Surprised by Sound
Rhyme’s Inner Workings
226 Pages / 5.50 x 8.50 x 0.60 in / 2 halftones
- Hardcover /
- 9780807174753 /
- Published: May 2021
- eBook /
- 9780807175439 /
- Published: May 2021
In Surprised by Sound, Roi Tartakovsky shows that the power of rhyme endures well into the twenty-first century even though its exemplary usages may differ from traditional or expected forms. His work uncovers the mechanics of rhyme, revealing how and why it remains a vital part of poetry with connections to large questions about poetic freedom, cognitive and psychoanalytic theories, and the accidental aspects of language.
As a contribution to studies of sound in poetry, Surprised by Sound takes on two central questions: First, what is it about the structure of rhyme that makes it such a potent and ongoing source of poetic production and extrapoetic fascination? Second, how has rhyme changed and survived in the era of free verse, whose prototypical poetry is as hostile to poetic meter as it is to the artificial sound of rhyme, including the sound of rhythmic thumping at the end of every line? In response, Tartakovsky theorizes a new category of rhyme that he terms “sporadic.” Since it is not systematized or expected, sporadic rhyme can be a single, strongly resounding rhyme used suddenly in a free verse poem. It can also be an internal rhyme in a villanelle or a few scattered rhymes unevenly distributed throughout a longer poem that nevertheless create a meaningful cluster of words. Examining usages across varied poetic traditions, Tartakovsky locates sporadic rhyme in sources ranging from a sixteenth-century sonnet to a nonsensical, practically unperformable piece by Gertrude Stein and a 2007 MoveOn.org ad in the New York Times.
With careful attention to the soundscapes of poems, Surprised by Sound demonstrates that rhyme’s enduring value lies in its paradoxical and unstable nature as well as its capacity for creating poetic, cognitive, and psychic effects.
Sporadic rhyme, by its nature, is unpredictable. It makes us stop, look back, and say, ‘What was that? What just happened?’ Roi Tartakovsky’s Surprised by Sound does something similar for a previously unexamined strand of the English-language poetry tradition. Delayed recognition, pattern completion, and present-tense construals of the past are the Gestalts it outlines. It discovers new constellations in the literary firmament. ~Haun Saussy, author of "The Ethnography of Rhythm: Orality and Its Technologies"
Surprised by Sound: Rhyme’s Inner Workings is a subtle, intelligent, and wide-ranging study of an important topic. Its sensitive readings and important insights make it a pleasure to read. Tartakovsky listens carefully and sympathetically to sporadic rhyme, convincingly showing its prevalence in canonical and avant-garde poetry, hip hop, and political advertisements and deftly revealing the complicated effects it achieves. ~David Caplan, author of "Rhyme's Challenge: Hip Hop, Poetry, and Contemporary Rhyming Culture"
Surprised by Sound addresses a fascinating paradox: even the freest of free verse—the dominant poetic form of the past century—often turns to “sporadic” rhyme, rhyme that falls outside the typical end-rhyme pattern, appearing precisely at points and in places where we least expect it. Indeed, sporadic rhyme is the exception that validates the importance of the rule. In a series of dazzling oppositions—rigid/pleasurable, organizing/disruptive, motivated /accidental, progressive/regressive—Roi Tartakovsky shows that, however much poets—from earlier centuries as well as contemporary—want to evade rhyme, its potential to “awaken, evoke, suggest, invite, sway, soothe, surprise, and startle” the listener/reader continues to hold powerful sway. This is a highly original, a truly ground-breaking study, not only of rhyme, but of the way poetry works. ~Marjorie Perloff, author of "Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century"