The Hyperextension of the Line
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The Hyperextension of the Line Arielle Greenberg One important thing I’ve noticed happening to the line in poetry lately I first spotted in the work of my contemporary Rachel Zucker. Her work is out of the postmodern tradition of the fragmented line, and clearly pays homage to innovative women poets like Jorie Graham and Brenda Hillman, and, before them, Barbara Guest, as seen in this, from the poem “Garment” in Guest’s Quill, Solitary Apparition: Model stranger this hiding of “hiding” (a necessary evocation and thee), intuition. (338) But rather than use the line-fragment to cut off before the completion of thought or narrative, Zucker does something I’ve been calling the hyperextension of the line, pushing the line past the point of sentence unit into something that feels at once fragmented and stretched. To my mind, the hyperextended line can present itself in a number of ways—enjambed, lineated, making visual use of the whole page, etc.—but the effect is always one of muchness, of multitude: the hyperextended line feels pushed beyond what would be considered a “normal” length for the unit of the poetic line, either grammatically or content-wise or both. The hyperextended line has a voluble, almost manic energy to it, as if the speaker is hurrying to catch up to or capture all of his or her thoughts, and the result is something that feels honest and modern in its messiness, its ability to cop to confusion and contradiction. Poets who employ this mode often seem 104 | Greenberg to be trying to challenge themselves to write what is just past the acceptable or beautiful or epiphanic. The effect on narrative is, in some ways, the same as in the work of the predecessors I mentioned. There is an uncanny resonance with narrative or confession that swerves deliciously off course, but by pushing the line beyond its normal capacity or load, Zucker’s hyperextended line allows for greater vulnerability, greater emotional risk, on the part of the poet, and thus can have a different, more visceral impact on the reader. Zucker’s recent poem, “Hey Allen Ginsberg Where Have You Gone and What Would You Think of My Drugs?” which itself exemplifies the hyperextended line, makes explicit one of the sources for this kind of use of the line, and, in referencing Ginsberg, also nods toward Whitman and his contradictions and multitudes. The hyperextended line appears vividly in Zucker’s recent collection, The Bad Wife Handbook. Here’s a sample from “The Rise and Fall of the Central Dogma”: