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Of Line Breaks and Amnesia

By Wanda Coleman

Where o where dwell the line breaks of yesteryear? Has anyone wondered about the mind that can fathom Kantian syntax? Does anyone read Jeffers anymore? Has anyone taken a look at his line breaks? How about Double Axe? Does anyone remember that there was once movable type requiring the labor of typesetters and book designers, et al., who had to take time setting up and composing—and actually using their hands to do more than press tabs? That poets were not always presented with proofs before their books went to press? What were the gyrations and permutations that a 19th century poet’s lines underwent before being etched onto immortality? Does the (ah-hem) neophyte poet emerging in this century know that poets didn’t always break their own lines? Who broke them and how? Are those so-called lines and “enjambments” that some professors of poetry wax so eloquently about, truly the work of the creative writer? Or rather an editor with an eye for graphic design? Or a creative book designer? Or, more likely, a creative typesetter of eras past? Does the student or lover of poetry realize that those sainted breaths set in today’s literary stone, weren’t necessarily the work of said poet? Isn’t it tragic that amnesia regarding the art and attitude of printing poetry (we shall skip China and pick it up with Gutenberg, forward) allow many contemporary poets to mistakenly or deliberately take credit for their “appropriations” of old-timey line breaks authored by those long dead book designers and typesetters? Is it known that, occasionally, there are writers and poets who disdain the grunt work of breaking their own lines? Is it understood that they leave that literary labor to others—others who become invisible over time and prolonged worship?


Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, April 8th, 2011 by Wanda Coleman.