H. T. Kirby-Smith offers a far-ranging and intellectually engaging study of the literary history of the debated genre of free verse, aimed not at perpetuating a particular dispute but instead at discovering the generative points of this often celebrated, often maligned form.
Though free verse became a dominant poetic mode only in the twentieth century, Kirby-Smith finds its roots in seventeenth-century England. Beginning his study with writers such as John Milton--who was considered by T. S. Eliot to be the greatest writer of free verse in English--the author places recent and divisive topics in poetics in context, showing them to be attenuated remnants of issues first broached hundreds of years ago.
The book seeks to establish a consensus on the nature of free verse, with reference to critics and poets including Pound, Eliot, Williams, Amy Lowell, Yvor Winters, and Hugh Kenner. Good free verse, argues Kirby-Smith, arises as a reaction to a well-established set of conventions. Likewise, The Origins of Free Verse goes against the conventions of existing poetic scholarship, offering an encompassing yet fresh--and controversial--literary history of free verse.
"At moments, this study is revelatory. . . . In its range and detail it offers a way of thinking about the history of English-language prosody which recognizes the importance of the poet's individual choices and undercuts our century's vanity. . . . Poetry is a learned art, and Kirby-Smith brings both insight and much learning to reading it." --Times Literary Supplement
"The best study of free verse I have seen. . . . The Origins of Free Verse is a book that all students of prosody will want to read. " --Harvard Review
". . . a witty and polemical account of the emergence and development of free verse." --Choice
H. T. Kirby-Smith is Professor of English, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.