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January 29, 2008

Spaces in a Print Poem

The numbered stanzas of a poem may imply that the spaces between each stanza are longer than what the actual page is capable of showing. This is one of the limits of the print page. There is also an uncertainty in the units each space is measured in. These could be seconds, hours, years, or maybe inches or miles.

Because we are unsure about the amount of space that links each stanza together, we can only imagine the duration of the spaces. In “3 X 111 TRISTYCHS” (p. 95 Poems for the Millennium), the numbers of each stanza are not ordered in any particular way, at least to the reader. Whatever the unit of measurement is (if it is a unit of measurement at all), the reader travels to the next stanza at a constant speed, because visually, they are all evenly spaced. However, the numbers of each stanza don’t imply this. Some gaps are so large that I wonder if the writer is pretending that stanzas are actually left out. This suggested absence allows the reader to imagine what might have been there, or what could be there.

In “Blanco,” By Octavio Paz, stanzas aren’t numbered, but spaces appear between actual words. Some lines start on the right side of the page, some on the left. It is as though the reader is given a map to follow, as directions are implicitly given so we can navigate through each word. The gaps between some of the stanzas are like stop signs on our journey, visual and vocal pauses. Some stanzas are in bold, some in italics (I am not exactly what to make of these differentiations). They also lie side by side to one another, so I wonder if one is meant to be read first. I wonder what might happen, how the meaning might change, if the italicized part is read first, then the bold, or vice versa. What might change if we backtrack and go in reverse? This may be taking a road less traveled, one that is more difficult, but perhaps this is the more exciting or illuminating route. Its uncommonness may provide a different perspective. The ambiguity of the spacing lends multiple routes, I think, to the final lines of a poem. This is something I appreciate — the fact that there is more than one way to approach and come to achieve something.

Posted by pbali at January 29, 2008 03:11 PM


Indeed; the question as to whether or not units of measure are at work is startling, and enables consideration of alternatives: if not units of measurement, then what? This is a reminder to consider possibilities, to not rely on appearances --that can, through a shifting of frames, become more transparent, for instance.

The paper page as a framing system, can be an obstruction to the print poam beyond the limits of the printing circumstances. Accommodation and compromise to undetermined, perhaps indeterminable degrees could be at work.

The pretense of the writer in suggesting gaps could be a companion of sorts with the pretense of page that there is continuity and even spacing, gaplessness --the eye easily bridges spaces between stanzas even if ideas do not as easily or as linearly move.

--Yes --indeed; if given 3D existence, italics, bold font might have more density, might have different thicknesses, so that an order of reading the layers could be assigned. It would be possible to assign elevations to various typographical gestures --topographical typography --with map key

--I think I'll try that; thanks for the impetus!

Posted by: thyliasm at March 11, 2008 12:36 PM

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