The idea for this tutorial came from many years of teaching Poetry and Poetics at Reed. My own research, which focuses in part on understanding the rhythm of Ezra Pound's free verse poetry, has led me to spend a good deal of time in Poetry and Poetics talking with students about rhythm. The longer I have taught the course, the more important rhythm has become for me because I see it not as one among many features of poetry like images, similes, etc. but as one of the most central ways language is organized and time is perceived. Yet the analysis of rhythm involves a vocabulary and technique which is quite foreign, even repugnant, to most students and it takes a good deal of class time to explain and practice. The aim of this tutorial is to be able to offer students the opportunity to learn how to understand rhythm more systematically and in more detail than is possible in class and in a way that allows the student to practice and check his or her work independently through a graduated series of exercises. The tutorial is meant to reduce frustration with learning the techniques while at the same time leading a student to think about the larger conceptual issues of rhythm more quickly and with greater sophistication.
The creation of this tutorial would not have been possible without a grant from the Mellon foundation and the help of Computing and Information Services at Reed, especially Martin Ringle, Director of CIS, and his staff. In addition, several students have worked on various parts of the tutorial. Nicholas Anderson (English '00) has been amazingly resourceful and creative in coming up with ways to make the computer do the apparently impossible and to be elegant about it to boot. In addition to Nik's many hours of work, Gretchen Pfeil, Tasia Bernie and Heather Houser have helped test the program. I also want to thank several Poetry and Poetics classes for being the guinea pigs for the initial version of this tutorial, both online and in paper form: Professor Lisa Steinman's classes in Fall 1998 and my own in Fall 1999.
A last prefatory remark to students about to begin this tutorial--nearly every year as I begin teaching rhythm analysis to students, one or more student will invariably tell me, after facing some bafflement with the rules and ideas you are about to learn, that they never expected poetry to turn into a physics course. Apart from the fact that I am sure the physics department would have none of this, let me say that most students eventually come to see that this work is useful in that it does make you pay attention to words and phrases much more carefully, gives you a vocabulary for describing and identifying elements of your reading experience that you might not otherwise gain, and opens a realm of language, rhythm, that is central to all poetry. If your brain becomes weary of worrying over every single syllable, I recommend clearing your aural palate by reading some favorite poems aloud to yourself or others without stopping and without analysis. There comes a point when the analytical work becomes almost second nature, when, having learned to pay attention, you hear more than you ever imagined possible.
Ellen Keck Stauder, Professor of English and Humanities