Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mary Leader on "They Vibrate"

“They Vibrate” asks to exist in three ways. First impact: visual, thus “saying” that a poem can be beautiful and meaningful as grasped immediately. Second, development in time: aural. Ultimately: a fusion of both. That’s why it has been so much fun for me to interact with BPJ on this poem. Lee Sharkey had to futz with the thing as a typesetting problem, as did I on my computer in the first place. But in addition, she described how she and her co-editor John Rosenwald read the poem aloud at the board meeting, each taking one of the words from the pair on each line. One says red, the other says blue, no, red, I said, no, blue, red, blue, Lee John Lee John, with an element of humor, a he/she argument, among others. The waves, then, are the fusion, illustrating that arguments do not consist in there being a right answer, but rather in the perception of a vacillation pattern.

It’s interesting to see what happens at cusps of technology. One such cusp occurred in the seventeenth century when a poetic system—friends circulating manuscripts—yielded to the printing of poetry by movable type. Right then, George Herbert’s poems, all patterned to an extent, most noticeably “Easter-wings,” were left by him only in a fair copy by an unknown hand. After his death, his friend Nicholas Ferrar saw them into print, at which time the patterns were disrupted, were not “true” any longer to the product Herbert called his poems.

Today, the cusp is between printed books and internet texts. Again, in early days, there is a kind of denaturing. Observe this lesson from the Editorial Style Guide of Jacketmagazine.com:

Layout 102: A heartfelt plea to poets fond of fussy indents: Please don’t. Poems with indented lines don’t work well on the Internet. . . I have heard poets read out loud poems with fussy indents, and guess what? You can’t hear the indents at all. No extra pauses are given where the fussy indents appear; the poet reads the text out loud as though it had a normal left margin. So why not print it that way? Please ask yourself honestly what these fussy indents are supposed to mean. What do they actually add to the poem? What is their rhythmic function? They certainly attract attention to the special ‘poetic’ nature of the text, to a slight extent, but do you need to do that? Shakespeare didn’t need them for his sonnets—do you?

Well, actually, yes, I do. The dispenser of advice there assumes that the sound level and the meaning level exhaust the potential of poetry. But for me, poetry is just as connected with silent weaving as it with voice. Line from linen; linen from linnet, a bird known not for its song but for its in-and-out, up-and-down flight pattern. They vibrate. I need every visual device I want to use. I am confident that the internet will catch up some day.