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This article is taken from PN Review 141, Volume 28 Number 1, September - October 2001.

Memes and Metre Chris McCully

'... So long lives this, and this gives life to thee'
William Shakespeare


This piece is a reworking from (part of) a paper given at the West Chester Poetry Conference, West Chester, PA, May 2000. I'm grateful for the invitation to contribute to this conference, and in particular to Dana Gioia and the conference organisers (Sam Gwynn, Mike Peitch) for hospitality, good ideas, and trans-Atlantic generosity. I'm also grateful to Gareth Twose (University of Manchester), Richard Cureton (University of Michigan), and Monika Schmid (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam) for commenting thoughtfully on earlier drafts of this essay. Finally, a sabbatical from the School of English and Linguistics, University of Manchester, allowed me the time to re-think some ideas, and to knock them into written shape.

Students believe that metre is 'something you write about at the end of an essay when you can't think of what else to say'. I've never understood this disenchantment. How something is said is part of why it's said. Metres are linguistic and cultural universals, part of the equipment of being human. They may not be a matter of life and death, true. They may turn out to be far more important than that.

In this and the following essay I'm going to disappoint linguists (who'll insist that I'm not being rigorous enough) and irritate literary specialists (who'll think I'm being opaquely technical). I want to write from this hinterland of mutual suspicion, and offer a partial view ...


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