Space : the way a poem looks

This is probably a great segue from Sarah’s piece on Exquisite Corpse, going from collaborative word vomit to then, editing and refining. In the beginning, writing is simply about itself. But it’s also about the way a poem looks at you and this is just as important as looking at a poem. Both are essentially the same deal but you need both for the poem succeed on some aesthetic level. The poem is innately a printed thing, so it serves us best when it’s looking good. If a poem were a person, it would need to be clothed, buttons done up properly and pants on the right way. Sometimes poetry comes out in a kilt and other times it comes out in a towel and sometimes it’s just not pretty. What I’m getting at, really, is that it’s important to have style, or to at least grasp style. You need to know what works and what doesn’t.  Poetry is also a lot like many other things, including eating. You need to expand your palate to know what you like and what you don’t. So read widely. Read all the things. Discover what you connect with and why and then put that into yourself, I assure you it’ll come out in your work.

I think the pull of poetry lies in separation of stanzas; the way lines break and give more than just their intended meaning. Not only this, but the way that you can utilise a poem’s shape, space and landscape to reflect imagery. I prefer terms typography or white space, but this style is also referred to as concrete poetry.

One of my biggest nitpicks is when a poet decides to experiment with use of white space and then defends its use. Defending is an important part of finding that style but when the excuse comes out as: “… but I think that the white space shows the emptiness that I’m trying to get across”… it’s a tiresome mantra. The problem is that they understand space in a very literal way. That’s not a bad thing but there’s so much more that space can stand for, than just face-value use. The duty of space lies in reinforcing the image and carrying the reflected meaning. The joy of writing means that you can adequately express “emptiness” in your approach. The surface image you use to create will determine how you make your reader feel. Make me wear the shoes, make me feel wearied or euphoric. You want a physical feeling, not an eye-roll.

We often use clothes as a way of self-expression and the different colours we pick often have an emotional impact on those around us. Again, the same goes for poetry. The way you lay out a poem is important. Think about formatting, font, punctuation, where space might work with or against your poem and its images. Sometimes when a poet uses white space, the emphasis on their imagery and language is lost in a bid to make the space reflect an emotion, rather than just letting words do their thing. Here are the things I want to say when you write a typographical poem that is really just MSWord margin tabbed sentences:

a)      You’ve lost me

b)      Concentrating is a thing and you don’t make it easy

c)      Comprehension, you really need to have it and give it to me, hard
This is not just an article attacking the misuse of white space; this here attempts to guide you away from how space is currently being SEEN.  There are infinite ways of looking at things, we experience this every day when we go outside. This would not be an explanation if I didn’t mention e. e. cumming’s poem “O sweet spontaneous earth”. I think with all his work the use of white space is intentionally dizzying and this purposeful construction aids the rebel-streak, against conventions of English Grammar. But the brief lines also give us time to experience, to take in and breathe out. Sometimes we all need a breather, right? Even in the most hectic poems, you can create a space to rest whilst still making the reader feel. I’m all about feeling. Sometimes though, you can create space in a fragmented landscape that works. Look at map of amarillo, how beautiful it is that each stanza can sit as its own! Similarly, whilst categorically art, Female anatomy works to show us how you can pair poetry with art and how the two speak to one another. Some suggested reading’s are Ammon’s collection “tape for the turn of the year”  as well as Mathew Abbott’s wild audible. So, before you let your poem walk out the door, consider the way you dress it up or down.