Lineation: the Knife Skills of Poetry

Ah, lineation. I handle you constantly, careful one time, clumsy the next. I imagine hope I’m getting better, but sometimes, the slice is too thick or too thin. My fingertips are always bleeding from cuts that I sometimes don’t notice until later. Stigmata of those who write poems?

I really want to get a copy of A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line, and I will, but for now, I’m making do with the editors’ introductions I found on John (“The poem becomes a one-time use definition of line-break, line, stanza, and so forth.”) Gallaher’s blog entry, as well as the following pieces from the book that have been made available online:

Poetry Daily has three:

  1. “The Line as Fetish and Fascist Reliquary” by Gabriel Gudding: He’s no stranger, but Gudding’s certainly gotten stranger: “The line is a vomito-aesthetic concrescence of a larger, mystifying ideology known both as “official art” and its false rival ‘avant-garde art’…”
  2. “Lines and Spaces” by Catherine Imbriglio“If the overall effect of a poem depends on its pace, the way it builds its highs and lows, then this comes from the way the poem distributes its musical energy through its formal configuration of lines and spaces.”
  3. “The Thin Line” by Terese Svoboda: “A line is made to be broken—sometimes shattered. It’s nearly a plane, for god’s sake, practically glass.” Also: “Lines curve in space—that’s the most important thing about line. What you see is the infinite, delicate bending of meaning and sound coming together on the horizon where the line stops, where there’s a gasp, and then the line falls in space.”
The Academy of American Poets has eight:
  1. “Two Lines” by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge: She begins with “A line of poetry on a page exists in space, but I think of it as a kind of timing, a measured flow of poetic energy, a dynamic,” and ends with a form of lineation where line and sentence correspond. Not my thing, but Berssenbrugge is always fascinating.
  2. “Shore Lines” by Camille Dungy: “…I think ideas can rhyme too. I like to end lines this way, following conceptual rhymes, carrying the basic elements of an idea from one line to the next in the same way one might carry a certain element of sound throughout a poem.”
  3. “Tiny Étude on the Poetic Line” by Heather McHugh: “The line is where the wish to go forth in words (along one axis of a journey) encounters the need to break off—or fall out—with words (along the other axis, a vertical).”
  4. “Where It Breaks: Drama, Silence, Speed, and Accrual” by Dana Levin: “I am not interested in the line as much as where it breaks. I am interested in drama. … Of course, to link breakage and drama is to lend enjambment the weight of content: white space as communicative pause.”
  5. “This Is Just To Say That So Much Depends Upon” by Timothy Liu: I love Timothy Liu, so I’m slightly annoyed I couldn’t find a “soundbite” from his piece, but it’s great reading: anecdotal but also technical in its way.
  6. “The Line Is the Leaf” by Donald Revell: “Poems do not acquire meaning; they simply evidence meanings accumulated over time as and through the moving lines.”
  7. “Some Thoughts on the Integrity of the Single Line in Poetry” by Alberto Ríos: Not about the monostich, and I like how this essay seems to respond to Revell’s focus on the mobility of lines in, for instance, ideas like “A line is a moment, and a moment is intrinsically non-narrative,” and “A line suggests, for the moment, lateral, rather than linear, movement.” It gets technical, too, in a good way.
  8. “Croon: A Brief on the Line” by Tim Seibles: You had me at “Beyond their meanings, words are sounds, notes if you will. A line—full of assonance or simply conversational—is, therefore, necessarily a kind of musical construct.”

There are SIXTY other pieces in the book. I must have it.

David Rivard

And speaking of…

I’m pretty sure I’ve come across Rivard before, but most recently, it began with an essay evocatively entitled “The Interrupted Now.” It was a great read with several insights that make so much sense to me, like the following on syntax:

For me to be fully inside the body of the poem I have to feel a flex and alertness in the syntax. Otherwise I go around slumping and round-shouldered, and the poem flops. The syntax has to be muscular enough to hold together in the midst of shifting speeds, but flexible enough to make the turns. That speed, that variable propulsiveness, is a thing I trust. The speed gives me a way of narrating experience that depends on elision and compression; but it also mimics the way that one moment of interruption fades into another.

And just as I was struck by the title of his now out-of-print debut collection, so too am I with Otherwise Elsewhere, the title of his latest collection. (Notice how that review links to “The Interrupted Now”?)

And despite / because of my difficulty with what he calls “The Minimal, the Miniature, & the Little-More-Than-Nothing,” I found riveting a piece that offers, among other things, a discussion of poems that “depend upon indirection and a sort of Wi-Fi networking.”

And this not-so-recent interview has Rivard talking about the fragment, which has long interested me, but here’s a bit about syntax and line in Torque:

I can see how I’m using a line to parse out sentence rhythms as the line moves down the page. It’s not a book that depends on the line to articulate a rhythm; it depends on the sentence. The line makes you more aware of how phrasal units counterpoint the sentence, or how the complications of syntax are being released, how the syntax tracks.

And finally, for now, Heather McHugh, whose work as critic and editor I like, has nice things to say about him. Discussing one of Rivard’s poems from Wise Poison, she says–in her typical way–the following, which I like because some common words that pop up in my poems include sin, sing, and singe, poems which I aim to work as “song-sense”:

To sin, to be singed, ever to have sung a single thing–such links are forged, not on the anvils of deductive reasoning, but rather in the spark-bed of song-sense itself.