18 April 2012

on poetic line


Before this post, a bit of news:

Looking for a new place to submit? Check out The Atomy, a new collaborative arts magazine “focused on spotlighting unique artists from all genres.” This online journal focuses on collecting and sharing a “gallery” of pieces—poetry, visuals, sounds, interviews, etc.—united by a common theme each month. The theme for April is “firsts.” The theme for May will be “the ocean.” You can learn more about submitting here.

You can also check out some of my work on The Atomy—they have published two of my poems, “The chase” and “Veritas”. You can read both pieces here.

Don’t forget Poem in Your Pocket Day next week (4/26)! Looking for ways to celebrate? Check out these ten suggestions.

Looking for a way to “weaken the blow” of rejection letters? Check out The Stoneslide Corrective’s Rejection Generator Project, inspired by psychological research “showing that after people experience pain they are less afraid of it in the future.”

***

On poetic line

One of the things I’ve been trying to emphasize this past week in my poetry workshop is attention to line. There is something beautiful about poetic lines—James Longenbach describes poetry as “the sound of language organized in lines,” which places as much emphasis on the sonic quality of line as it does on the act and art of poetry itself. According to Longenbach:

James Longenbach,
The Art of the Poetic Line

(Graywolf Press, 2007)
More than meter, more than rhyme, more than images or alliteration or figurative language, line is what distinguishes our experience of poetry as poetry, rather than some other kind of writing. The rhythmic vitality of prose might be so intense that it rises to moments of regularity we can scan. Its diction may be more sensuous, more evocative, than that of many poems. We wouldn’t be attracted to the notion of prose poetry if it didn’t feel exciting to abandon the decorum of lines … The line’s function is sonic, a way of organizing the sound of language, and only by listening to the effect of a particular line in the context of a particular poem can we come to understand how line works. (“Preface”, The Art of the Poetic Line)

One of my favorite things about poetic line is its ability to surprise, and to help a poet propel a poem through the surprise of line breaks, enjambment, end stops, etc. Consider these lines from Robert Creeley’s poem “The Language” (click the title to read the full poem at The Poetry Foundation):

Locate I
love you some-
where in

teeth and
eyes, bite
it but

There is so much beautiful word play in those six little lines. Creeley is known for his attention to line, and here he brilliantly carries thoughts and ideas—and surprises—across lines. Think of the difference between “Locate I love you” and the broken “Locate I”, which sounds like an invitation to seek out the speaker of the poem. Think of the difference between the command to “Locate I love you somewhere…” and the implications of “I love you some.” The line “it but” doesn’t seem to do much on its own, yet the sonic pairing of “eyes, bite” and “it but” is compelling, and the lingering “but” propels the reader forward in the poem.

One of the exercises I gave my students to do I called “Creelying” a text. The basic steps are as follows:

1. Free write for about five minutes. Either take portions from your free writing and write a prose poem, or use your free write as a prose poem. Here is the free writing I did for this exercise:

The moment I stop breathing I think I am going to disappear into nothing but air, which ultimately is something, between being and nothing worth sharing, maybe cloud vapor or dust bunnies, gathered at the crack of dawn or down between floorboards and directors of dance steps mapped out on a stage where we are all players. And when I gasp for breath I feel the world expand, like a flexing palm with skin stretched taunt over bones of ivory keys on the xylophone you left in the attic when you moved on.

2. Take your free write/prose poem and re-line it. Revise it based on surprising line breaks—break the lines at unexpected moments, play with enjambment, short lines, and so forth.

Here’s my attempt:

Breath over bones

The moment I stop
breathing
I think I am
going  
to disappear

into nothing
but air which
ultimately
is something

between
being and no-
thing worth sharing
maybe cloud

vapor or dust
bunnies gathered
at the crack
of dawn

or down
between
floorboards
and directors

of dance
steps mapped
out on a stage
where we are

all players.
And when
I
gasp for breath

I feel the world
expand
like a flex-
ing palm with skin

stretched
over bones
of ivory keys
on the xylophone

you left
in the attic
when you moved
on.

*****
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