- A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line (excerpts here and here, introductions here)
- Novel Pictorial Noise by Noah Eli Gordon (reviews here and here and here and here)
- Elegy by Mary Jo Bang (reviews here and here and here and here and here)
- Skirmish by Dobby Gibson (review and Book Notes track list)
- Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan, trans. John Felstiner (excerpt here and here, review here and here and here and here and here, essay here and here and here)
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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:
- “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’…”
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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.
- “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.”
- “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).”
- “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.”
- “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.
- “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.”
- “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.
- “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.
Jorie Graham On The Region Of Unlikeliness
In this excerpt from a 2003 interview with Jorie Graham that appeared in The Paris Review, she talks about several of my preoccupations–autobiography, parenthood, lineation, philosophy in poetry, addressing the reader, confession, etc–and how they played out in her collection Region Of Unlikeliness:
In Region—after using works of art, then myth, in the previous books—you turn to autobiography. The poems were all your own stories, at that point. Why was that?
Perhaps because once you’re a parent, you enter into a completely different relationship to time. History becomes dominant, and then, perhaps, personal history becomes dominant. You are suddenly at that point where facts—both the facts that your child is learning, and the facts of your life your child wants to know, needs to know—become important. You become a bit of story that needs to be told.
The lines in these poems are shorter. Why?
Many things made the line shorter. Once you begin talking from the position of being a social creature, you go back to the line in which social discourse takes place, the pentameter. It’s a more exterior line, which, since Shakespeare, we associate with people speaking to one another. On either side of it stand more unspeakable lines—longer lines for the visionary; shorter and more symmetrical ones for song, spell, hymn; and shorter yet for the barely utterable, the shriek, the epitaph.
And the second line?
The indented line became a very useful place to negotiate and control the music of the poem. I was still very interested in the sentence, in the kinds of energies the sentence awakens—desire for closure, desire for suspension of closure, desire for simultaneity in a stream of temporal action that defies simultaneity. I guess I still am. For example, what happens along the way of the sentence that you’re in the process of undertaking, the thing you can’t put alongside but that has to actually happen in the sentence as a “dependent” phrase? If you’re telling the story of your life, in a way, or if you’ve gone back to autobiography or history, you’re in a place where sentence-making is connected to time, as opposed to those epiphanic escapes from time which would employ a different kind of syntax—in Erosion for example.
So, the indented line . . .?
The indented line allows you to modulate the sentence and keep it capable of carrying so much without collapsing. It’s all a matter of freight carried to speed of carriage, to mangle Frost’s quote. It gave me a kind of lift—and three musical units: the full line; a shorter fragmentary line that condenses stresses on very few words (often words that would never carry a stress—prepositions, articles, conjunctions) words that if stressed truly alter the nature of what the actual inquiry of the poem is; and the “landing,” the oftentimes single word on the left margin, which takes the strongest stress of all. Those “landing words” gave me a kind of propulsion that made a rather long poem continue to feel like a containable lyric utterance. I wanted to pack a lot into the lyric, but not go beyond its bounds. Some have written that I wanted to expand what the lyric could do. I just want the hugeness of experience—which includes philosophical discursiveness—to move at a rate of speed that kept it (because all within one unity of experience) emotional. Also, often, questions became the way the poems propelled themselves forward.
And that does what to the reader?
It brings the reader in as a listener to a confession? A poem is a private story, after all, no matter how apparently public. The reader is always overhearing a confession.
Who Is Hugh Selwyn Mauberley?
If Richard Sieburth is, as I suspect, correct when he says, “To read Pound has always involved the invitation to become his student,” I’m not sure I’ve been reading Pound, at least in that sense. Or, perhaps more precisely, I have not yet accepted that invitation wholeheartedly, given my lack of confidence in dealing with Pound’s works and life. (In addition, although I don’t think Sieburth is excluding the early work in which “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley (Contacts And Life)” is included, I suspect he has The Cantos on his mind more than he does those other poems and translations.) Still, I encircle Pound, occasionally listening to him read his work and always deriving pleasure from it even if I don’t (dare) read poetry aloud that way. I approach Pound cautiously, almost as if I see him in his steel cage. I am horrified at the conditions he has been subjected to but also at the man himself. I condemn the cage but am also thankful for it, to my shame. Like Heidegger, Pound fascinates me with a strangeness I do not find comfortable; perhaps because Pound’s mental stability has been called into question, I find I easily imagine Pound to be feral and wild. To a certain extent, this excuses him more than Heidegger, though not by much. And yes, I hide my fear in judgments like these.
When I took a course on literary theory a couple of years ago, one of the required readings was the fifth chapter of Brenda K. Marshall’s Teaching The Postmodern: Fiction And Theory. There, Marshall discusses (Linda Hutcheon’s ideas on) historiographic metafiction through a discussion of three novels that fit that category. One of those was Timothy Findley’s Famous Last Words, a novel that featured Mauberley as its central character. It was my first time to hear of Findley, and, to be honest, of Mauberley. Back then, I already knew of Pound’s Cantos, and I’ve read some of the Imagist work and the translations from the Chinese, but for some reason, “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” failed to show up on my radar until I read about it in the Marshall. I was at least two steps removed from it, but I pretended to know it, to at least read and understand enough for class discussion. I remember being entranced by a line from the novel that Marshall quotes: “All I have written here is true; except the lies.”
Around a year later, reading James Longenbach‘s The Art Of The Poetic Line, I encountered Mauberley again (Longenbach also talks about the poem here and calls it “probably the best poem ever written about midlife crisis”), focusing this time on the formal elements of the poem and not so much the character himself.
This morning, listening to the Caedmon Recordings of Pound reading the poem, I misheard the first line of the second stanza of the “Siena Mi Fe’; Disfecemi Maremma“ section. Instead of hearing Pound intoning, “For two hours he talked of Gallifet,” I heard instead “For two hours he talked of Gallifrey.” I then thought of how Pound’s poems, like the best poems, are always bigger on the inside. I also thought about Pound claiming, “All ages are contemporaneous in the mind,” wherever that came from. I also saw Pound as the Master but couldn’t and wouldn’t sustain it.
I’m reading a really old (first published 1955, first paperback edition 1974) piece of criticism on Mauberley, this blue
box book. I’m not really all that interested in the kind of literary genealogy characteristic of these kinds of “source and influence studies,” but reading the book, I almost feel like I’m travelling in time and meeting Mauberley again, not where he was originally but some other place, when people were studying Pound without feeling the need to apologize for his Fascism, the way I always feel like I have to, even when I’m just all alone, reading Mauberley and thinking about it.
These are the last words of Famous Last Words:
From “Sight-Specific, Sound-Specific…,” Mackey says, related to these :
Language’s ability to perform is variable and site-specific, mind, ear, eye, air, page, and other sites conducing to particular powers and effects. Ezra Pound’s “phanopoeia, melopoeia and logopoeia,” echoed by Louis Zukofsky’s “sight, sound and intellection,” touches on this multisitedness to an extent, but by congeries of apprehension something more multiple and involved than a trinarism is gotten at. Taking not only eye, ear, and mind into consideration but acknowledging mind’s eye, mind’s ear, and, further, mind’s nose, mind’s tongue, and mind’s touch as well, to say nothing of synesthetic amalgams and exchanges, considerably complicates the mix.
I try to write poems whose words perform on multiple fronts. I’m as attentive, to speak only of two such fronts, to the placement of words on the page (the use of variable margins, intralinear spacing, page breaks, and such to advance a now swept, now swung, sculpted look, a visual dance down the page and from page to page) as I am to the rhythms and inflections with which they’re to be read when read aloud. It’s not that the former serves as a score for the latter, as Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, and others have insisted. Such placement, to the silent reader, can suggest the unfolding of thought or composition (its hesitancies, tenuities, accelerations, leaps, and so forth) while speaking, by way of the eye, to a mind’s ear that hears every line break as a caesura, every break between sections or pages as an amendment or an addendum or even a new beginning, additional space between words as a pause. This is the poem performing on the stage the page amounts to (and on the stage the reader’s mind amounts to by way of the page). I don’t, however, feel obligated to read the poem aloud in the manner such placement might suggest—obligated or even able. What, after all, do varied margins sound like? (What, for that matter, does an unvaried margin sound like?) To avail oneself to graphic amenities peculiar to the page is not to disallow the poem behaving differently when read aloud but to recognize that it does. The ultimate untransmissibility of vocal dynamics (timbre, accent, pace, volume, inflection, and so forth) by print—and vice versa—makes variance inevitable. The poem’s articulation is as various as its locations.
On line breaks (SOURCE):
Initially, the form of Portions, due to the very short lines, made me think more fully about the multiple possibilities of line breaks – the way the line break offers both a discontinuity and a space through which one reads to connect. In some ways, the condensed form allowed me to try some of the quick compression, turns, and fusion that I found in my readings of Celan. While some of the lyrical pleasures of Days can also be found in Portions, the latter has less of an insistence upon melopoeia or traditional modes of lyricism.
On “Musicality In Poetry“:
My first suggestion is that “meaning” and “musicality” are inseparable, coincidental, and simultaneous. It’s not that a poet “has something in mind” and “tries to express it.” The poem is the thinking, is an embodiment, a highly specific incarnation and manifestation of an interval of consciousness. While I don’t mean to suggest that poems do not have meaning, I do think that viewing a poem as an object to be re-stated in terms of a theme or an underlying idea amounts to a kind of linguistic strip-mining – a process that extracts an element at the expense of the overall verbal terrain.
Poems don’t have to be about something; the poem itself is a primary thing in the world. I think of poems – as in the best of Creeley – as intervals of consciousness. And the musicality of the poem – including shifts in direction, shifts in tempo, playing off of similar sounds – is intrinsic to the embodiment of a particular interval of consciousness.
Who are you, Anthony McCann, and why do you write such good poems?
Matt Hart, who I also like a lot, writes the following in his review of McCann’s latest collection I ♥ Your Fate,
Everything in this book is leaning—on a slant, a little bent, off-kilter, a little bit waiting in waiting, hoping for the future, headlong into the future. It makes me want to reflect on and connect to the world, to other people and to words, differently, physically, with abandon, apocalyptically.
And in Eric Lindley’s review entitled (take a breath now) “Repetition as compulsion: that you could make yourself believe a thing exists by tagging it, by making it again. Only, semantic satiation draws the word away from being, like the thin, drained smell of burnt rubber, rent into an air duct” is followed by some discussion between Lindley and McCann on the latter’s use of lineation and reading aloud, matters I’ve often obsessed about here.
The Body by Jenny Boully, Footnote 17
Everything I do, I do because I know I am dying. My most favorites of things are optical illusions. We don’t become senile or “lose our minds,” it’s just that as we get older, we have more to think of in less time-we must think of more in a compressed amount of time. I think I know now what you’ve tried to teach me, that poetry is an instant, an instant in which transcendence is achieved, where a miracle occurs and all of one’s knowledge, experience, memories etc. are obliterated into awe. Is anything I say real? And by real, I mean sincere–or is everything an attempt to have love? I know now why the line breaks: it is because something dies, and elsewhere, is born again
via Jenny Boully / The Body (emphasis mine)
Katy Evans-Bush On The Line
From Katy Evans-Bush’s “The Line”:
The line that ends misleadingly halfway through a phrase, which completely changes in meaning once the reader reaches the second half, is another. There is a significant tension between the ending of one line and the start of the next, and this tension can be pleasurably heightened by adding to the previously deduced meaning suddenly. If the second half of the phrase alters, rather than adds to, the meaning of the first half, it breaks the link between the two lines.
I do understand the line (pun foreseen but unintended) Evans-Bush draws here between how a line either alters or adds to the preceding one, but since the preceding line has already been read, doesn’t this mean that the succeeding line(s) will always add to it? I mean, I don’t see how it’s possible to unread a line, even if the next line appears to try to foreclose the original meaning.
From Marvin Bell to Ozzy Osbourne?
I first came across Marvin Bell when I read his opening remarks to a conference on camouflage held five years ago. In some ways, his linking of camouflage to poetry was somewhat formative in my own thinking as well, how “poetry doesn’t easily reveal itself,” how “it can be the lie that tells the truth.”
At the bottom of that page was a Dead Man poem of his, which I felt was an interesting figure the first time I read it. That Bell’s Dead Man is both alive and dead seems to have inspired my Heidegger short story, I now realize.
But because of the HTML coding of the Web page and how it ended up looking, I misread an important formal characteristic of the structure of Bell’s Dead Man poems, namely, how “each line of poetry in a dead man poem is a compete sentence, long or short,” which means enjambment is set aside as a device. The impression the poem left on me then was based on a misreading: I admired what I thought were long lines dramatically enjambed into shorter chunks that seemed to be hanging on for dear life.
If one looks at “The Book of the Dead Man (#70)” as printed in the Introspections anthology, Bell’s formal choice becomes even more interesting as it happens on the printed (albeit virtual) page. With the leftmost margin reserved for the start of a new sentence, sentences too long for the width of the page end up indented in the next line. Here, enjambment seems (forced) to take place, even if Bell says, “[L]ong thought and practice lay behind my decision to let the sentence determine the poetic line.” He continues:
“Free verse” is not a form, nor an absence of form, but a method for inventing new forms. In the Dead Man poems, I redefined the free verse line by discarding many of its material particulars: the common emphasis on enjambment, for example. … I have always felt that the key to free verse is the sentence. That is, syntax provides the opportunities to enjamb or not, and syntax determines the character of the line. The free verse line without reference to syntax is like a train without reference to tracks.
While there may be quibbles about the definition of free verse as a method (metaphorical though it may be, it seems oddly more precise to borrow Umberto Eco’s notion of the novel as “a machine for generating meaning” and call free verse a machine for generating poetic form), Bell’s assertions are fascinating, especially given my love of enjambment, an amour fou that led to my mistake of reading the line ending as a yellow light to beat, rather than a place to pause for a beat.
For one thing, the importance of the sentence to Bell’s understanding of free verse is parallel–separate yet aligned–with Annie Finch and her defense of meter, which she sees as a ghost haunting (American) free verse. I’m still not sure how much I accept the idea, but there is a third parallel: James Longenbach presenting prose poetry in The Art of the Poetic Line as “suggesting that the very power of line asks us to wonder how it would feel to do without line.”
The other thing point of interest is Bell’s figure of the train. A train may be derailed from its tracks, and certainly the tracks it normally must move on become more emphasized when that happens, but it’s interesting trying to link this with Bell’s recognition of and hesitation towards the “well-wrought urn.” Bell says, “The very sanity of the polished lyric is its own reward,” but follows this with a caveat: “Though I came to writing through the lyric tradition, I am not wholly of it. For I came to understand that I was crazier than that.”
Poetry as a crazy train?