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.

Three Poets on Swink Magazine

I think I love how online magazine Swink calls itself “a tiny light in the gloaming of literary obscurity” because I feel I could easily apply that same description to myself. Anyway, not too many poets up yet, but here are three I like a lot, with sample lines that delighted me:

  • two poems by Timothy Liu (sample opening lines: “I know your mouth better / than your husband ever will.”)
  • three poems by Melissa Broder (sample opening lines to “Dear Billy Collins”: “If I don’t stop using / the word fingerbang / I’ll never get to be // poet laureate.”)
  • two poems by Sandra Beasley (sample lines: “I type ninety-one words a minute, all of them / Help. Yes, I speak Dewey Decimal.”)

My Own Private Book Fair

I didn’t hit the Manila International Book Fair this year, after nearly two decades of perfect attendance and profligate spending. I did feel a little bad, but only a little, because I did manage to amass several titles recently, including a hugely discounted online order that arrived over the weekend.

Two of those were “free”:

Ann Lauterbach’s Hum was a title my wife bought me, which joins my copies of works like On a Stair (another review), Or To Begin Again, and the essay collection The Night Sky: Notes on the Poetics of Experience. Lauterbach not only impresses me but has impressed on me, and if I had to name the poets most important to me, she would be one of those I would immediately cite (along with Jack Spicer).

The other “free” title was from my Dad. He doesn’t really get poetry, but he’s been on an online ordering binge for some time now, not just for himself but for his circle of friends (and their children). So when an extra copy of Poems for the Millennium III: The University of California Book of Romantic and Postromantic Poetry turned up, that went to me. I’m very pleased with it, because I do want to “reconfigure Romanticism” in the same way co-editor Jerome Rothenberg intended this anthology to do.

The rest of the titles–all seven of them–were part of an online order that only cost me US$ 37.38, an online order consisting of:

  1. The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction by Dean Young is a new title in Gray Wolf’s “The Art of…” series of books. I’m pretty sure this will inspire and/or reinforce my own poetic beliefs and convictions.
  2. After a Lost Original by David Shapiro is one of two hardcovers, and it’s hard not to get excited over blurbs calling Shapiro’s 1994 collection “a dark divertimento of his underlying themes of multiplicity and doubt.”
  3. Boss Cupid by Thom Gunn is the other hardcover, eventually the final collection of someone described in the blurb as “the quintessential San Francisco poet, who is also the quintessential craftsman and quintessentially a love poet, though not of quintessential love.”
  4. You are the Business by Caroline Dubois is a title I only encountered after I searched for the books of Cole Swensen who translated this collection of prose poems. It’s earning good reviews online (one and another), and I’m attracted for its use of movies in general and Blade Runner and Cat People, in particular.
  5. The Face: A Novella in Verse by David St. John is also about movies, though not always reviewed favorably (this one is somewhat mixed, though ultimately positive). Still, as a book-length narrative work of poetry, it’s a form I’ve wanted to explore in my own work. Samples are available here.
  6. Hard Evidence by Timothy Liu is again a collection thematically centered on desire, with an additional point of interest being his being of Chinese descent. Surprisingly, until I started reading Singaporean poetry, I was never really interested in seeking out work written by Chinese people like myself.
  7. Listening to Reading by Stephen Ratcliffe is a collection of essays (many of them available here) on contemporary experimental poetry, but its presentation of “two different kinds of writing about poetry–‘critical analysis’ and ‘performance'” certainly push the envelope of traditional criticism. Since the book “pay[s] particular attention to sound, shape, and the relation of sound/shape to meaning,” this will certainly be essential reading.

With this much to preoccupy me for the moment, I’m almost (but not quite) ashamed to say there are still (at least!) a couple of titles out there calling to me. There always are.