Timothy Steele Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although Timothy Steele rarely reviews books, he is one of the leading prosodists of his generation. In Missing Measures: Modern Poetry and the Revolt Against Meter (1990), Steele discusses the flawed historical assumptions behind much of the modernist poetry. His knowledge of both classical and romance languages and literature serves him well here. In a quotation for the book, X. J. Kennedy writes that “Steele’s arguments strike me as so forceful, so well thought through, that anyone who assails them will find the going difficult.” This has proven all too true as the critical establishment has found it in its own best interests to ignore Steele’s argument rather than attempt its refutation.

Steele has also published a book of prosody, All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing (1999), which not only is a good introduction to poetics but also helps dispel many modernist assumptions. He makes an excellent case that, regardless of T. S. Eliot’s contentions, the iambic measure is alive because of variations within the meter rather than those caused by the breaking of the meter. In addition, Steele makes a persuasive argument for the near nonexistence of the Pyrrhus and spondee in English-language poetry.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Timothy Steele is probably the leading poet-scholar of the New Formalist movement, though he is not its best-known exponent. He is a modest man of very little self-promotion, but the learning displayed in Missing Measures shows him to be a scholar of the first rank.

Nonetheless, his poetry has gained considerable attention. Steele is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship (1984-1985), the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award of the Academy of American Poets (1986), the Commonwealth Club of California Silver Medal (1986), the Los Angeles PEN Center Literary Award for Poetry (1987), the Elizabeth Matchett Stover Award (2002) from Southwest Review, and the Robert Fitzgerald Award for Excellence in the Study of Prosody (2004). He has also won a California Arts Council Grant (1993), as well as the California State University, Los Angeles, Outstanding Professor Award in 1992 and the school’s President’s Distinguished Professor Award in 1998-1999.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Crosscurrents: A Quarterly 8, no. 2. Special issue titled “Expansionist Poetry: The New Formalism and the New Narrative.” This groundbreaking issue on the expansive movement includes many essays essential to understanding that movement and Steele. Steele contributes two poems, “Decisions, Decisions” and “Practice,” while taking part in the symposium that forms the center of the issue. A good format to sense Steele’s interactions with his peers in the movement.

Feirstein, Frederick, ed. Expansive Poetry: Essays on the New Narrative and the New Formalism. Ashland, Oreg.: Story Line Press, 1989. Collection includes Steele’s essay “Tradition and Revolution: The Modern Movement and Free Verse,” which is an excellent telescoping of the larger argument Steele makes in Missing Measures. This collection also includes other perspectives on the New Formalist movement, many of which offer insight into poet Dana Gioia’s aesthetic.

McPhillips, Robert. “Reading the New Formalists.” In Poetry After Modernism, edited by Robert McDowell. Ashland, Oreg.: Story Line Press, 1991. McPhillips deals with several New Formalist poets, prominently featuring Steele, and their relationships to one another and to their craft. This volume is also helpful as a general guide to the New Formalist movement, of which Steele is a prominent practitioner.

Steele, Timothy. “Timothy Steele: An Interview.” Interview by Kevin Walzer. Edge City Review 2, no. 2 (1996). An in-depth interview with Steele covering his career through 1995. Steele comments on his influences, criticisms of Missing Measures, and New Formalism in general.

_______. “Timothy Steele Interview.” Interview by Cynthia Haven. Cortland Review, June 15, 2001. Steele touches on metrical poetry, New Formalism, and Walt Whitman, with an emphasis on his desire to keep the metrical tradition alive and understandable to new readers.

_______. “Welcome to Timothy Steele’s Homepage.” http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/tsteele/. The poet’s official Web site provides an introduction to the poet, career summary, selected bibliography of works about the poet, audio clips, an introduction to meter and form, and a look at All the Fun’s in How You Say a Thing.