Saturday, August 01, 2009

Partisan of Volta

"Partisan of what? What of Volta?" Okay. I admit: the title of this post sounds like some kind of indie rock band, made up of a bunch of guys with skinny jeans and Mission of Burma obsessions. But what I'm really thinking of is the volta, or turn, in the traditional Petrarchan sonnet — you know, the moment after the first eight lines, where the general rhetorical thrust changes and we get something different for the remaining six lines (so we'd have, say, eight lines of "ooh, I just love her!" followed by six lines of "but argh, I can't stand her!"). And who is the partisan of the volta, you wonder? Well, if I had to limit myself to a 150 mile radius of my study, I'd say the most powerful partisan of the volta would have to be Mike Theune. From his secret rebel outpost in Bloomington, Illinois Mike argues persuasively for the centrality of the volta to poetry. He's written a good book on the topic, and he totally schooled me on turns in Jorie Graham's poetry a while back.

Now he's picked up on my old Poetry/Not Poetry post and offered his own riffs on the meaning of the volta to poetry. He doesn't go so far as to say that the volta is what distinguishes poetry from prose (much of the best prose is full of rhetorical turns), not does he think that all good poetry needs to turn. But he does say that good turns necessarily make for good poetry, which is a pretty bold claim. Meet the partisan in his hideout, if you dare!