The Ghost of Meter

Culture and Prosody in American Free Verse
Annie Finch
A groundbreaking study of the connections among meter, the poetic unconscious, and wider literary and cultural forces


The Ghost of Meter: Culture and Prosody in American Free Verse provides a new strategy for interpreting the ways in which metrical patterns contribute to the meaning of poems. Annie Finch puts forth the theory of "the metrical code," a way of tracing the changing cultural connotations of metered verse, especially iambic pentameter. By applying the code to specific poems, the author is able to analyze a writer's relation to literary history and to trace the evolution of modern and contemporary poetries from the forms that precede them.

Poet, translator, and critic Annie Finch is director of the Stonecoast low-residency MFA program at the University of Southern Maine. She is co-editor, with Kathrine Varnes, of An Exaltation of Forms: Contemporary Poets Celebrate the Diversity of Their Art, and author of Calendars. She is the winner of the eleventh annual Robert Fitzgerald Prosody Award for scholars who have made a lasting contribution to the art and science of versification.

Praise / Awards

  • "Finch offers fresh insights, particularly into the development of free verse in America, and injects into what is often a dry as dust topic a certain intellectual excitement."
  • ". . . well-informed and engaging. . . ."
    --Nineteenth-Century Literature
  • "The Ghost of Meter is the most impressive piece of pure scholarship by a poet that I have seen since Timothy Steele's Missing Measures."
    --R. S. Gwynn, Sewanee Review
  • "Finch's scholarship is most impressive and it gives her the authority she needs to make her provocative ideas reasonable and weighty. The Ghost of Meter is a serious contribution to the study of meter, needed now more so than ever."
    --Sparrow 61
  • ". . . an unabashed argument for the metrical encoding of meaning. It is a watershed in the study of the relation of form to meaning. . . . The best acknowledgment one can make to The Ghost of Meter is to say that after reading it one literally cannot ever read a free-verse poem again without hearing the interplay of iambic, dactylic, and prosaic forces. I will certainly not unlearn the ways that Finch has taught me to hear poetry. I would bet that a whole generation of critics will learn from Finch how to hear the poems they read."
  • "As the rift in literary scholarship between cultural studies and formalist criticism appears to widen, this brave book sets itself the ambitious task of reconciling the two sides by means of what Finch calls the theory of the metrical code. According to it, meter is a cultural artifact that encodes within a poem various kinds of cultural associations and attitudes."
    --Virginia Quarterly Review

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 192pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2000
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08709-9

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  • $26.95 U.S.