The Economy of the Line
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The Economy of the Line Rachel Zucker My third book, The Bad Wife Handbook, is made up of five sections. Three of these sections are long poems. Part of what the book is about is how saying the same thing in a different way (for example, in a different form or with a different tone or from a different distance) is really saying something else. The five sections of the book restate each other, formal variation being the most obvious but not the only difference. Longness is intrinsic to The Bad Wife Handbook, ineluctable. The book has long poems and long lines. The lines are long because the book is about monogamy and the reaching and reaching, the on-and-on-ness of marriage. The poems are long because the relationship (between husband and wife and between writer and reader) is long and imperfect, discursive and contemplative, not pithy or epiphanic. The lines are long because the speaker has children and has to say her say or think her thoughts in desperate, breathy, tumbling measures. In one of the long poems, “Annunciation,” the lines zigzag down the page because this is the shape a mother’s arm makes while cradling an infant and because the poem is all about insides and outsides (pregnant and not-pregnant bodies and gates around cities) and so the lines stretch out and out but also open (nearly break but don’t!) with internal and end-of-line em dashes that create breaths and interiors within the long, vulnerable, straining line. In2007,Iwasfacedwithadifficult decision. During production, the budget for a wider-than-standard trim size fell through. My choice was to rebreak the long lines or pay the difference between the cost of a standard trim and the wider trim. I could afford to pay the difference; still, it was a lot of money, and I wondered what it meant that I was paying for (part of) the publication of my book. All poets eventually come to understand that they will not make money from poetry. In fact, if one includes the cost of contest fees, paper, postage, not to mention the cost of an MFA (if one has an MFA) or the time one spends writing Zucker | 255 instead of doing something more lucrative, then we’re all paying for our own books. I was used to paying these poetry “expenses” and to paying my own way to conferences and readings, to spending money on my own publicity, to sending copies of my books to poets I adored. I no longer expected to make money, but writing a big check to the press to cover the cost of a wider trim felt different than spending more than I earned. Writing a check felt uncomfortably close to self-publishing, which at that time I held in low regard. (My feelings about self-publishing have changed dramatically since that time.) In the end, though, I paid. I paid because I felt that the length and integrity of my lines were inextricable from the content and language of the poems. I paid because there wasn’t a creative way to adhere to the standard trim size while maintaining the integrity of my poetry. To “reflow” or “rebreak” the lines (as the press suggested) was really to rewrite the poems, to write different poems. Paying for a wider trim has made me think about the line in ways that are more practical and more philosophical. I know how much the integrity of a line matters to me. I know how much it’s worth. ...