the verse-novel returns


Looking back to the birth of the modern verse-novel with Byron’s Don Juan and Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, it is plain that ironised lightness of tone and touch is vital to their success, supported by their stanza-forms’ respective demands for triple and unstressed rhyme. In each poem much is narratively noticed, from the terrible to the trivial, and more is implied, some of it searing. Seth in The Golden Gate stuck closely to the Onegin stanza, including unstressed rhymes (as with ‘fellow/yellow’, ‘critic/arthritic’, and ‘poet/know it’), and like Byron and Pushkin maintained a detached, primarily comic tone to encompass tragicomic narrative with ironic observation. Fuller’s The Illusionists and Keating’s Jack, the Lady Killer also use Onegin stanzas and rely on their tone, but innovative choices of stanza-form – Dantean terza rima, blank heroic tercets, or Thompson’s single-rhymed, loosely heroic quatrains – are commoner, and bring a greatly expanded range of tones to match range and difficulties of subject-matter. And whatever it was Seth’s doubting interlocutors so scorned (or feared?) in the revived verse-novel, its modern authors are overwhelmingly poets far from “sad blancmange”, who know very well that the world is hard, and potently chart in their work some of the reasons that they and their countrymen find it so.

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