restricted access Lines and Spaces
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Lines and Spaces Catherine Imbriglio The notion of “line” entered my awareness early, through acquaintance with the musical staff, on which lines and spaces were inseparable—lines created spaces, with both being used for material notation of the temporal. I’ve never quite gotten over my childhood attachment to the multiplicity of tonalities that could be represented on the musical staff, or the visual beauty of musical notations themselves, away from any instrument. Though grounded in music, I subsequently became more absorbed by the line/space entanglements of poetry: the line played with space so it could pull itself out of silence or suspend itself momentarily before falling into the abyss. I always knew there would be a rescue by the first word in the next line—wherever it managed to appear. Mid-poem, end-stopped lines could be particularly treacherous, requiring a deliberate leap into the unknown when you could have turned back instead of continuing. And the last line, a real pressure point: did it resonate back up through the poem or did it resist its own closure? The best rescues were from lines that ran off with you in a direction you least expected. An especially well-executed line—from Donne, Stevens, Dickinson—could induce an exquisite moment of linguistic suspense akin to cognitive or emotional panic: What next? Would you be losing your breath or catching it? But I found myself growing tired of thinking about the poetic line solely in this way—that is, as single-voiced encounters playing with expectation and the ephemeral. Though lineation conveniently provides instant recognition, it seemed too restrictive for what a poem could do and be. I started to think of the entire line, not just beginning and end words, as setting up tensions between the temporal and the spatial, with each line having a hard-core relation with every other line and every space in the poem, not just the ones before and after it. Poems could play with the prose sentence too, interrogating the “poetic” and taking risks with their own identity as poems, rather than limiting themselves yet again 136 | Imbriglio to well-rehearsed correspondences between phrasal units and silence, or phrasal units and emphasis. What words could go in such prose-lined poems? All words, any words, even if they rubbed conventional musicality the wrong way. Collage was a way of bringing in other voices and discourses, including the scientific, the philosophical, and the informational, with condensation giving a poem a density that complicated linearity. Collaged lines could radiate multi-dimensionality; outwardly and inwardly, they could entertain and submit to multivocal pressures, implicitly or explicitly. Useful too was Jack Spicer’s proposal that we should think about poems in relation to one another. For Spicer, single poems were “one-night stands”; poems should operate serially for them to really make sense as poems. What if we started thinking about lines this way too, paying attention to them across poems, rather than just within the poem? A poem could then function as a chord, a series of poems chord progressions, and across poems, lines—repeated or parallel—would sustain a poetic sequence via a resonance that would continually reconstitute poetic meaning and emphasis. A line or a portion of a line introduced in an early poem and repeated in a later one could be helpful in developing or resolving subsequent poems or it could subversively disrupt them. And lines not seemingly related initially could suddenly make a poetic sequence seem cumulative. But even that seems not to be enough—not enough to recharge poetry for our times. What if you saw the words on your line first as syntactical rather than semantic notations? What if you saw larger semiotic units first instead of words, as if you were looking at a poem on the page from across a room? What if you overran or otherwise violated the containment inherent in the line, but still called it “line”? Would any of these moves make you better prepared to comprehend the pent-up music in the poem, the formal and acoustic elements without which there might be semantic meaning but probably not much poetry? And what if you started thinking about an utter inseparability between poetic lines and spaces, but put space first in the line/space binary? What if you made some of your lines “larger than lines,” filled them up with word-notes across so much territory that they no longer looked like lines but resembled...


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