Thursday, April 12, 2007


JH: Punctuation allows some decision on the part of the writer, and there are rules about when punctuation may and may not be used. Are there any occasions when a line must be enjambed? In metrical poems, when a line has a certain amount of feet the next line begins. In free verse, what dictates the line break besides the author? Does it matter if a line is broken in two when it should be one line? If enjambment is important, isn't disproportionate enjambment equally important? If space between lines has meaning integral to the poem, does the introduction of extraneous meaning via disproportionate enjambment affect the poem? If so, does it affect the poem adversely? The poem can bear any meaning imposed from without, but it must not have disfiguring fractures if it is to be the poem that it is, which may be to say, if it is to be a poem (printing errors, such as altered letters, altered words, altered enjambment, and dropped or repeated lines, are the same as readings -- with the materiality being incidental). How to ruin a poem in writing it originally? Are there ways to damage one's poem besides disproportionate enjambment? How much damage can a poem take before it stops being a poem? The act of writing can often sway a poet from the act of making the poem appear through writing.
AHB: It's not exactly enjambment, but how Olson and Duncan space their work comes to mind. Or specifically, I'm thinking of the dot that Duncan uses in some of his later work, to indicate a punctuated unit. Williams flirted with the same thing. I find little impact in those dots but no distraction, a least. I can fuss a fair amount with a poem without rattling its equanimity overmuch. Shift words in lines, adjust enjambment, rephrase. Eventually, if I do something drastic, it becomes another poem, just as painting failures, torn up for collage, become new works. I've learned not to approach such rewriting with the metric of Good English too thoroughly in my head. When writing Good Prose, I try to be fairly consistent in, say, eradicating passive voice. With poetry, tho, I find that I cannot think that way. I have to listen to each example and decide. You can be fairly slavish to the rules of Good English when writing prose (qua prose, I mean) but with poetry, something gets lost if one proceeds so. Vitality and freshness, first of all. I can't identify specifically when corrections kill the poem but I can attest to the weakening that occurs. To the point when I lose interest in the piece, which effectively is its death. You are right: the act of writing can often sway the poet from the act of making a poem. The thing of prose is that it gallops along. Whereas poetry wants to define a space (of time?). If your poetry starts to gallop for the sake of galloping, you've lost the poem. In saying that, I accept that Howl or Song of Myself are not just galloping, that they too define a space, e'en tho that space is extensive.


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