Furthermore: Some Lines about the Poetic Line
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Furthermore: Some Lines about the Poetic Line Christina Davis The poetic line is a primary act of conviction—surrounded by aisles of pause and space. A line steps out of circularity to assert. And what it asserts is: further. • The difference between Dickinson’s and Whitman’s lines: the difference between a bird in hand and birds on a wire. • Free verse has been achieved by Poetry. But what freedoms have each of us achieved on the level of the line? And what laws have we each created to protect those freedoms? • In thinking about my predilection for a minimalist, enjambed line— A landscape of disappointed bridges cannot but breed rivers. • If all lines are broken, what is a line? • “A line, a white line, a long white line, A wall, a barrier, towards which we drove” (Eliot 67). Davis | 73 These lines have returned to me throughout my writing life. Earthen, spare, and bone-like in their construction, yet borne forward from such staccato knowns into the Unknown. Removed as they were from a draft of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, they remain (for me, at least) the ghost-lines of that poem and of poetry itself. We drive words, meanings, attachments toward the verge of what we know not, toward the blank and mortal margin. A poetic line is an inherently drastic stance: the “extreme of the known in the presence of the extreme / of the unknown,” as Wallace Stevens once put it (432). • As the sunset of one line begins the sunrise of another. • To convince: Latin, for “to overcome, conquer.” When I say conviction, I don’t mean that you believe in the meaning of the words per se. Though that’s not a bad idea. But rather, that you believe in the line you have made as an entity, as a moment of matter. And that it has achieved its own status as a semantic, aesthetic, acoustic, visual thing-in-itself. It has overcome the resistance against its existence. Or, in the words of Marianne Moore: If you will tell me why the fen appears impassable, I then will tell you why I think that I can get across it if I try. (178) • I’ve heard it said that those who write with a short Dickinsonian line create an insular, spiritual poem. Whereas those who write with a long Whitmanic line create a broad and social poem. (Yet, in handwritten manuscript—on 85 × 78mm envelope scraps or jaggedly-scissored wrapping paper measuring 90 × 90mm—Dickinson’s poems reach across their respective canvases and are often crowded within them like Alice in Tenniel’s rendition of the tunnel. Who are we to say that her lines are not as long as Whitman’s in proportion to their original, originating space?) • 74 | Davis In the workshops I attended over the course of a decade, more emphasis was placed on the line-break than the line. An immediate modulation of the minutiae was prized over “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower” (Thomas 10). Through this apprenticeship in breakage, I became a swinger of branches instead of birches; in so doing I lost sight somewhat of totalities and the patience towards the evolution of an entire and forward-borne idea. While I’m still an advocate of poetic patience, over time I’ve come to appreciate the essential role that focused experimentation with line-breaks can play as a kind of litmus to test the intentional dimensions of the whole: the line-break samples and re-samples the acoustical contours of the line, varies the line’s visual and architectural blueprint, reconfigures the poem’s vertical and horizontal dimensions, interrupts or reestablishes the underlying meter/stress/breaths of the line, and, of course, confirms or alters the line’s semantic life.1 Even if we revert to the original line, each time we break a line during revision, we get a better understanding of the manifold potential of the poem. • If you break, does it make what came before that a line? If you answer, does it make what came before that a question? • I’m curious to know what’s happened to the stanza and stanza break (//) in all of this emphasis on the line and line-break? Are stanza breaks still the red light to the yellow light of the latter? Is the stanza still the paragraph of the poem? I can’t help but think that the line is...