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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writing in the Air

For over a year now, I have wanted to write poems that use space differently than is my natural tendency to do. I have wanted to write poems with more space between the lines, perhaps with indentations in some lines, dropped lines, staggered lines if necessary. Basically I have wanted to write poems with forms that give the impression of space, almost of airiness.

Despite this being my desire, I continue to write little bricks of poems. I've just finished a series of 12 prose poems, each one little brick of a paragraph. Then I wrote a poem of long-lined couplets, space between the couplets, but the lines ran nearly to the end of the page, using it all up, exhausting the space. And then I wrote a free verse poem that still came out rather blocky and firm.

So I decided to reread some of the poets whose use of space I wish to emulate, to see how they did it, why they could do this thing and I could not. And what I noticed right away is that the poems that have the spaciousness I crave are the poems that are going to what appears to me to be scary places for the poet. These are authentic poems that reach somewhere that must be touched with delicacy, or the experience will simply shatter. These are poems that do the balancing act of going somewhere scary and painful and honest and yet being able to come back out. That's what the space is for.

I'm a believer that form and content need to echo one another (and in spacious poems there is room for an echo across the empty space), so I should not have been surprised to find that it is content of the spacious poem that is driving the form. In fact, each time I sat down to write a poem and found it becoming a brick instead of a meandering path through a waist-high meadow, I have known that it had to be a brick because of the cerebral nature of the poem.

So to write the kind of poem I want to write I have to go to the deep scary places within me. And I haven't been going to those places for a few years. The reason is that it takes time and it takes energy to go there, more time and certainly more energy than I have. And I've been wondering why I don't have the time and energy for it. Well, with a job and going to school part-time and raising kids and having a small business in the family, that explains the time. But I do manage to fnd the time to write my little bricks. And the poets whose spacious poems I admire are surely juggling as many roles as I am.

So I think it's mostly a question of energy. It's exhausting to write the honest poem, and as I grow older, the amount of energy I have no longer expands to meet what I need to do. The amount of energy I can expend within a day has a fixed limit, and on top of living a full life, I am living in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, so that even the smallest tasks outside the home require extra effort.

Still, no excuse. Think of all the expat writers in America writing in English, not even their native language.

So it can be done. And I will continue to strive towards it. But I expect plenty of bricks as I try and fail and and try and fail. And try, and maybe someday succeed.


Sandy Longhorn said...

I love your conclusion about the scary places needing more white space. I'm going to take some time and think abt this regarding my own work and the poems of others.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

I think it's also true that there is more space in a poem when the poet has accessed the unconscious mind; the fragmentary form of the poem and/or lines echoes the way in which we access only whispers or suggestions or shadows from the unconscious mind.

This often occurs for me when I am coping with more painful or scary subjects, but it doesn't have to be that way.