January 02, 2007
And so, 2007.
Congrats folks. If you're looking for a model of how to step boldly up and into the new year, go visit Alison Davis (née Stine). This woman means business.
In the meantime, I yield happily to Brent Goodman's request for a theory of line breaks. One day in our workshop, a student asked Charles Wright when he knew to break a line. "Well, I write until the line is full," he said. "Then I start a new one." If that sounds maddeningly intuitive, think of it this way--if we use the pause between lines to digest and store what is said, then it makes sense that we'd ask each line to accomplish one and only one thing to advance narrative or image. Anything more and we're supersaturating the line...because what is the free verse line beyond a self-regulating vessel for an idea?
Mind you, this theory need not result in lines of consistent length. A one-word line can work under this rule. Even a Hart Crane line fits, if most of the long line is occupied with contained play of sound and there's just that one clause that propels a larger story.
This is one of several theories I've flirted with through the years. For awhile I researched all kinds of systems for line breaks--Denise Levertov's organic breath, syllabics throughout history, poets for whom collaboration with visual artists (WCW, Louis Zukofsky) caused them to perceive the page as a literal canvas. But it's this casual comment that sticks with me, and I thank Charles for that...even if he did probably make it up on the spot to avoid a longer answer. This is, after all, coming from a man who writes in prime meter.