Learn an accurate, accessible, and exciting system of scansion that reveals a poem’s deeper mysteries every time
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Do you ever feel you may be missing something when it comes to fully understanding and appreciating poems, especially poems written in regular meter? If so, you’re not alone. The sense of a barrier between ourselves and a metrical poem can be a frustrating experience, whether you simply love poetry and want to be present for it, or whether you aim to write the best possible poems of your own. This situation is so common that I finally invented a term for it: metrical insecurity. Metrical insecurity is the deep sense of missing knowledge of the core foundation of the art of poetry.
The first thing to realize is that it’s not your fault. The vast majority of educated people today—including those with graduate degrees in poetry—have little or no understanding of how meter works. Today’s emphasis on the written word and on poetry as a classroom activity absorbed through the eyes has made many of us unsure how to absorb and enjoy poems whose rhythm is designed for the ear and the body.
Luckily there is a wonderful way to learn to speak the language of metrical poems and to meet them on their own terms. It involves listening deeply to a poem’s meter and notating it, in a way that makes clear how the poem’s form and meaning enhance each other–a process called scansion.
Scansion helps everyone who cares about poetry to understand both free verse and formal verse from the inside out, to appreciate the style of the poets and poems you love, to comprehend on a physical level how a certain line affects you the way it does, and to read poetry, to yourself or to others, the way it is meant to be read. It is hard to fully appreciate a metrical poem without the rhythmical awareness that scansion provides. And of course, for a working poet, whether you write in free verse or in meter, understanding scansion is a sine qua non of the craft.
In short, scansion is an infinitely rewarding skill that yields both immediate and lifelong rewards for anyone who cares about poetry. And you can learn it in two hours. In just the time it takes to watch a movie, you can move out of your metrical insecurity and approach metrical poems with joy and confidence.
In “How to Scan a Poem,” I will introduce my time-tested, 3-part system of scansion and show you how you can apply it to any poem. Unlike some systems of scansion that focus almost entirely on one meter, my contemporary approach to meter covers the four basic meters equally, opening doors to an exciting, full appreciation of the different moods and energies of metrical poems.
Designed for poets and poetry lovers alike, this introduction to poetic meter is at once accessible, enjoyable, and rigorous. It can stand alone or can serve as an excellent gateway to A Poet’s Craft’s series of online workshops focused on individual meters.
Either A Poet’s Craft or A Poet’s Ear by Annie Finch (the sections on meter are the same in both books).
Suggested Supplementary Reading
Measure for Measure, edited by Annie Finch and Alexandra Oliver
Requirements: Have ready a notebook and writing utensils, plenty of loose typing-size paper, and at least one pencil with an eraser.
8 weeks 1pm-3pm EST | Course based on A Poet's Ear
From 1:00pm until 3:00pm EST
Timing: if you’d love to participate but the timing doesn’t work, please sign up for Annie’s Spellsletter to hear of future events, and feel free to drop a line so we can keep your timing needs in mind.
Financial need: Some scholarship support is available. If needed, please get in touch and we will aim to work something out.