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William Carlos Williams


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An absense of syllable

I saw this poem on a poster on the train today:

IF THERE IS A SCHEME

Charles Reznikoff
If there is a scheme,
perhaps this too is in the scheme,
as when a subway car turns on a switch,
the wheels screeching against the rails,
and the lights go out—
but are on again in a moment.

(source)

Nice! I tried reading it being conscious of its meter, of where the stresses fall in the cadence, and discovered that I want to insert the word "up" between "screeching" and "against", went over the line with a couple of different stress patterns to see if there's one that works better with the existing wording.

It turns out that in my first reading, I was reading "the wheels screeching" without pause, placing "whee" and "scree" on downbeats/stresses, whereas I think a pause is intended after "wheels" - this gives the rhythm a syncopated quality. If you hold a pause *(cæsura? I am not sure, just, what this term means but I think it might be applicable) here long enough you can elide from "screeching" to "against" and keep to the poem's rhythm. This in effect substitutes the pause, the absence, for the syllable that I was interpolating.

Wondering now if this poem could be expanded into a lyric -- it seems to have a lot of possibilities in it.

Thinking that the insight about pauses standing in for syllables might help me clean up my wordy lines a bit.

posted evening of Thursday, January 12th, 2012
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(...And looked out from a slightly different aspect, oh my! what a Pynchonian sentiment those first two lines are. -- that is to say they predate and anticipate Pynchon.)

posted evening of January 12th, 2012 by Jeremy

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