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.

Originally Published: December 31st, 2009

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...

  1. January 1, 2010
     Ernie Wise


    here........................whatever feels right\r
    .........do it\r
    do it again and again until it shapes\r
    appearance by aleatory measure\r

    at least......at least - deigning to make a scene\r
    new years' parting gift from the Wise chap here\r



    I never got the whole 'open-field' white space thing, until I wrote Isolatimage\r

    'Mover and shaker in the world of words forgets\r
    (rule number one) abstraction overload weakens\r
    the intellectual emotional complex\r
    objectivine correlative\r


    Yeah..yeah..yeah.........going right back in time\r
    Old Ezrastotle told us .......gotta be the real thing\r

    Real as telly?\r


    The mottle throated birds (speech/words)\r
    need flight as...\r

    rhyme needs dampening\r
    like a piano needs muffle..'\r


    If you go to the link you'll get what I'm on about when referring to the open field of white space, because the above lines are not spaced as they are in the original piece, published by Geoff Gatza in New York.\r

    I wrote it in the spring of 2004, and remember feeling liberated when doing so, because up till then I associated all the talk I had been hearing of the page being an 'open-field', with summat a Black Mountain bluffer would wrought into a Projective Verse theory: summat I never really 'got'. Of course, one could spiel a bit of blather on it and keep up the critical patter about Chuck being this and Olsen being that and it all being dead classy when it came up, you know: having a dabble and dishing up the stuff 'n that, like, yer know.\r

    Yeah, Isolatimage stood the test of time (as I measure it at least). I've only read it live less than eight or nine times, maybe ten, and it works as a verbal object. Pings on the screen. Fools 'em, the most important people in showbiz, the Audience.\r

    I remember at the time, I'd just started sending stuff out, after three years puddle and peppering around, using the scatter-gun approach of just whacking out e-mails at random and never knowing in advance what shit got accepted and published, in a wholly arbitrary way. Stuff my instinct (at that time) would place lower down the scale, could be chosen over pieces I thought were better quality, proving to me that there's nowt as queer as folk, as we say in lovely Lancashire.\r

    I sent Isolatimage off to Gatza, and he wrote back saying, that in the normal course of events he wouldn't have taken it, but because Ezra Pound (obliquely referred to with the neoloigism Ezrastotle) was someway in his thoughts in relation to the theme of that issue, he was gonna, yer know, publish it and that.\r

    Though not as conscious as I am now, then - it was all just a bit of a game to me really, the sending out lark. Being a novice, roughly akin and equivalent to, what in the seven-grade bardic scale would have been me at rung one, foclo (novice) or, (at a push) grade two, macfuirmid (son of composition); I was only a beginner in the game of psychic hoodoo.\r

    It only lasted a year and a half, the sending out acceptance/rejection experiment. Not that I knew that's what it was at the time of course. Once I got a poem and a piece of prose on Live Poetry accepted by the editor of the Galway Arts centre website in 2005, the game ended. I just had no inclination or desire to put my stuff out there, because I had been published in 20 or so places, had a perfectly respectable track record and just thought, well, yer know, I'm gonna be doing it anyway, and it's all just a game really, innit? Oh, you're good/shit, come in/get lost kinda, language games.\r

    Naturally, it was an important part in the formation process, a sort of conning of others, that the shit I wrote could fool the real people who knew what they were doing in poetry. Not as classy a move as getting yerself known by being the dangerous one no-one's allowed to talk to for fear of the universe contracting. Not as savvy as being a banned poet of course. The ones who always have the genuine kudos along with the folk like Shay and Deggsie. \r

    But yeah man, Geoff, at the time, as I measured things back then, was a big name, and the top up of faith his acceptance gave my intellectual-creative apparatus, Segais Well within (as the old bardic bluffers would have understood it, (it being the mythical source and home of poetry in their tradition) - though couched in a tenor of it was him doing me the favour rather than vice versa.. yeah man, I remember it well.\r

    That poem, Isolatimage, was one which stood as a fairly significant post marking the track, and reading it back, in my eyes at least, it has stood the test of time; weathered into the genuine article. Not that this means it is of course; I am sure there are people (and there are many) who would say what I do is a loada shite. And fair play to 'em, it's only a game anyway, innit? A lanaguage game, as the witty Ludwig coined it. \r

    And he should know, because he was a philospher any self-respecting forward-edged messer knows about, and accepts as a card in the flop. Not a particularly orgasmic one to hold as ace in a royal flush, of course. I mean, it's OK if you wanna beat a refuse collector or builder's labourer whose sole literary fare is the tabloid diet - just dropping it in casual when yer swingin a shovel like - but not for the high-enders. Not for people like us the chaps here me arl muckers.\r


    Happy New Year to all the supporting team keeping it real and getting edgy, forward, upsetting the straights and making a name for yerselves.

  2. January 4, 2010
     Marina Lazzara

    Yea I know that tab in the middle. I remember it in Duncan's work and then again I would tease it when writing Prose Poems, and I felt kinship with these spaces while reading Hoa's poems. I love this personal description of yours, "...or anything accompanied by noise and its various registers of agitation, critique and dream." Spacing for you being "places of noise" instead of what I would see as more Ceasura, spaces of silence or pause. "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." My mind is always so full and agitated itself by noise and thought and dream that the rectangle for me is often relief from the scatter. And yet, I love tabbing in and stepping stones, skipping across the white space and succumbing to the literary visualness, and as a musician drawn to rhythm and addicted to collaborative highs, I'm edged on by the possibilities (these days) of improvised linearity. (For lack of better reasons at the moment to have some idea of tradition, a place on the page as intriguing, compact and ideal, or as I call it The Backdrop Line (any sense?).\r

    Happy New Year. May the whiteness always find you the most of what you expect.