restricted access The Thin Line
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The Thin Line Terese Svoboda My father takes oxygen before he gets out of bed in the morning. We joke that standing on his line is the only way to wake him up. The poet stands on the line. Lineation sounds like something official, step right up and join the others, file lockstep into the room, people lining up to be shot. A line is made to be broken— sometimes shattered. It’s nearly a plane, for god’s sake, practically glass. The eye follows it anywhere—it hugs the line no matter what happens to it. The extremes: Mona Van Duyn’s skinny sonnets destroy the line by punching up sound, C. K. Williams thickens the line with dramatic breadth and breath. Not to mention Paul Celan’s lines, emptiness falling into emptiness. Line in prose poems doesn’t disappear—it’s a long string with a heavy kite that at last must lift. With some lines you can feel the toes tapping, or the cliff nearing, or the throat clearing, but line is best when all its effects—other than breath—disappear. Lines curve in space—that’s the most important thing about line. What you see is the infinite, delicate bending of meaning and sound coming together on the horizon where the line stops, where there’s a gasp, and then the line falls in space. Line lurks even in prose. Gordon Lish, prose ringmaster and editor extraordinaire , would insist that a sentence be changed because a line ended on a widow, that is to say, a word on a line all by itself. For him, prose was poetry. Is. Dad likes his lines; he recites them: Boomlay, boomlay, BOOM! from Vachel Lindsay’s “The Congo.” Lindsay’s largely forgotten except as the man who introduced Langston Hughes to the world, but he enlarged the definition of “the foot” by walking thousands of miles across country while composing; he walked his lines. BOOM! repeats Dad. The end of the line. That’s how I’d like to go out. The poet tries. ...


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