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Life / Line: (Freaked) Eleni Sikelianos A car is driving down a dark road; suddenly, it must turn the corner, and the driver/writer/reader doesn’t quite know what’s after the curve. . . . That is the clinamen, the swerve that animates the poem. Lucretius held that this veering at both the atomic level and in the curves of human thinking is what makes possible new life forms and new ideas. The line-break provides the mystery-novel portion of the poem—that tension between sound, meaning, and interruption that is almost all of what a poem is to me. A piece of Mylar wrap being pulled at opposite edges—one end is the poem itself (the whole), the other is its line-breaks. It crinkles and shimmers from the pressure between these two, it makes a kind of pleasing, disruptive noise. If it’s Saran wrap, the whole thing gets slightly, permanently deformed, and that carries a certain pleasure, too. As soon as we abandoned the mathematics that had for so long bound the line, a whole new slew of problems arrived. We still, instinctively, work with Sikelianos | 229 some kind of measure, but we have the freedom (?) imperative (?) to disrupt it at will. As Williams pointed out, “our lives have lost all that in the past we had to measure them by,” and our verses “are left without any metrical construction of which you can speak” (“On Measure” 337). Our social and scientific understandings have changed. Williams and Whitman and Dickinson and Mallarmé created new lines according to some of those changes, and we are still, to a great extent, following their advances. Williams scolded Whitman as a sloppy freedom-seeker in the line and called for some discipline, a measure that was not fixed or Euclidean, but flexible, and soon he invented the variable foot. I’m not sure how to proceed from Williams’s idiosyncratic measure, but my own sense of the line is both mechanical and organic, linked in my mind to other forms of (human and nonhuman) animal industry.1 My first forays into the line were driven almost purely by music. My great teacher there, besides my own ear and my family’s musical tendencies, was Lorine Niedecker: Fish fowl flood Water lily mud My life in the leaves and on water (261) As I began to expand my field of endeavor, I came to see the line as a kind of suspension system, something like the Brooklyn Bridge, with pylons at either end. The cable conducts energy, but the line-break, in its pressuring effect, electrifies it. In a project like The California Poem, I was interested in the potential for sag—how much weight could a line take? In a poem concerned with inventory (and the tedium/oppression of that), a sloppy fraying can become a gleeful 230 | Sikelianos naughtiness (and wouldn’t it be fun to be scolded by Williams?). That sag is akin to entropy, or population explosions and declines within an ecosystem. The bed is like a typewriter, sometimes I think the bed’s a refrigerator with the holographic head of a man in dichroic color to be seen in ambient light on the door, I mean the cover of the book the bed is, you do look all the time at some of the same things until the names of the objects might as well fall off Then maybe you die, that’s the scare of mornings, it’s loose or lush like this or blood but darker than it ought to be, it all has a beauty and a structure I haven’t seen all of yet like a story, I always forget the most important part (Mayer 24) Is that two lines or nine? The line is arranged in a prose block after each initial promontory-like beginning, and the whole thing is stuffed to excess, like plankton-rich waters. Here are two more exhibits that exemplify the impulse to overload the line: For the next is GREEN of which there are ten thousand distinct sorts. For the next is YELLOW which is more excellent than red, tho Newton makes red the prime. God be gracious to John Delap. (Smart 37) • California utterly more sky of the looking everything in the mouth of the tidelines the tip of the snail’s horn caught in the eye & ice plant poppy bright by the highway deeps. (Sikelianos, California 189) Such surfeit reaches toward the ecstatic (unbearable?) state of “everything...


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