Expressive form, fallacy of expressive form: The phrase expressive form refers to a literary convention holding that an author’s (especially a poet’s) form or style should derive from the idea or feeling being expressed. American poet and critic Yvor Winters and New Critics such as R. P. Blackmur rejected this concept, hence the phrase fallacy of expressive form. Winters, perhaps the first critic to attack the convention of expressive form, asserted in his essay “The Influence of Meter on Poetic Convention” (from Primitivism and Decadence [1937]) that:

To say that a poet is justified in employing a disintegrating form in order to express a feeling of disintegration is merely a sophistical justification for bad poetry, akin to the Whitmanian notion that one must write loose and sprawling poetry to “express” the loose and sprawling American continent. In fact, all feeling, if one gives oneself (that is, one’s form) up to it, is a way of disintegration; poetic form is by definition a means to arrest the disintegration and order the feeling; and in so far as any poetry tends toward the formless, it fails to be expressive of anything.

Indeed, as Winters wrote to Blackmur in 1933, he viewed this “relaxation, or giving way to one’s material,” as “the central vice of modern poetry.”

New Critics, who privileged craftsmanship, further developed the critique of expressive form by suggesting that poets relying solely on inspiration and the intensity of personal emotion are unable to accurately judge the effects of their work because they lack objective standards. As Blackmur explained in a 1935 essay entitled “D. H. Lawrence and Expressive Form,” “When you depend entirely on the demon of inspiration, the inner voice, the inner light, you deprive yourself of any external criterion to show whether the demon is working or not.” For Blackmur, expressive form was a “plague affecting the poetry of the last hundred and fifty years,” Lawrence its “extreme victim.” Without an objective form, carefully chosen and crafted, substance suffers; “the chaos of private experience cannot be known or understood until it is projected and ordered in a form external to the consciousness that entertained it in flux.”