Thinking Verse Issue II

full name / name of organization: 
David Nowell Smith,
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Call for Contributions, Thinking Verse issue II, special issue, 'The Condition of Music'.

'All art', runs Walter Pater's famous aphorism, 'constantly aspires towards the condition of music'. When it comes to poetry, the second issue of Thinking Verse will ask, what would this 'condition' actually be? Music has often been invoked as figure for a free spontaneity untouched by the need to represent the world, the idealisation of music coinciding with an ideology of artistic expression. For Mallarmé music served as a different kind of ideal: 'the totality of relations existing everywhere'. It is in opposition to such idealisations that Paul Celan praised Osip Mandelstam's refusal of 'Wortmusik': 'impressionistic affect-poetry woven together out of sound-colours'. But in each case this overlooks the highly complex formalisation of pitch, volume, cadence, taking place in musical composition. Indeed, we often intuitively use terms such as instrumentation, counterpoint, timbre, to describe the texture of poems. What insights, then, might musical theory offer into phrasing, rhythm, versification, and the ways in which poems are read and performed?
Thinking Verse welcomes essays on any topic concerned with the relation between verse and music. Questions might include (but are by no means restricted to):
- Where would we situate a 'musicality' of poetry? Theodor Adorno, in his fragment on Music and Language, dismissed Swinburne and Rilke for incorporating music into the poems' sonorous texture, preferring Kafka's novels, whose 'music' inhered at the level of structure. And Mallarmé considered verse technique as an 'instrumentation' not of 'brass, strings, woodwind ... but [of] the intellectual word in its apogee'. Both suggest that the musicality is not primarily sonorous; is any role left for the sound patterning of verse technique?
- Poetry was for millennia written to be sung, as the etymology of 'lyric' attests. Many literary historians have noted that when poetry is no longer sung, the poems aim to compensate for the lack of sung melody, harmonic structure, or instrumental accompaniment through their deployment of the prosodic features of language. How does this problem inflect individual works; what claims about the music-verse relation, and about paralanguage itself, does these works make?
- What is the relation between poetic and musical composition and performance? The 'crisis in verse' arose in part due to French poets' exposure to Wagner; how have other responses to historical trends in music affected how poets engage with their verse medium? The Second Viennese school, for instance? Blues? Reggae? Rap? And conversely, what happens to poetic rhythms when set to music?

Essays of between 6,000 and 8,000 words should be sent to the editors at thinkingverse [at] gmail [dot] com. The editors will be very happy to respond to any informal queries before then. The deadline for essays is 15 January 2012. See for more details.