Devon, PA.  Mark A. Signorelli’s superb essay, “Poetry and the Common Language,” appeared on FPR last month, and made to my mind a fine addition to helping us contemplate the relation of art and nature; like prayer and creed, these two are naturally intermingled and so, to think about craft and art is also to take a step toward considering one’s whole way of life.

Last year, I published an essay on contemporary poet and scholar of prosody Timothy Steele in American Arts Quarterly.  In “The Remarkable Unremarkable Meter of Timothy Steele,” I begin the project of explaining, first, how Steele has made sense of meter and versification as very few of its public explainers have (verse is one of those great human activities for which the theory has almost always been inadequate as a description of the practice; but Steele has changed all that, and not a moment too soon, given how close to extinction the understanding of prosody has become).  Second, I suggest how Steele’s grasp of versification gestures toward a larger, wholistic understanding of human life that eschews the dualisms and Manichisms of much modern culture — including the Romantic and Modernist literary traditions.

The Raintown Review recently asked to republish the Steele essay on line.  You may find it here.  Further, you should, if only to read Steele’s great poem, “Sapphics against Anger.”

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James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. An award-winning scholar of philosophical-theology and literature, he has authored dozens of essays, articles, and reviews on subjects ranging from art, ethics, and politics, to meter and poetic form, from the importance of local culture to the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty. Wilson is also a poet and critic of contemporary poetry, whose work appears regularly in such magazines and journals as First Things, Modern Age, The New Criterion, Dappled Things, Measure, The Weekly Standard, Front Porch Republic, The Raintown Review, and The American Conservative. He has published five books, including most recently, a collection of poems, Some Permanent Things and a monograph, The Catholic Imagination in Modern American Poetry (both Wiseblood Books, 2014). Raised in the Great Lakes State, baptised in the parish of St. Thomas Aquinas, seasoned by summers on Lake Wawasee (Indiana), and educated under the Golden Dome, Wilson is scion of a family of Hoosiers dating back to the early nineteenth century, and an offspring of Southside Chicago Poles whose tavern kept the city wet through the Depression (and prohibition) years.  He now lives under the same sentence of reluctant exile as many another native son of the Midwest, but has dug himself in for good on the margins of the Main Line in Pennsylvania with his beautiful wife, dangerous daughter, and saintly sons. For information on Wilson's scholarship and a selection of his published work, click here. See books written and recommended by James Matthew Wilson.


  1. Thanks for the kind words, Prof. Wilson. I share your great admiration for Steele’s critical work (I’m less enamored by his own poetry, but that’s another story). “Missing Measures” is one of the most worn-out volumes on my shelf; as I try to work out an adequate theoretical response to the modernist project, it is helpful to remember how fallacious were the arguments that initiated that whole project in the first place.

    I found your own essay very compelling. I have to admit that I have long subscribed to the “counterpoint” theory of meter. But your contention that metrical rhythm is not in any kind of opposition to the rhythm of language, but that it properly shapes it, makes a lot of sense. One of the things I like least about the New Formalists is the weak, almost limp, rhythm of their meters, almost as if they were trying to hide the fact from their readers that they are writing in meter at all. I think your conception of meter better explains my distaste in this case than the “counterpoint” theory. All in all, a fruitful assertion to ponder. Thanks!

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