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Unread 10-15-2021, 11:55 AM
Jerome Betts Jerome Betts is online now
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Default Extreme Formal Sphereans

Beth Houston’s new Rhizome Press anthology Extreme Formal Poems was published on September 26th and contains 152 poems by 37 poets. No less than 22 of the contributors are Eratosphere members old or new.

With apologies to anyone unwittingly omitted, these are: David Anthony, Melissa Balmain, Bruce Bennett, Jerome Betts, John J. Brugaletta, Catherine Chandler, Ted Charnley, Maryann Corbett, Susan de Sola, Nicole Caruso Garcia, Claudia Gary, Max Gutmann, Robin Helweg-Larsen, Beth Houston, Jean L. Kreiling, Barbara Loots, Duncan Gillies McLaurin, Leslie Monsour, Chris O’Carroll, Alexander Pepple, Wendy Sloan and Gail White.

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Unread 10-15-2021, 12:16 PM
Ted Charnley's Avatar
Ted Charnley Ted Charnley is offline
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Thumbs up Extreme Formal Poems

Thanks for posting, Jerome. I'm pleased to be in the company of such accomplished poets. Beth Houston has done a fine job of editing, once again. The anthology is available on Amazon at


Last edited by Ted Charnley; 10-15-2021 at 03:31 PM. Reason: Added link.
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Unread 10-15-2021, 01:27 PM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Congratulations, everyone! It sounds like a great collection.

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Unread 10-15-2021, 04:13 PM
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Jayne Osborn Jayne Osborn is offline
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I have my copy - yay!!! - though I haven't started reading it yet.
Looking forward to discovering all the delights inside.
Congratulations to Beth and all the poets.

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Unread 10-16-2021, 11:38 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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Indeed, congratulations to everyone... Were these the criteria, or have I picked up an irrelevant link? (Quite possible.)

"What is Extreme Formalism in Poetry?

Extreme formalism is characterized by regularity that restricts exception. Extreme poetry sticks to impeccably consistent structure: pure rhyme (allowing for regional pronunciation) that adheres to a clearly defined repetition scheme, with rhymes close enough together that they register; meter that is consistent, with exceptions only for stresses, and then rarely and only when the context calls for it, but with no added or subtracted syllables (though allowing for elision, and colloquial and regional pronunciation); and when a line is broken, the parts taken together equal a line with the requisite beats and rhyme."

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Unread 10-16-2021, 05:24 PM
David Anthony David Anthony is offline
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I think that's correct Clive.
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Unread 10-18-2021, 05:19 AM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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Judging by poets listed at the top of this thread, I am sure there will be many satisfying poems within the pages of this anthology. I am afraid I am not going to buy a copy, however. I already own too many poetry books, and there are other kinds of books I want to give time to, as well. (And there are, of course, more important things to engage with than poetry.)

In any case, I confess to being somewhat put off by some aspects of this paragraph—the word “Extreme”, for instance. It may be that I am constitutionally averse to anything that looks “extreme”, and especially to anything that bills itself as such. A deliberate provocation perhaps? Or a kind of slogan (from the Irish for “battle-cry”)? Be that as it may, the term brings to mind “extreme sports”, activities whose participants revel in exposing themselves to high degrees of physical danger and which most of the rest of us would regard as utterly foolish. That cannot, of course, be what was intended here. Cinna may have been torn for his “bad verses”, but I find it hard to believe that anyone whose lines appear in these pages is likely to face a similar threat. To the extent that the term “extreme” implies the overcoming of great challenges, I am not sure what the challenges are in this case. Poets have for centuries composed verse that complied with whatever the evolving metrical norms happened to be in their age. Some did it well, some badly; some wrote fluently and with ease, some only with much labour; but I would not describe any of this as “extreme”. Of course, the norms have never been static, as George Saintsbury recognized long ago and as Martin J. Duffell’s excellent A New History of English Metre (Modern Humanities Research Association, London, 2008) incisively confirms. I am not sure Shakespeare’s verse in his later plays would meet the standards of “extreme formalism” outlined here—nor, of course is there any reason why it should have. Then there is the perhaps unresolved case of Donne, whom (according to Drummond) Jonson thought “deserved hanging” “for not keeping of accent”. Curiously, a few lines later in Drummond’s recollections, he reports Jonson as cursing “Petrarch for redacting verses to sonnets, which he said were alike that tyrant’s bed, where some who were too short were racked, others too long cut short”. So much for “extreme formalism”.

Of course, pace Jonson, choosing to box oneself into a set of tight rules, as those of us who have from time to time done so, can lead to unanticipated inventions—I feel sure Jonson knew this, despite his comment about Petrarch—but at this point I am struck by the moralizing tone of the paragraph. Words such as “regularity that restricts exception”, “impeccably” and “pure” lend colour and weight to superficially less moralizing terms like “adhere to”, “consistent”, “exceptions” or “then rarely”. They also make the concessions to “colloquial and regional pronunciation” sound patronizing. What is more, the “programme” also sounds oddly fearful.

Despite what will no doubt strike some as cavils, my congratulations to all those Spherians whose work was included in this anthology is perfectly warm and genuine.

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Unread 10-18-2021, 12:34 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Clive, I agree with your assessment.

When I read the call for submissions, I lost all interest after briefly considering the odds that poems like the Society of Classical Poets' nauseating apotheosis of the paragon of law and order who kept his knee on George Floyd's neck* might appear next to mine if I submitted. I assumed that the assessment of that risk by poets I deeply admire would vary (particularly if they were more familiar with the editor than I was), but personally I wasn't willing to take the chance, and wanted no part of it.

I'm glad that these Sphereans' work will be reaching a wider audience, and I hope--no, I'm confident!--that their work's inclusion will improve the general taste of people who might be looking at form first and effect second. Hooray for contemporary language! Hooray! (Gotta say, though, I relish the idea of some rule-following curmudgeon being impressed enough by the above-listed Sphereans in that anthology to look up their other work, only to be shocked at their unrepentant heathendom when it comes to occasional use of near-rhyme, metrical substitutions, etc. Almost as if they think that the rules themselves are not the most interesting aspect of formal poetry....)

* Looking at that poem again, I see that a minor metrical substitution would have disqualified that particular example. But when I think of "Extreme Formal Poetry," that's exactly the sort of thing that comes to mind. I hope the anthology proves me utterly wrong.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 10-18-2021 at 04:36 PM. Reason: Esprit d'éscalier
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Unread 11-02-2021, 05:03 PM
Barbara Loots Barbara Loots is offline
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I for one was willing to put up with the quirkily strenuous standards of editor Beth Houston, anticipating that in the end I'd be in the best company. A formal poem isn't necessarily spoiled by not having a single metrical inversion. And actually, it's rather hard to do.

You don't want to miss reading Nicole Caruso Garcia's saucy "In Praise of Discipline."
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