Carl Rakosi is a poet of the visual. As he has remarked, "Each poem should be an independent little island, independent, that is, to the eye, but not of the reader." One of the first things that strikes a reader's eye in perusing Rakosi's recently issued Collected Poems is the recurrent use of a dyadic strophe or two-step line. If prosody may be defined as "[w]hatever remains most constant," then the dyadic strophe appears to be the foundation of Rakosi's visual prosody, at least in his later poetry. Using Charles O. Hartman's definition of prosody as "the poet's method of controlling the reader's temporal experience of the poem, especially his [sic] attention to that experience," I propose to meditate on just how this choice of spacing affects the reader's temporal experience of the poem.
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Rakosi's use of dyadic verse seems to have been a later stylistic development for him, arising most strongly in the second part of his writing career, after a twenty-five-year hiatus. The timing would make it likely that Williams was his model.
Rakosi . . . uses the dyadic form not to create difficulty, not to complicate the reading process, but to give sweetness, rest, shape, and, perhaps most importantly, transcendence. This movement toward transcendence is generated both by the language of the poems and by the dyadic structure, as I will show. It is as though in a quick movement/rest of the eye down the page, some spiritual as well as saccadic leap can occur.
Remember that the soul
is easily agitated
and has a terror of shapelessness.
In a free verse prosody, what can give shape? What can ease the "terror of shapelessness"? One answer that the poem's very lineation seems to supply is the two-step line. In an interview given in 1986, Rakosi says:
Well it's important to me how a poem looks on the page. I like to have it look graceful, to look attractive physically on the page, which means that I need a lot of space in between lines. When I'm starting to write something, I don't know how I want it to look until I actually put it on the page and see it and move it around and change things around. But the spacing to me is important not only for aesthetic reasons but also to give the mind and the eye a chance to rest and think for a moment before it moves on and not to cramp it, not to crowd it together. Unless I'm writing something epigrammatic.