my dactyllic dimeter is bigger than your trochaic trimeter


in javier’s initial response to selinger, he brilliantly draws out the ‘craft’ of ‘i am joaquin’ show its music and design (that the poem isn’t simply ‘slack free verse’, as selinger dismisses in his essay).

javier mines the lines:

A strong iambic rhythm drives the music in this opening stanza. Actually all the lines in the first stanza scan as iambic, beginning with a dimeter in the first line, continuing with tetrameter lines, and finally concluding with the iambic pentameter of the heroic couplet. The last four lines of the first stanza can be scanned as two iambic pentameter lines that are dropped after the first foot.

finds the rhymes:

The heroic couplet is completed with the rhyme battle/survival. Notice also the internal rhymes of struggle and cultural. This rhyming is established earlier in the stanza. In the second line, the poem’s I is “lost in a world of confusion,” and in the third line the poem’s I is “caught up in a whirl.” Notice the echo and the condensing of the noun phrase “world of confusion” into the single word “whirl.”

and functions the conjunctions

In addition to emphasizing “or” by placing it on its own line, Gonzales rhymes “or” with “hunger” in order to reveal the uncertainty in hunger. The “or” is further emphasized by the “r” sounds in the following words: paradox, victory, spirit, hunger, American, neurosis, and sterilization. The focus of the first stanza is “and”; the focus of the second is “or.” The joining of and/or is at the center of the paradoxes of the poem…

in selinger’s letter to the editor response, he also scans the lines:

The first line I, too, read as iambic dimeter. The next is trimeter—dactyl, dactyl, trochee—while the third and fourth are, to the ear, a single tetrameter line, with “caught” a “headless” iamb leading into three more dactyls.

and he goes on to admit that yes, ‘i am joaquin’ is a well crafted poem. but before I, too, go on, let’s recall what pound once warned: “go in fear of the headless iamb.”

okok, since i only have 30 minutes here, i will be more serious.

in javier’s 22nd comment, he writes:

In the end, I think that our focus on the social, cultural and political concerns of our elders keeps us from recognizing and acknowledging the intriguing and innovative ways they engaged formal (aesthetic) questions.

selinger, trying to account for why he missed the ‘craft’ in ‘i am joaquin, writes:

…by slapping the label of “working class poet” on Gonzales himself, and of “working class aesthetics” on the poem, I substituted knee-jerk categorizing for actually
reading […] Having assumed that the poem would be more-or-less artless, and having heard its diction as that of a speech, rather than of a poem, I never looked beyond those first impressions. Had I approached the poem more expectantly, or simply without class bias, I would have seen more, as indeed I did after Huerta’s letter.

javier re-articulates this sentiment in a comment to his 22nd post:

Most scholars who study Corky’s work, or alurista’s, or any work of someone in that generation, tend to study it with a cultural studies lens or Marxist lens. Arteaga’s Chicano Poetics is really the only work I know (if someone knows of others, please let me know) that tackles the issue of language in Chicano Poetry. He uses Bahktin and Deleuze to discuss all the intriguing stuff going on in their poetics.) I guess my point is that the tendency is not to focus on aesthetic or language issues when discussing a work like Joaquin.

in the next few days (and i hope you will comment), i want to question why the work from this ‘generation’ of poets (and i want to extend the discussion to include ethnic poetry in general) read with such a limited lens? how did this narrative of “working class poet” and “working class aesthetic” form? why is it so pervasive that not only selinger (aka Dr. Dactyl) but even some contemporary ethnic poets (as javier alludes to) are blinded by this narrative?

i will leave you with this passage from Ron Silliman’s essay “The Political Economy of Poetry” in his brilliant book The New Sentence (1977):

“In poetry, there continues to be a radical break between those networks and scenes which are organized by and around the codes of oppressed people, and those other ‘purely aesthetic’ schools.”


so tomorrow i will write more on this. please comment because NaBlogWriMo is such a dactyl, dactyl, trochee grind. i need your encouraging iambic pentameters to keep me alive: i blog therefore i am(b)!



3 thoughts on “my dactyllic dimeter is bigger than your trochaic trimeter

  1. I am Joaquin, natch. By Rudolfo “Corky” Gonzales.

    I am also up way too early checking your blog, CP.

    “In poetry, there continues to be /
    a radical break between those networks / and scenes which are organized by and around / the codes of oppressed people, and those / other ‘purely aesthetic’ schools.”

    –Ron Silliman, from The New Tetrameter

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