1 – poetic diction has always been the problem. Not just for Wordsworth. It was for Eliot and it has been since Eliot. It was for Chaucer who broke away from the old poetic diction. It is what makes Elizabethans Elizabethans, what is the whole point of Milton. W.H. Auden can write formal verse and not sound like other ages because he has solved for himself the problem of poetic diction.
2 – because no poet speaks for himself, but for a people. Language is common property, and how we speak has to do not only with ourselves, but when we live. Because it is our common property we can fight to preserve things, and should, but we should also realize it is common property. These days writers call it voice, but it is what used to be called style. It is yours, but it is also common.
3 – and poets are the ones who understand how things are said, and renew the language, not by turning it back, but by speaking in the diction of our time, finding its possibilities, pouring into life the vital imagination of words and the language’s potential under present circumstances. Like any medium, you have to work with it. You can’t do with marble what you do with clay. The poet’s medium is the language of his time.
That is not easy. I think one of the reasons so many resort to free verse is that it seems more authentic. If you try to do formal verse you come face to face with the real problem. There is a discipline beneath the discipline. There is something you have to hear that is the music wrung out of living expression and is not added by artifice, but only enhanced. It is felt that simply using free verse solves the problem of poetic diction, but it does not. The problem is not too much discipline, but too little, because good free verse has its principles and I think depends for its vitality on the memory of formal verse. Formal verse brings you hard up against the problem because all the devices have to be mastered, and that’s how what you say is scrutinized. The devices will amplify your right choices about language or they will show up your shortcomings. Free verse is more muted about both, and that’s why I think you can get away with it longer. The devices of poetry can’t be brilliantly deployed unless you understand the medium you’re using them in.
When Joshua Mehigan uses formal verse, you understand that the point of a rhyme is a device by which you ring meaning from what you say. There are many things you can do with rhyme, but you have to do something with it other than just stick it onto your poem. And you notice it at this point because you know if he doesn’t use free verse everything will be questioned, and so each rhyme, each formal structure, everything must have a reason. But that is how good poetry has always been. In other ages perhaps looser use has been tolerated because nobody was suspicious (the way people are now about free verse), but good poetry though not flawless, always approximates a flawless ideal.
People now are going to read formal verse with suspicion. But that’s how formal verse has to be written, and that’s advantageous, and Joshua Mehigan surely knows it. Every device has to serve a purpose. And then after you understand the devices, the rhythms, the uses of rhyme, you still have to say it in ways that are genuine, how we speak, and not simply by cutting out thee’s and thou’s.
And that is what gives you the timeless, good product. You have to have at least that. Read Joshua Mehigan, watch how he speaks and what he does with his formal verse. He has been working nine years on this last book, and the effort is worth perusing.
I don’t agree with his beliefs, but you’d have to be a philistine not to enjoy his poetry. You don’t have to take my word for it either: Adam Kirsch reviews the second book http://www.newrepublic.com/article/11… and Jeremy Telman reveiws the first http://www.valpo.edu/vpr/telmanreview….