Glossary: poetry









Introduction: analysis and adventure
Axis poetry
Centred rhyme
Consonants and vowels
Fragmentation and faulting
Inter-line poetry
'Linguistically innovative poetry'
Linkage by meaning
Pulse poetry
Rearrangement and restoration
Regions and zoning
Semantic force and semantic significance
Strata poetry
Tensile art
Transept poetry
Unit poetry

Introduction: analysis and adventure

Alain Robbe-Grillet wrote that 'form in the novel has to move to stay alive.' This is surely true of the novel, and equally true of poetry. I make the point that the artist should 'transform form.' I stress the exhilarating variety of forms available to the poet and the need for a wide variety of forms - free verse as well as strict forms of many different kinds, forms from the past which are still useful and completely new forms. I emphasize form here, but not at the expense of content. As regards content, a significant number of my own poems are concerned with war and conflict, the First and Second World Wars and the conflict in Northern Ireland when the troubles were at their height. As we look back on the twentieth century, a century of unprecedented horrors, I think that this preoccupation can be seen as not at all misplaced or excessive, but the subject matter of poetry is vast. I emphasize variety of tone and subject matter as well as form. Very many of my poems are dark in tone but I've written poems which are relaxed, including humorous poems. The page Poems doesn't include all my poems but it does indicate something of their variety of form, subject matter and tone. The page is an example of Large Page Design. All the poems are on one single large page. Page Home, on the same page, gives access to all the poems, which are grouped in sections. Each section has poems linked by form or tone.

I believe that Linkage Theory offers a good basis for modern poetry - for both writing poetry and its analysis. My approach is in part systematic and rigorous, but I see no contradiction between system and rigour on the one hand and on the other, passion, compassion, activism, humour, an intense concern for the health of language and the vitality of culture, a whole range of other concerns. A systematic study can reveal gaps, new possibilities very clearly. The meticulous work of cartographers was needed to show explorers what regions were still unexplored, to suggest new areas for risk and adventure.

Of all the creative writers of the past, it may be that Proust comes nearest to anticipating this theory, or the need for this theory. Andre Maurois writes of Proust that he had "many of the virtues of a scientist - accuracy in observation, honesty in dealing with facts, and a determination to discover the nature of certain general laws. For all his mysticism he was a positivist. Of all the many 'persons' who made up his individual self, the one that, in his opinion, clung most tenaciously to life was a certain philosopher 'who is never happy except when he has discovered the common qualities that bind together two works, two sensations, and two beings.' " ('The Quest for Proust.')

The celebrated moment when the taste of cake and tea summon up the world of childhood can be seen as an instance of the linkage brought about by memory, the linkage between the present and the past, which can be brought back to vivid life by a taste, a smell or an object. This overwhelmingly important theme makes 'positivist' not the best word to use of Proust - nor is Linkage Theory positivist. What is common to the Proustian view and Linkage Theory is the emphasis upon structure and form, and at the same time the freedom of art, the freedom of the human mind, to transcend structure and the flow of time.

The great design of À La Recherche du Temps Perdu is a notable example of the power of linkages to create a massive work of literary architecture. As Andre Maurois writes, "The reader...who, having worked through the whole novel, is struck by the secret symmetry of the composition, by the multiplicity of the details that balance one another from wing to wing of the structure, by the toothing stones set in position from the first moment that the work was begun, and designed to carry vaulting still to come, must be filled with wonder that Proust could envisage the whole gigantic edifice so completely."

Even in the case of Tolstoy, a writer more linked with conveying the immediacy of life than patterns, appearances may be deceptive. Italo Calvino writes in 'Leo Tolstoy, Two Hussars:' 'What other fiction writers make explicit - symmetrical patterns, supporting structures, counterbalances, link sequences - all remain hidden in Tolstoy. But hidden does not mean non-existent: the impression Tolstoy conveys of transferring 'life' just as it is on to the page ('life', that mysterious entity to define which we have to start from the written page) is actually merely the result of his artistry, that is to say an artifice that is more sophisticated and complex than many others.' (One of the essays in the excellent 'Why read the classics,' translated by Martin McLoughlin.)

Poetry cannot achieve the massive effects of Proust or of many much shorter works, but, as Wordsworth pointed out, scale is all. The hills of the Lake District are 'inferior to the massive mountains of the Alps in height, but not in beauty or significance.' ('Guide to the Lakes.')

So many human activities reveal a powerful drive to explore the fullest range of possibilities. This drive can only be appreciated to the full by taking a systematic approach. Michel Guerard, in his 'Cuisine Minceur,' gives a systematic treatment of 'The Methods of Cooking.' Colin Tudge, the writer on science, agriculture and cookery, gives a systematic treatment of techniques in cookery in 'Future Cook.' In the great cuisines of the world, for example, potatoes have not simply been boiled, baked or roasted:

Potatoes may be served as whole, discrete things...They can be broken down a little, so their surface starches take up the surrounding juices, and leak out to thicken them. They may be pounded a little more to produce a puree, usually called mash, or broken up completely to thicken soups, like flour; or indeed turned into flour, which is sometimes used in bread. At all grades of comminution the potato will pick up and hold surrounding flavours: of mint, thyme, young carrot, or (although the potato came late to India) the whole astonishing pharmacopoeia of Indian spices.

The potato, once mashed, is as pliant as modelling-clay; it can be mixed with anything and everything and moulded to whatever shape you choose.

Of course, not all possibilities can be used. It may be that a technique or a form has been used to a great extent in the past and is now exhausted. The two questions which must be asked are:
(1) What are the possibilities and the possible combinations, revealed by a systematic approach?
(2) Which of these can be used and justified in artistic terms?

By considering the possible combinations of length, form and subject, it can easily be shown that an epic poem in rhymed couplets concerned with the martial exploits of a great king is one possibility, but it is not one that would be contemplated today. By using systematic methods, we can more easily detect omissions and arbitrary choices, and perhaps develop new techniques.

I distinguish two phases in many human activities, the exploratory and the systematic. These phases are not to be regarded as separate and sequential - exploration can continue after systematization has begun. To give an example from scientific activity, in the exploratory phase, chemical elements were discovered one by one. The Russian chemist Mendeleev drew up a systematic plan for the ordering of the elements, the Periodic Table. Elements continued to be discovered, and one by one, the gaps in the Periodic Table were filled.

In the arts, the pattern is less clear-cut, but the resemblances remain. Innovations are made one by one, one possibility after another is realized, the repertoire of techniques becomes ever wider, more intricate. There follows a phase of conscious realization - there are gaps in the scheme which need filling, the possibilities are not exhausted, new possibilities can be realized. Thinking in systematic terms can lead to new innovations and new discoveries. Alternatively, there may be no obvious ways forward, no innovations which renew the exploratory phase.

In the exploratory phase, creation of new works is less problematic for a time because the artist, architect, writer or composer is working from within a style, which in the end is superseded: so, in architecture, the architect has worked within a succession of styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and so on. Later, there was a systematic phase in which innovations were lacking and the architect chose a style, such as neo-Gothic or neo-Classic. The exploratory phase was renewed with the modern movement in architecture, which is now exhausted. An architect today chooses from past styles.

I defend systematic study and I defend too analysis and theory - but not all systematic study, analysis and theory. I argue the case for informed analysis in the page on Linkages with music. But the poem in its wholeness has the final word, and the whole person who created the poem. Brian Lee puts it memorably in his 'Poetry and the System:'

'Every work is a new mystery, coming from the larger mystery of which we are a part. Every poem that is a poem is distinctive: it hangs together differently and so requires special understanding, and not laws. The same must go for the human nature from which it came.'


Variant, linked forms of a poem or other work of art in which the shape is modified. For example, a poem may be in matrix form - almost all poems have been printed in matrix form, the standard way of printing a poem in consecutive lines. Alternatively, the lines may be fractured, opening the texture to some extent, or the poem may undergo fragmentation, opening the texture still further and giving a new linkage with the page or other surface. Another example is a centred poem (the poem is centred on the page rather than having a justified left margin, a way of arranging the lines used by James Dickey) and the same poem with a justified left margin.

Allomorphs have the same words and the same punctuation but differ in the arrangement of the poem on the page or in the size or tone of the lettering.

Allomorphism may give two different textures, close and open. In close texture, there is an effective contrast between the massed black print of the text and the surrounding white space of the paper, the ground, unless other colours are chosen for the print and the paper. In open texture, there's greater interpenetration of print and white space. A faulted poem will have open texture, encouraging the reader to give a more concentrated attention to the words in the interior of the poem, whilst the poem with unfragmented lines in close texture is likely to have a more striking visual impact. The faulted poem in open texture is derived from the allomorphic unfaulted poem in close texture by two operations: opening the lines, to give double spacing, and then fracturing the lines. All these innovations are due to my interest in the morphology of the poem.

The picture poem may be made up of words only, or may include an image in the form of a drawing, painting or photograph, for example, an outline drawing of hills or a fully-realized painting or a photograph of one feature in the picture space. Of course, there's no reason why a design poem should be limited to the size of a page in a book. Large works can easily be produced.

Axis poetry

There's a linkage with graphic design, since the technique affects the appearance of the poem on the page. As in the case of other formal innovations, form should not be considered in isolation from content. Powerful emotion, the overwhelming force of the content, can almost compel the adoption of a form, such as the sonnet. Later, I use poetry by Shakespeare to illustrate the argument.

The layout of things far removed from poetry underlies the axis form. Consider a simple set of mathematical equations and the way in which the equations are laid out on the page, or a set of linkage statements in the notation I've devised and the way in which these linkage statements are laid out on the page, the linkage brackets <> in a vertical line. The contents brackets [] and linkage brackets are left blank in this illustrative example.

a = c - b
b = 2
c = 4
a = - 2

[ ] <> [ ]
[ ] <> [ ]
[ ] <> [ ]

Lines of poetry can be laid out on the page in a similar way. Each line has a linkage of some sort in the centre, a left side of the line and a right side of the line. The linkages in the centre, laid out in an imaginary vertical line, are the axis of the poem. The poem is divided into approximately two halves, left and right. ('Centred rhyme' - for this, please see the page concerned with 'linkage by sound - can also be considered as a form of axis poetry, although in this case there is a horizontal axis and the two halves of the poem are 'upper' and 'lower.') Although the meaning of axis here is completely clear and straightforward, it's worth including here a dictionary definition of axis: 'a real or imaginary line ... about which an object, form, composition, or geometrical construction is symmetrical.' Since axis poetry gives shape to the poem on the page, it's most conveniently classified as a form of concrete poetry.

What linkages may there be along the vertical axis? There are various possibilities. These are only a few:

A space generally shows the position of the vertical axis. The organizing principle which links the left side of the line and the right side of the line and which is, as it were, placed in the space, may be no more than a pause, the space being the visual counterpart of the pause. This is a diversification of the caesura. The caesura is generally applied in a non-systematic way, the space in centred poetry is applied in a systematic way, and is presented in a systematic way on the page. The result is a series of split lines. James Dickey employed split lines in his poetry, sometimes with one space in the line, sometimes with more than one, presenting the spaces unsystematically, without a vertical axis. An excerpt from James Dickey's 'The Firebombing:'

Slants   is woven with wire thread
Levels out holds together like a quilt Off the starboard wing cloud flickers

Another organizing principle is faulting. The linkage is with the geological process called faulting in which layers of rock, subjected to pressure, fracture and move along a fault plane. In faulted poetry, the vertical axis is the fault plane, the lines of poetry are the strata- and the emotional force of the poet is the physical pressure applied to the material.

Another is equality, the linkage being with the equals sign in equations like the ones above. There can't, of course, be strict equality. Mathematically, equality may indicate that the expressions on either side of the sign have the same reference. This can be implemented in lines of poetry, the left side of the line having the same reference as the right side of the line.

The space may simply indicate a boundary, as in the example of an axis poem reachable by a text link from the page on Composite poetry. This poem, 'Derwentwater: Summer and Winter,' is for two voices and the space shows the boundary between the two voices, voice 1 on the left and voice 2 on the right.

Other organizing principles are conjunction and disjunction. Disjunction - disconnection or separation - is suited to many different contents: opposing views, sharply contrasted views, but also a dialogue between different minds, of the kind found in Yeats' 'A Dialogue of Self and Soul,' or Yeats' 'Ego Dominus Tuus,' although the form generally demands more succinct statements than in either of these. Like the other organizing principles, disjunction can lead to poetry which transcends the organizing principle, to a poetry which is not at all abstract. If there should be any doubt about this, consider this very clear and, in fact, systematic example of disjunction, even if the disjunction isn't shown along a vertical axis, from Shakespeare:

CRABBED Age and Youth
Cannot live together:
Youth is full of pleasance,
Age is full of care;
Youth like summer morn,
Age like winter weather,
Youth like summer brave,
Age like winter bare;
Youth is full of sport,
Age's breath is short,
Youth is nimble, Age is lame;
Youth is hot and bold,
Age is weak and cold,
Youth is wild, and Age is tame:—
Age, I do abhor thee;
Youth, I do adore thee:
O! my Love, my Love is young!
Age, I do defy thee—
O sweet shepherd, hie thee,
For methinks thou stay'st too long.

Setting out a few lines as centred poetry, along an axis:

Youth is full of pleasance   Age is full of care
Youth like summer morn       Age like winter weather
Youth like summer brave      Age like winter bare

Centred rhyme

Established 'rhyming' techniques include the couplet, which links by sound pairs of lines, to give the sound scheme aa, bb...or the linkage which can be described by the scheme abab cdcd...However, in this field as in others, diversification is possible. (See General Glossary.) The list of techniques is not closed (again, see General Glossary) and there are new possibilities. In centred sound linkage, the first line of the poem is linked with the last, the second line is linked with the penultimate line, and so on, leaving two lines in the centre of the poem which are linked by sound, or, alternatively, a single line not linked with any other. The lines which are linked at the centre of the poem, being very near to each other, have a marked sound effect. The lines towards the top and bottom of the poem (in the border region) are linked by sound but the rhymes are distant. There is a sound gradient, then, from pronounced to faint.

Consonants and vowels

The contrast between consonants and vowels is an obvious one but the linkage between consonants and short vowels is an interesting one, and the contrast between these and long vowels - or vowels which can be lengthened.  Consonants and short vowels are like the notes produced by a percussive instrument such as the piano. Long vowels can be sustained, like the long, sustained notes which can be produced by the string, woodwind and brass instruments in the orchestra. In the opening lines of my poem

Blinding snow,
settling and unsettling snow,
snow resting like mortar on the stone
of the cold, unroofed, unfinished home
we call the world,
snow drifting far, and wide...

the long vowels in the words 'far' (in particular) and 'wide' should be lengthened very much when the poem is spoken.

Poetry in English is accentual not quantitative, of course, but I attach great importance to the difference between short and long value. The 'length value' of a line as a whole can be increased appreciably not only by long vowels but also by caesuras and by a rallentando, a slowing down.


In this short poem in unit form, the units which are controlled are consonants and vowels. There are 4 of these units in each line, with varying numbers of punctuation marks. The units are shown here in bold print and the punctuation marks in faint print. The vowels follow the sequence a, e, i, o, u and the only consonants are an initial 'l' and final 't s,' or the same consonants with {reversal}. 'List' has multiple ambiguities - the ambiguity of noun or verb, and ambiguities of meaning. It refers to leaning on one side, the list which is an item-by-item record (only the beginning of the list, the first item being 'lost lust'), and the archaic / poetic word for 'listen:' 'listen to this ... '



'Let's ... !'

List ...




There are horizontal, vertical and diagonal components of directionality in a poem.

Horizontal direction (or the x-direction): the obvious fact that reading is from left to right, and, also the fact that the line ending may act as a kind of force, increasing directionality.

Vertical direction (or the y-direction): the progress from line to line. Directionality does not, of course, require that the transition from line to line should be uneventful. The movement of the verse from the end of one line to the beginning of the next offers opportunities for surprise, shock, playfulness. Klee wrote of taking a line for walk. His reference was to painting, but poets can put his words into practice. See also the essay by Christopher Ricks, 'Wordsworth: "A Pure Organic Pleasure from the Lines."' (originally published in 'Essays in Criticism,' volume 21, 1971. Reprinted in 'William Wordsworth: a Critical Anthology,' edited by Graham McMaster.) However, the eventfulness in moving from one line to the next may be less important in a poem than the linking of lines by cumulative power and passion, or interest of other kinds, into a seamless whole.

Diagonal direction: the progress from top left to bottom right of the poem. The complete span in reading the poem.

Modification of directionality, counter-directional techniques, may lead to artistically significant results.The use of centred rhyme modifies vertical direction. The placing of the most dramatic material in the first few lines of a poem acts as a backwards pull, reducing the movement to the end of the poem to an extent.

Techniques which increase directionality give rise to intensification. Techniques which decrease directionality give rise to tension. Tensile art makes use of intensification and tension.

Languages too may modify directionality. In a poem in German, the placing of a verb at the end of a clause will act as a pull, increasing directionality, but when the verb arrives, the reader is directed to the subject of the verb, decreasing directionality.

Fragmentation and faulting

Picture poetry is one kind of design poetry. The lines are freed from their position in the matrix, referring to the environment in which the picture poem has its origin and are arranged in the picture space. (Almost all poetry so far has been in what I refer to as matrix form - the usual way in which a poem is printed, as a continuous block of lines.) In picture poetry, there is fragmentation of the matrix. If, for example, a representational picture poem describes events in the sky, where there is a plane, events near a wood on the left and events near a river on the right, then the line or lines which are about these events are not placed in sequence, in the matrix of a traditional poem, but are placed where these events take place in the representation, high up in the picture space and lower down, to the left and right. Click here for a dynamic page which shows fragmentation of the poem.

In placing the words in the picture space, the designer may take account of considerations which are familiar to artists, such as balance, proportion, deliberate use of imbalance and disproportion, arrangement of masses along horizontals, verticals and diagonals. This is the practice of text design, which offers exhilarating opportunities.

This has important implications for the directionality of a poem and the reading of a poem. The reading of a traditional poem in matrix form is obviously simple: from the left hand side of the first line to the right hand side of the last line. When a picture poem is read, directionality is more complex, as shown by the eye movements of the reader when looking at the picture space. For example, the first lines of the poem may be placed in the lower right hand corner of the picture space. The next lines may direct the viewer to the lower left hand side, to be followed by a shift to top right. There may be frequent pauses, allowing time for concentrated attention on a single part of the picture space and the words in that part of the picture space. Poetry becomes in this way less subject to time. (The non-temporal aspects of poetry and the temporal aspects of visual art interest me very much.)

Faulting in poetry is analogous to geological faulting: layers of rock are fractured and a block of rock may move vertically downwards. In the same way, in faulted poetry some or all of the lines are fractured and a block moves downwards, so opening up the interior of the poem, with significant effects upon poetic texture.

In a poem with an appreciable number of lines and with lines of appreciable length, there is zoning, the contrast between the border region and the interior. Words deep in the interior of a poem may be denied their full force. Faulting opens up the poem.

Interline poetry (a form of composite poetry)

Composite poetry is poetry in which contrasting elements are combined. A composite poem can be created by inserting the contrasting material into the main text in the form of a block, a technique which has been used quite often. In inter-line poetry, which so far as I am aware is completely new, the lines of the main text are double spaced and the contrasting material is inserted into the spaces between these lines. Many different contrasts are possible between main text and insert. They may differ in tone, in organization (free or formal). The insert may comment on the main text or may even be critical of it. See also the page on composite poetry.

'Linguistically innovative poetry'

From the page Concrete poetry: More 'advanced' work isn't always the more artistically successful work. Poets have sometimes chosen to describe their work as 'linguistically innovative poetry,' poetry which makes no use of those archaic and outworn forms rhymed poetry, or poetry with a readily grasped meaning. I'd stress the importance of factorization, of an adequate survey, a survey without undue {restriction}. The 'cutting-edge' language of 'linguistically innovative poetry' is only one factor. 'Linguistically innovative poetry' may also be rhythmically inert poetry, emotionally backward poetry, politically innocent poetry, drab poetry, poetry with nothing to say, poetry as technical exercise, routine 'linguistically innovative poetry,' poetry which misuses the word 'innovative' - or it may be the genuine thing, linguistically innovative poetry which is far more than linguistically innovative.

I've written poems myself in the style, although I would never describe them as 'linguistically innovative.' Below is one example. It reflects my continuing preoccupation with the allied bombing campaign during the Second World War. A survey which is as complete as possible should have the fullest possible range. It should do justice to the extremes and to the regions within the extremes. There should be the fewest possible limits to poetry. Poetry should be concerned with almost imperceptible processes, slight miscalculations, hesitations, misgivings - and, also, with apocalyptic events, massive destruction, dangers, loss of life, crushing blows, devastating misjudgments, heroism - old-fashioned heroism - of the most admirable kind (but inextricably linked with ethical problems of the most severe kind.)

Here, the order of reading, the {ordering}is mainly horizontal, in a subsidiary fashion vertical. There are fragments of sentences and fragments of words: 'dure-' 'ess,' 'de-'

'Night' and 'alight' are linked-antitheses. The splitting of the word 'unendurable' emphasizes the act of going on and on: 'unend' and 'durable.' There was a punishment in this country in past centuries called 'peine forte et dure,' which involved 'pressing' the victim with weights, to make the victim confess. 'Dure,' formed by fragmenting the word 'duress' refers to this punishment, as does 'pressed,' lower in the poem, formed by fragmentation from 'depressed.' Familiar, almost cliched phrases are used to refer to refer to the mutilated victims of the bombing offensive: ' pieces,' and the more common 'blown up out of all proportion,' here given a literal and concrete meaning.

I regard 'leaves' as more 'free' than 'fixed.' Although it's fixed to the extent that it's clearly a verb rather than a noun in the poem, its associations are in tension. This is a private association, but 'leaves' reminds me of the strips of aluminium, called 'Window,' which were released by the bombers to confuse the German defences. And, 'leaves' suggests human mortality. Homer has 'Men are like leaves,' although it's difficult to translate the original. If these two associations seem very remote from your experience, bear in mind that as a result of fragmentation, 'leaves' is left isolated in the right hand column of the poem, with separation from the grammar of the sentence. The isolated word invites associations, no longer as fully embedded. A further association, not at all obvious, but not arbitrary - the use of leaves in another description of bombing, but here, the bombing of London, in T S Eliot's 'Little Gidding,' a significant and successful sub-region within the Parnassian (artistically unsuccessful) region of 'Four Quartets:'

In the uncertain hour before the morning
Near the ending of interminable night
At the recurrent end of the unending
After the dark dove with the flickering tongue
Had passed below the horizon of his homing
While the dead leaves still rattled on like tin
Over the asphalt where no other sound was
Between three districts whence the smoke arose
I met one walking, loitering and hurried
As if blown towards me like the metal leaves
Before the urban dawn wind unresisting.

Linkage by meaning

Rhyme is an instance of linkage by sound, as is alliteration. Linkage of lines in a poem by rhyme, shown by rhyme schemes such as aa bb obviously a very well-established technique. In 'linkage by meaning' (or 'semantic linkage') lines are generally linked according to the meaning of the last word or phrase in each line. (The technique can also be used in a less formal and systematic way.) There are many distinct possibilities. Words, or phrases, may be synonyms, antonyms, near-synonyms or near-antonyms - the equivalent of pararhyme. Alternatively, they may be linked by a significant context, or illustrate progression, development or modulation, as in the example to the right. The words on the left hand side of the poem indicate progression in the seasons and the words on the right indicate progression in times of day.

Meaning schemes can be constructed which have a linkage with rhyme schemes. For example, AA BB CC is the semantic equivalent of rhymed couplets. (I use lower-case letters for rhyme schemes and upper-case letters for meaning schemes.)


Click here to see the page on Modulation and the poetry of Jared Carter.

Pulse poetry

A diagram showing possible arrangements of pulses:

Image to illustrate pulse poetry

Example: mixed pulses, irregular spacing:


Meter in poetry has a linkage with the pulse of the human body. Both are instances of a periodic alteration. Pulse poetry has a linkage with both of these but a further linkage with a pulse produced by electronic means. If the electronic pulse is displayed on a screen, there may be regular intervals between the pulses, or irregular intervals. The pulses may be fixed in width or variable in width. There are the same possibilities if the pulses are displayed in audible form.

However, the most minute - but perceptible - differences in the pulses are essential to the artistic realization of pulse poetry. A very close analogy, the pulses - the repeated notes in the cello part, in the opening of Haydn's String Quartet Op. 50 No. 1, shown below. The repeated notes in the bass (which continue into the sixth bar - measure) will only be played as if they came from an electronic wave generator by the most insensitive player. The minute irregularities give life to the performance.

In pulse poetry, instead of the alternation of accented syllables and unaccented syllables there's the alternation of the pulses (the accented component) and the spaces between the pulses (the unaccented component).

By making the spaces between the pulses comparatively long, the tempo of the poem can be made very slow, giving the possibility of a true poetic adagio or largo. Or the pulses may be rapid, a poetic allegro. The pulses can be extended, giving a length which it's impossible to implement in the established use of accented syllables. The pulses will never be completely regular in length, but pulses made up of monosyllabic words will give a close approximation. These are the 'simple pulses,' shown in the diagram. Graham Pechey gives a very comprehensive and important discussion of the 'adventures of the Monosyllable in English Verse' in PN review (his articles are available to subscribers on the PN Review Web Site). Pulse poetry provides a new example to add to the very diverse history of the monosyllable.

Words of more than one syllable are examples of 'compound pulses.' Pulses can be very varied in length, since pulses may be made up of single polysyllabic words (of varying lengths), fragments of words and small groups of words. The words within a pulse will show the established rhythm of accented and unaccented syllables, but this rhythm is subsidiary to the rhythm of pulses and spaces. In the spoken form of a pulse poem, the elements making up a compound pulse should be given, so far as possible, similar stress. Often, the elements will be spoken quite quickly. There are a number of examples in the poem above, for example the compound pulse 'far from shooting.'

'too broad' refers not to the width of the avenue but to the composition of the crowds who were found there and will be found there. These crowds include collaborationists and anti-Semites as well as people who resisted the Nazi occupation, actively or otherwise. Similarly, a Christian might describe a Church as 'too broad' which included people with only the slightest Christian belief as well as active believers. In a poem, I describe Mozart as 'the too universal,' because admired by the Nazi violinist Heydrich.

Some further comments on the poem

The small green and red blocks show punctuation marks and not the pulses. Full-stops ('periods' in American English) are shown as small red blocks and commas are shown as small green blocks, to give the effect of festive lights which are in tension with the sombre grey text and black background. In this period immediately after the end of the war, there's austerity but also a great deal to celebrate. The poem is an example of concrete poetry as well as pulse poetry. It offers an example - almost certainly the only example - of a concrete poem which uses the arrangement of punctuation marks only, not the arrangement in space of words and lines, to create pattern. Green blocks show commas and red blocks show full-stops (in American English, 'periods.')

The word 'now' is a 'repeated pulse.' This pulse is repeated at irregular intervals. The avenue is far from shooting now but previously it was not so. Different sensory sensations are separated, for example, 'dark' from 'quiet,' an aspect of light from an aspect of sound. Compressions are used to create the compound pulses, for example, 'for an aftermath.'

Rearrangement and restoration

Changing the order of lines in a poem or changing the order of individual words in order to give a version with greater impact or interest. Restoration gives an order closer to everyday, non-poetic speech or writing. See the full discussion, with examples, at rearrangement.

Region poetry and zoning

Region poetry is different from the established form of regional poetry, for example the poetry of the English regions or Jared Carter's poetry concerned with Indiana. Regions are contrasted areas within a poem. 'Sailing from Belfast, at the time of the troubles,' the poem below (a record of personal experience, when terrorist activity in Northern Ireland was at its most intense) is shown first in matrix form, the usual form in which a poem is printed as separate lines:


and next in fragmented form, in which lines and part-lines are attached to three regions, the Irish Sea, Northern Ireland and Liverpool:


Within the poem there are also different time regions, the memory of 'The green of Ulster fields, the orange of Ulster sunsets' which 'have faded, distant' and of 'the screaming' belonging to a different time-region from present experience.

Regional differences can be shown by various means, for example by typography and background. Even if they are not shown, they can be detected by careful readers. Regional differences can be shown within a poem but also in the display of poetry. The page poems is an example. There are different regions within the Large Page. Poems linked by tone, technique or subject are grouped within each region. The regions are visited: page travel. For regional differences, see also the page on Web design.

Zoning arises from the fact that in a poem which has lines of appreciable length and which has an appreciable number of lines, the first line and the last line will tend to be more prominent than the intervening lines and the beginning and end of each line will tend to be more prominent than the middle of each line. There will be a contrast between two regions of the poem: a border region made up of the first and last lines and the beginning and ends of lines and the interior.

Position in the poem gives emphasis to the exterior but the poem may intensify this emphasis or reduce it -that is, introduce tension between prominence in placing and prominence in effect.

See also my discussion of this poem on the page Concrete poetry.

Semantic force and semantic significance

Words (and concepts) with semantic force are used, heard, or read with an accompanying experience of intensity or forcefulness, for example, in a visceral or sensuous, an elevated or deeply anxious way. Although a person knows the meaning of many words, or can use many words meaningfully, words with semantic impact are particularly 'meaningful.' The primary linkage of 'semantic' here isn't with the very interesting academic study of semantics.

A person's active vocabulary and passive vocabulary are distinguished in linguistics. A person's active vocabulary (words which the person actually uses) is smaller than their passive vocabulary (words whose meaning is known but which the person does not use.) Words with semantic force are few in comparison with the active vocabulary and are subject to change in a more striking way. Words which once had semantic force for the person may no longer possess it. Words may acquire semantic force quite suddenly. Words may be used with semantic force on one occasion and not on another, owing, perhaps, to distraction or preoccupation. Words may be read or heard as well as used with semantic force.

These words are of the most varied kind. Examples are 'danger,' 'snow,' 'poignant,' 'classification' and 'mathematical set.' Where a word has rich connotations - 'danger,' for example - then using it with semantic force involves using the word with its more intense connotations. So attention is focussed on more immediate, real dangers, such as the experience of being in an active war zone, rather than more distant, if still real dangers, such as 'the dangers of smoking.' It may be direct and intense personal experience which gives a word semantic force, such as the experience of being shelled or shot at, but this is not a necessity.

Intellectual excitement may give to words, ideas and such entities as equations, real semantic force. The mathematician who devised the concept of the mathematical set wrote that when he thought of the word 'set' he experienced a chasm. The great botanist Linnaeus, who devised the binomial system of nomenclature, very likely used the word 'classification' in the same way.

In a good poem, words are used with greater semantic force. In a poor poem, they are used with no semantic force, in a routine or inert way. Deviance or deviation (established terms in stylistics, associated with the Prague school of linguistics) is particularly associated with poetic language. However, deviance can characterize mediocre poetry. Semantic force is a better 'indicator' of good poetry than deviance. This is not to imply that the more vivid the language, the greater the poem. There is a vividness in Seamus Heaney's poetic descriptions of growing up on a farm in Ulster, and a vividness in some of Robert Frost's descriptions of rural New England, which cannot be matched in the work of, for example, Rilke.

I don't argue here for the greater stature of Rilke, but I simply state my conviction that a great poet conveys wider semantic force than a lesser poet, or conveys aspects of semantic force which, it can be argued, are more fundamental. It is for this last reason that I myself regard Kafka as so important amongst twentieth century imaginative writers of prose, despite his restricted range. He has given massive semantic force to such an unexpected word as 'unzugaenglichkeit,' 'inaccessibility,' 'unapproachability,' which appears in the section 'Before the Law' in 'The Trial' and which underlies the whole of his novel 'The Castle.' Another, more familiar example in Kafka is 'verhaftet,' 'arrested.' The writer, however, who used words with greater semantic force than any other is, of course, Shakespeare.

The examples I've given vary very much in intensity. There's no necessary positive linkage between intensity and importance or artistic success. In fact, the idea of semantic force has to be extended, to include 'semantic significance.' A linkage with taste: many people crave more and more intense flavours, more and more highly spiced food, and neglect subtleties of flavour. I'm impressed by a passage from John Ruskin, who in Lecture 3 of 'The Queen of the Air' compares a Persian manuscript and a Turner drawing, the Persian manuscript intense in colour, the Turner drawing drab by comparison: 'One of the ruby spots of the eastern manuscript would give colour enough for all the red that is in Turner's entire drawing.' But it's the Turner drawing which he claims has more 'semantic significance.'

Strata poetry

Strata poetry uses a linkage between between the lines of a poem and geological strata to form concrete poetry. Strata poems can also make use of what I call 'time strata.' An example is Thomas Hardy's very fine poem, 'At Castle Boterel.' These time strata can be identified:

(1) The time when he drives 'to the junction of lane and highway' when he has a memory from the distant past:
(2) himself and his wife climbing the road after alighting from the carriage.
(3) the earlier generations who climbed the same road.
(4) primeval times: 'Primeval rocks form the road's steep border.'

Tensile art

A work of tensile art contains contrasting elements, the elements in tension (please see the General Glossary for further discussion of this term.) 'Tensile' has a primary linkage with the scientific term, as in 'tensile strength' and 'tension' doesn't have a linkage in most circumstances with emotional stress or tension.

The elements which are in tension are very varied. These are only a few:

My 'unit' poems, demonstrated and described in the page on concrete poetry, have a bleak or horrific content linked and contrasted with the serene and symmetrical shape.

I regard Kafka's work as an example of tensile art. There's the tension between the style, lucid and serene, and the baffling or bizarre or mysterious events which are described.

Sustained or significant use of ambiguity will make a work tensile, as in my poem in memory of two poets:

Hart Crane
who jumped to his death from a ship bound for New York

Attila Jozsef
who threw himself under the wheels of a train at Balatonszarszo

The sea waved
and parted
and hurried along
the long platform.
So long!
He leaped over the rails
and by the track,
as the platform steamed on,
deeper and deeper
he sank,
the sleeper.

The primary linkage is with Hart Crane and the ship from which he jumped. All the words can be applied to these. 'the sea waved' (the sea produced waves), 'parted' (the bow of the ship parted the waves), 'and hurried along/the long platform' (the long platform is the ship), 'he leaped over the rails' (the rails of the ship), 'and by the track,' (the wake left behind by the ship moving through the water), 'as the platform steamed on' (again referring to the ship.)

The secondary linkage is with Attila Jozsef and his suicide. The first four lines also refer to a departure on a station platform. 'He leaped over the rails' now refers to railway lines and 'track' to a railway track.' This reference to railways modifies the line 'as the platform steamed on.' Although the sense is straightforward, 'the ship sailed on,' the line can be taken as surrealistic too: 'the railway platform steamed on.' There's another, naturalistic, interpretation. The platform was shrouded in steam from steam trains. The platform 'went on,' that is, continued in time, unlike Attila Jozsef, whose life had ended.

Tim Love makes an interesting use of a moving platform in his poem 'Paradox,' one where the allusion is to relativity theory. (See his page on 'Allusions,'

The poem closes with the lines

until the platform moves
and you are not moving.

Axis poetry introduces tensions of other kinds and can be regarded as a kind of tensile art, for example, the tension between the horizontal and vertical components. Please see the page on concrete poetry for further information about this technique - the page gives an example of a tensile poem - and also the entry in this glossary.

Compare a line of music, played by an instrument which can't produce more than one note at once, with a piece in many parts played by piano, or by full orchestra. Even if they are resonant, lines of a poem can generally be compared with the first of these. By the use of ambiguity and other techniques, resonance can be increased, and there can be the illusion - or more than the illusion - of a work made up of many parts, sounding simultaneously. There is, however, no necessary linkage between resonance and artistic quality.

Tensile art has certainly had precursors, but non-tensile writers have outnumbered tensile writers. A writer may be versatile, encompassing, for example, the comic as well as the tragic, the criminal underworld as well as a world of aristocratic ease, without being a 'tensile writer.' A writer may be limited in range, or comparatively limited in range and write tensile works. The diverse elements in tensile art are presented simultaneously rather than consecutively, so that a work which has an opening passage markedly different from a closing passage will not necessarily be tensile.


In the case of poems I've written, I often give a timing in seconds below the poem. The timing doesn't give information as such about phrasing, the speeding up and slowing down of the voice when the poem is read, but I think that a simple indication of time can give valuable information. Put simply, if the timing I give is 46 seconds, I doubt very much if an adequate reading can be given if the poem is read in 36 seconds or 56 seconds. Even small divergences from the time can be significant, particularly, of course, for shorter poems.

In providing timings, I'm influenced by recordings of Classical music and the timings provided for each track on a Compact Disc. Comparisons between the timings for different interpretations of the same work, coupled, of course, with close study of the different interpretations, can be very instructive.

Transept poetry

The name is a provisional one. This is a form of axis poetry in which there's a marked contrast between the vertical axis of the poem and the horizontal axis (or axes.) The vertical axis is made up of short, or very short, lines and the horizontal axis, or axes, is made up of long, or very long, lines. The architecture of the poem gives contrasts of spatial experience in reading the poem. The linkage is with the architecture of a cruciform church, which has transepts - wings of the building at right angles to the nave. The example here is blurred deliberately. The content - which would require disproportionate space to explain - is less important than the shape.

Image to illustrate transept poetry

Unit poetry

In Unit Poetry - a very exacting form of concrete poetry - characters, spaces and punctuation marks are counted. These units are allotted the same width, as is the case in a monospace font such as Courier new. (Most typefaces have proportional spacing, so that, for example, the letter 'm' has greater width than the letter 'i.' ) By exercising complete control over the number of units in a line, there is complete control over the length of the line. This allows new forms of concrete poetry. For example, I have written poetry in which there is the same number of units in each line, giving rise to a poem which has the appearance on the page (or other surface) of a solid block, poetry in which the units increase and then decrease in regular steps of four units, and poetry in which the first and the last line, the second line and the penultimate line (and so on, to the centre of the poem) have the same number of units. These lines are not only linked by length but also by sound ('rhyme') and the second line in each pair completes the sense of the first: This form is a particularly rigorous one.

emerged from a winter without much snow
as unrefreshed as from a night without much sleep,
exhausted but wary, too conscious of the danger
of falling. I looked upon summer as the valley
between two mountains: the effort in climbing
and descending, the way so steep.
My mind was often quite blank. Not the inviting blankness
of Walt Whitman’s open road but the dim sense
that I could not even make something of my weakness,
that the capacity to exult despite every setback
was a reflex I had lost -
'These so, these irretrievable.’