Where It Breaks: Drama, Silence, Speed,and Accrual
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Where It Breaks: Drama, Silence, Speed, and Accrual Dana Levin I am not interested in the line as much as where it breaks. I am interested in drama. Eliot’s Prufrock’s “Do I dare”: the pregnant hesitation. Of course, to link breakage and drama is to lend enjambment the weight of content: white space as communicative pause. Rises and falls in tension, the pauses that accompany a draw of breath during a cry or rant, a loss for words due to a struggle to articulate, express or understand , the sensation of being overwhelmed by feeling or epiphany. A physical blacking out. I want the line-break to tell me something about how a poem feels: where a speaker butts up against silence. We are made silent by awe, shock, doubt, bliss, rage, fear, grief, shame, tristesse. We are made silent by confusion. When William Carlos Williams says of Elsie: voluptuous water expressing with broken brain the truth about us— (218) Levin | 149 He’s not, for a minute, sure how he feels. How he feels percolates in white space. Enjambment enacts the drama, and pace, of feeling or thinking through. • Because I am interested in drama, I am interested in how fast a line moves. When Ginsberg says: who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regiments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertising & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality we hurtle towards a wall. Stop short, rear back, and hurl ourselves again: who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window, jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed phonograph records of nostalgic European 1930s German jazz finished the whiskey and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears and the blast of colossal steamwhistles (14) like an animal trapped—slam! with its howl. • Ginsberg’s barely containable line (for that’s what each who-beginning stanzalooking thing is, one long line meeting the iron edge of a page too small for it) was unique to the poetry of the 1950s; the 2000s have offered us a bounty of square books and prose blocks: lines streaming from margin to margin, often morphing mind/feeling/locale/subject/self as they flow, channel-surfing, flipping the dial, dazzled and weary, dazzling and wearying, driven on by engines of hope and worry: lines that well-capture that feeling of brakes-off acceleration, 150 | Levin inundation (desperate, terrifying, exhilarating), that characterizes so much of our age. Under such conditions, heavy enjambment arrests me. I’m not dead but I am standing very still in the backyard staring up at the maple thirty years ago a tiny kid waiting on the ground alone in heaven in the world in white sneakers (51–52) I could meditate for quite some time on “I’m not dead but I am.” Admittedly, the narrative relayed above in Michael Dickman’s “We Did Not Make Ourselves” is fairly pedestrian, and the word-choice lacks the lexical exuberance that is another marker of the contemporary moment—which offers an interesting kind of relief and novelty to this reader. But ultimately, it’s the pace at which I am asked to move through this narrative that so entices: Dickman (like Williams and Creeley and Guest and a host of other white-spacers before and with him) invites me to participate in the construction of memory, of perception , in something that feels like real time; as the lines descend down the page, I literally drop down into experience: from thought (“I’m not dead but I am”) to sneakered feet. Accrual is what is at work here, not today’s familiar roll of successive, loosely connectedimpressions .Dickmantendstobuildasceneorthoughtslowly(shortlines) and then extend in a rush, as in this funny and rather gorgeous escalation: We did not make ourselves is one thing I keep singing into my hands while falling asleep for just a second Levin | 151 before I have to get up and turn on all the lights in the house, one after the other, like opening an Advent calendar (51) The processional pace of meditative thought, the nod off into the stanza break (for just a second) before the leap out of bed and the sort-of-spooked/sortof -slapstick socks-slipping-along...