Starting in on Marina's question
I just heard someone say about another someone that “she likes to date guys who wear ironic hats.” I prefer unplanned irony, personally speaking, which is another way of saying I don’t pay any attention to the matter unless someone like Rudy Giuliani has the accidental nerve to publicly state “If I can make it, it’s not art.”
Back on December 15 Marina asked me to elaborate on the sentence, “About the first thing I learned to do as a poet was get the line off the margin.” I more or less meant that I recognized the whole space of the page as available for use pretty soon after starting to break lines, and I would (and still do) begin lines anywhere on the page while writing. The poems on the book pages with widely spread forms often closely resemble the poems as written in the notebooks (being variations on them once transferred, at any rate).
For this reason especially I cannot write poetry in a notebook with lined paper. And I do literally write my poems, no matter how cracked some of them may appear to be. The lines totally inhibit my need for room, even if I don’t end up taking that room. You can’t make a good mess on lined paper, or I can’t anyway. The shimmering blank of a computer screen is useful to me for coming up with sentences and doing some editing, but if I try to write poetry on a computer the process is usually too slow.
I don’t use a system for getting off of the margin. Do not use breath, heartbeat, division of mental ideas, variable feets, aleatory products (like food stuffs or fuzzy dice or tracking twitches), concrete patterning, happy erasures, typographic growth serums, computer programs. All those things are terrific when someone else uses them though. I do feel close to Philip Whalen’s statement on the poem as “a graph of the mind moving” and taking that as impetus for a given poem's physical shape (physicality includes sound in my way of stating it here)
I go off of the emotional tenor of the writing and let that inform the physical direction of the poem on a line-by-line basis. The decisions come fast and thick, several per line at times, and these poems tend to take a long time to work out around the edges, especially if the line length is highly variable across a work that is several pages long, say. The typing and editing in such cases can be rather meticulous and occasionally tedious, but I nonetheless get serious joy out of working in this vein when it happens, in no small part because it can feel like the surface of the poem is always moving, but also because it’s like a crash course on the art all over again each time. I also dig pushing the space bar a million times because it forces me to reread and reread and reread and confront.
Anyway, the compression typically dictated by forms riding the left margin isn’t going to work for me if I’m writing out of a tremulous state, for instance, or attempting to handle, like, terror, anxiety, oddball joys, or anything accompanied by noise and its various registers of agitation, critique and dream. A rectangle tilted on its side and leaned up against the left side of the page can get to be a standing coffin, if a nice tidy one, though tidiness may merely be an extension of contempt.
When I read something like CA Conrad’s (Soma)tic Midge poems I know their forms, which may strike some readers as fragile or jittery, are directed by outrage and desperation in combination with his “method” of body/color meditation-while-in-one’s-life. The speed at which they initially read belies the work that goes into getting them right. Hoa Nguyen uses the margin frequently, but will sometimes drop a tab-sized space or two within a line, giving it the feeling of multiple lines or short phrases on the same plane. I don’t typically share that technique, but I admire her ability to reset a line in progress and further thin out the area between mind and utterance.
The movement of the line is not solely handled by emotional tenor as it has to be bound to the sounds at work, the matter of what is being said, and the question of how the poem might let itself be read. It’s not a matter of scoring with me, because I actually think different readers exert very different degrees of control over pauses, breaks, and gaps in space, not to mention speed and pacing. The reader is full of ambiguity, and I prefer to honor that ambiguity by not micro-managing my sense of her experience. In the process of editing, one does try a little tenderness though, and nothing I’m saying here is meant in any way to be proscriptive. Self-employment within one’s practice is among the kinder characteristics of being a poet, and anyway there’s always more to say.
The son of poets Alice Notley and the late Ted Berrigan and stepson of poet Douglas Oliver, Anselm Berrigan earned a BA from SUNY Buffalo and an MFA from Brooklyn College. His collections of poetry include Integrity & Dramatic Life (1999), Zero Star Hotel (2002), Some Notes on My Programming...