack thereof. It also looks at a broad swathe of sample poems, though generally just a few lines at a time.

Quite helpful for someone like me looking to get a better understanding of poetry and prosody.
Profile Image for Frankie Rollins.
Author 3 books3 followers
December 8, 2009
I don't write formal poetry, but this metaphorical lesson taught me so much about its marrow.
Profile Image for Nia.
64 reviews
August 29, 2013
Excellent guide to metrical/ rhythm analysis of poetry. Interesting info on the differences in poetry due to the nature of different languages.
Displaying 1 - 27 of 27 reviews

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