On the Line
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On the Line Kazim Ali When we talk about the line we should talk about the line separate from came before it or after it, otherwise it is merely a sentence in prose with a break for visual effect. As in Michael Palmer’s “Notes for Echo Lake 4”: “whose is the voice that empties.” Or Jorie Graham’s “Underneath (13)”: “explain to me remains to be seen.” Or does the line require separate life, separate from the poem, text without context. The line itself, ornate and gorgeous, creates a texture defined by the space between one line and the next. Something exists in the here and now with no dependence on before or after. Few “prose poems” seem to work with the single sentence as a carrier of poetic weight and instead work primarily with the paragraph as a basic unit, which seems to me to be just another way to frame a moment as complete but not explore the fleetingness, uncapturability, and pure tragic drama of a single moment that passes and has to pass. Hence a “prose poem” really is just prose, the beginning of an essay that writer has chosen not to finish, or the beginning of a fiction that an American ear has not had enough guts to see as such. 36 | Ali Why should one bother, when working with the single line as a compositional unit in poetry, with a traditional Western structure of SUBJECT-VERB-OBJECT. Don’t we all already know that the human being is master of the universe and will act upon the planet / the poem / the colonized subject any way he pleases? It is time for art to start reimagining and reorienting the conceptual understanding of the universe. A moment needs to be seen anew. In other words a poem doesn’t have to be a transmission from mouth to ear or page to mind but can be a place in which things actually happen. The poetic line ought not be buckled to conventional syntax, it ought to demonstrate the actual powers of poetry to move the mind beyond the mundane, as in Jorie Graham’s truncated Wyatt quote that opens The Errancy—“Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.” —or Broumas and Begley’s ecstatic inventions in Sappho’s Gymnasium—“Lord let me all I can wild cherry.” It ought to be able to do more, be more, transcend the pedantic definition of language as a carrier of discursive meaning and by its motion enable the mind to follow and have an understanding that is past intellectual and enters conceptual. In my work I don’t seek to move from beginning to end of a certain poem. Such predetermined motion is meant for paragraphs and stanzas. To proceed line by line means not to feel yourself forward in the dark but to throw yourself with abandon into the arms of darkness. Led by language, led by intuitive leaps of thought, a poem does not presume. Not mere rhetoric or reportage or description, but pure mystery, an aspirant to the divine. Ali | 37 A book of poems is an abbey of aspirants, each reciting a line to herself in meditation. The lines could be heard as a chorus, in any order, simultaneously, or backwards to forwards. Now everyone is joining in the effort of creating one-line poems, via Twitter posts. Paul Virilio: “There is no here anymore, only now.” What he meant was a collapse of geography and distinction of place. Or rather than collapse a conflation of all places into one place: the screen. But what are the possibilities of a new form? Olga Broumas: “transitive body this fresco I mouth.” Agha Shahid Ali: “of what shall I not sing and sing?” Anne Shaw is Twittering (prettier sound than “Tweeting,” don’t you agree?— meaning is determined, after all, by sound) a project of individual one-line poems: “help to winter me a small belief” “i (in)visible” “you bereft believer say you will return” As in the court culture described in The Tale of Genji, poetry and letter writing each become a public art, deliciously shared and responded to. But also allows a bravery. One can cast a thought into the silence. And then another. 38 | Ali By discrete moments, little swabs, a life can appear. What Stein could have Twittered. The thought leaves me breathless. But would she have. And if she would have could she have. And if she could have...


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