R F Brewer (B.A.)

Having written a post on the poetry of Robert Frost, I thought it might be as well to bone up on the subject of poesy a little more.

Living, as I do, in a house brimming with nerdy tomes, I had a selection to choose from.  I could read lots of poetry, or I could read lots about poetry.

I decided to read about.

Living, as I do, in a house brimming with nerdy tomes, I had a selection to choose from.  The Ode Less Travelled, by Stephen Fry?  Perhaps some Leavis, or Aristotle’s Poetics?  Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets?  Robert Graves’ The Crowning Privilege or The White Goddess?  Possibly Seamus Heaney’s magisterial The Redress of Poetry?

I settled down with something more severe.  The Art of Versification and the Technicalities of Poetry, by R F Brewer, B.A.  That’s right: he puts his Bachelor of Arts qualification down on the front cover and the title page.  We’re in good hands.

This is a stern book.  You know more or less what you’re in for from the first paragraph of the preface:

‘The chief aim of this book is to instruct.  Those for whose use it is primarily designed, form that large and increasing number of the youth of both sexes, whose cultivated taste leads them to the study of our poets, and often, by original verse-making, to their imitation.’

Love that ‘of both sexes’.  There’s nothing better than an obvious nod to gender equality if you want to reveal that you’re sexist.

It must be said – and soon – that Brewer knows his stuff: did you know that tragedy is derived from the Greek – τραγωδία: tragodía – and literally means ‘the goat song’?  Bet you didn’t.  He also knows all there is to know about the technicalities of poetry.  He’s marvellous on verse forms, meter – all the nuts and bolts.

But he turns what is the finest, most underwear-moisteningly beautiful form of language usage into a spiky maze of regulations and prejudices.

Strangely, the prejudices save the book.  But not the prejudices about poetry.

Oh no.

Feast your eyes:

‘Sheridan, in his “Art of Reading,” says that if the first thirteen lines of the Paradise Lost were printed as prose and read by some one who had never seen the poem, they would be read as prose.  We are certain that the judgement of most educated men would condemn this assertion.  As well might we take the opinion of a Chinaman upon one of Beethoven’s sonatas as of an illiterate person upon a question of verse and prose.’

Sorry, but we just have to see that again:

‘As well might we take the opinion of a Chinaman upon one of Beethoven’s sonatas as of an illiterate person upon a question of verse and prose.’

Do you hear a little ‘click’ at the end of that sentence?  It was the sound of Brewer putting the cap back onto his fountain pen with a satisfied flourish.  ‘Case,’ he was clearly thinking to himself, ‘closed.’

I’d wade through endless lists of metric feet and Brewer’s dull pronouncements on which particular poem in English represents, for him, the acme of its form.  And I’d wade through it just for a sentence like that.

I had to, of course, but tell me it’s wasn’t worth it.

And isn’t ‘the Paradise Lost’ marvellous?  Oh, how I love a snob.

You can track down a copy of Brewer’s inimitable guide to the ars poetica quite easily: I’d recommend AbeBooks as a sure-fire starting point.

You won’t regret owning it.  And if you ever do, to get rid of the feeling you just have to turn to page one hundred and thirty nine and read ‘As well might we take…’

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10 responses to “R F Brewer (B.A.)

  1. i can’t tell who is a bigger douche, you or the person you’re writing about

    • You will notice that in the interests of freedom of expression, I’ve approved your comment.

      Since ‘douche’ refers to an (admittedly rather unpleasant) item intended to ensure good hygiene, I’m not sure if you’re being complimentary here, or just American. I’ll go for the latter. So far as language usage goes, that last was NOT a compliment.

      Also, you don’t know what capital letters do, and you don’t use full stops. So I’m not at all moved by your criticism.

      Also – this is my favourite part – you write poetry, and I write ABOUT poetry.

      You have NO idea what you just got yourself into.

    • And derekcalavera – your poetry leaves me with a great desire to floss my teeth. It is somewhat meaty, but a tad boring. Lighten up, kitten!

  2. Misha, I just wanted to let you know I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

    Since I know the meaning of ‘douche’ I’m pretty sure you aren’t one. Having said that, what you do on your own time is your choice. If you have mastered the art of transforming yourself into objects, I would suggest there is a large range of more pleasant and exciting transformations you could undertake that would incur less uncomfortable situations than being put to use as a douche.

  3. Oh, man… I am buying that book.

    Everyone knows that your BA goes straight to back of the toilet door, anyway.

  4. When I read on facebook that you had a hate message on here I actually thought, for a second, that it might be some sort of over the top, heated rebutal to your own so often – entertainingly written opinions. Intellectually motivated, I thought. Rubbing my hands with antipation, I clicked the link, only to be disappointed again, as I so often am, by an anonymous “douche-caller”. Obviously lost, poor thing, someone get this guy a link to…where ever it is these guys hand out on line, but I babble, sorry, nice work Mish, as always.

    • I know – I was looking forward to a real fire-snorter myself: just have to wait, I guess: but I have bagged him in my latest post, so let’s see if that lures the timid little forest creature out of its burrow…

      And you never babble, Pat. At least, I’ll never say you do while you keep these lovely comments coming.

  5. way to out-douche yourselves, everyone

    • Derek. Since I enjoyed your poetry so much I now am aware of the breadth of your talent. Your ability to be constructive when critizing someone in public is a rare talent indeed. I wish you a tortured life as the talentless hack you will no doubt continue to be. Can I recommend a career as a dishwasher?

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