Now there's an opening, eh? Especially at this time of year.
So, you're thinking, Bardiac, make good on that analogy.
Every play in baseball pretty much begins with a pitch. If a pitcher threw every pitch at the same speed, to the same part of the imaginary "box" of a good pitch, the hitters would be very very happy. And fans would get quite bored.
Groups of words have rhythms; rhythmic poetry emphasizes the repetition of rhythms. Ta dum, ta dum, ta dum, Doo wop, doo wop, doo wop. But just as pitching at the same speed to the same spot would be so predictable that most hitters would hit a lot, so rhythmic poetry that's really regularly rhythmic would get irritating or worse, boring, fast.
As readers, we're like batters. And poets are like pitchers. Except we're not opponents, we're cooperating. So the analogy breaks down a bit.
Poets may choose to give us rhythms to help us build expectations, to give us the pleasures of repetition. But if they gave us nothing but the same repetitions, we'd quickly find them boring. That's why we make jokes about someone with a really nice voice reading the phone book. A phone book has lots of poetic features: repetition and patterns set up our expectations; information is tightly condensed; words stand metonymically for physical people and physical addresses, arabic numerals stand for the dialing (or press-button) pattern we could follow. But the repetition is overwhelming, too overwhelming to make for long pleasureable reading.
Back to the pitching analogy. Pitchers try to set batters up, and batters (and their coaches) try to outguess pitchers. If a pitcher throws a couple fast balls, a hitter starts expecting fast balls, starts thinking in terms of the fast ball. So the pitcher has to throw a curve, or a change up, or to the inside or outside of the imaginary box, or high, or low, something to mess with the batter's expectations.
A good pitcher sets up batters with patterns and changes, which leaves those who watch baseball endlessly interested in what the next pitch will be, and in how the batter will react.
Similarly, a good poem gives us expectations, whether through form or repetition, for example, and then gives us changes so that we're always looking with interest at what's happening, always feeling our way through what's happening and how we're reacting. Some poems use repeated patterns of rhythm, and some resist repeated patterns of rhythmic repetition, but even the least "regularly metrical" poem has rhythms, and we can observe them if we're careful, and think about how they affect our understanding of the poem. The poems that use regular rhythmic repetition give us more help, but may also seem deceptively easy.
At this point, I'm going to work with another example, but I'm not sure quite yet what I'll work from. I want to work with something that's going to be reasonably familiar, but not so familiar as to be boring. And what I want to do is look at and tease out the ways that poets toss in trochees and spondees at the beginnings of lines, because that's often where they get interesting.
I also think I need to talk a bit about an exercise I do with students to think about the rhythms of various formations of their names. My legal name has what I consider an abysmal rhythmic structure. Bardiac, on the other hand, has a pretty nice rhythm. So, I need to work that in as well, probably to an earlier part.
Potentials: The master of the "yet" and "but" is Spenser. I could put up the first two stanzas of book one of the Faerie Queene and work out the ways that he plays with meter there. The big disadvantages to Spenser is that his spelling is so off-putting that many folks are uncomfortable with it AND I doubt most people ask students to read any part of the FQ in most intro to poetry classes. I want my talk to be immediately useful, so that someone uncomfortable with poetry could walk into a classroom and make them work.
Then there's that Shakespeare guy. The first sentence of "Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediment" is pretty much a gold mine of poetic play. Too familiar? Students start out thinking they know all about it, but then they realize there's a lot more there once they're paying close attention.
Or, dang, I hate that I love Marvell's "To his Coy Mistress" so much, but I do (of all the long dead poets I study or teach, I think Marvell and Herrick would actually be the most fun to meet and hang out with, and maybe Ben Jonson, all of them sexist as all get out, but so fun, too). It's also got some absolutely masterful changeups. I can make a lot of rhythmic hay talking about:
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Advice? Other examples?