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Stop! Go!

I feel the life about to break.
The line I mean.
Why has this word become commonplace: “life-line”?
Are we thinking of seatravel and shipwreck?
Are we daring to think of the palm as a finis terra
with five peninsulas?
The fortune-teller traces the line towards the forearm
for fear of the sea maybe.

Don’t think any intelligent person is going to be deceived when you try to shirk all the difficulties of the unspeakably difficult art of good prose by chopping your composition into line lengths.

– Ezra Pound(1)

Who are we fooling when we say, Here is a Voice.
Here is a company of differently inclined lines.

. . . the possibility of enjambment constitutes the only criterion for distinguishing poetry from prose . . . the opposition of a metrical limit to a syntactical unit, of a prosodic pause to a semantic pause . . .

– Giorgio Agamben(2)

But when I read prose that keeps stalling me on gorgeous gems I think of poetry.
I think poetry stops you up.
Philip Hobsbaum says a line of blank verse occupies the time taken by a breath.
What Charles Olson said. Ear inhales    Breath exhales    Stop.

The fact that the line – and the other conventions of poetry – are arbitrarily determined is of the utmost importance, because it is in the tension between the artificially determined conventions and the necessities of language and experience that the music of poetry arises, and the music of poetry, that is of consciousness at play in the fields of necessity and crisis, is one of the most important informing elements of poetry.

– C. K. Williams(3)

fact    line    arbitrarily    determined 
artificially     determined    conventions    necessities    language
experience    music   
consciousness    play    fields    crisis
informing    elements

That we work against the line is an established thought.
But what happened to the Open Field? What-who arbitrates?

. . . in the main, what makes for free verse proper, as distinct from free blank verse and (with some qualifications) cadenced verse, is the thrust of one line and the receptivity of another.’

– Philip Hobsbaum(4)

If one line thrusts into the other, they are distinct entities, not the plough
turning into the next furrow.

From the moment [the poet] ventures into FIELD COMPOSITION—puts himself in the open—he [sic] can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself.

– Charles Olson(5)

The poem makes the track. The poem moves by its own thrust. The poem is the line.

I imagined movement on a nebulous road
made of nothing but feet—
an alcove at its end like the down-filled
inside of love.

– Máighréad Medbh(6)

. . . every authentic poetic project is directed toward knowledge, just as every authentic act of philosophy is always directed toward joy.

– Georgio Agamben(7)

I don’t see why there must be a direction. Is there always a place to go?

The path of dance in the labyrinth, leading into the heart of what it keeps at a distance, is the spatial model symbolic of human culture and its ‘royal road’ (hodos basileie) toward a goal for which only a detour is adequate.

– Giorgio Agamben(8)

The labyrinth leads inward and outward in mirrored motion. All tracks, even
those that turn corners, are lines.
Tim Ingold makes the distinction between area and line-mesh. A territory can be seen either way. Anyone that moves becomes a line.

The wayfarer . . . is his movement . . . the wayfarer has no final destination, for wherever he is, and so long as life goes on, there is somewhere further he can go.(9)

For Ingold a place, a locus, is a mesh of lines.

If you walk the same route every day, are you going somewhere each time?
Does the fact that you double back mean you’ve been nowhere?
What do your feet feel about that?
Where are the inner organs going?
Where are you now? Which paving slab is this?

the poem is an organism grounded in the perception of the limits and endings that define—without ever fully coinciding with, and almost in intermittent dispute with—sonorous (or graphic) units and semantic units.

– Giorgio Agamben(10)

Action is a place, as the cell is a place.
An act is one line in a poem in process.
A completed act is only the sense of an ending.

Versure is Agamben’s name for the defining characteristic of verse—the nature of its endings.
Verse is defined by its endings.
That is, its turnings.
(The line indicating the movement of the Greek chorus.
Alternate lines written in different directions, imitating forth-back movment.)

Whether we are individuals or groups we are made up of lines and some lines are very varied in nature.

– Gilles Deleuze(11)

The psychiatrist at the trial, explaining the man’s psychosis, began by saying, “Mind is a collection of abilities.”
We had thought Mind was a mansion.
Charles Olson said the ear is so close to the mind that it is the mind’s.
But everything is the mind’s, if the mind is movement.

Where am I going with this?

Nowhere. This is where I have arrived from reading June Caldwell’s Room Little Darker,
where I kept stalling on gob-stopping images and crisscrossing rhymes
and thought This is a form of poetry.
For example:

There’s a fan whirring and a smell of slag intestines snaking through to where I sit waiting to see a dead body for the first time.

That sounds singable to me.
“Cadaverous Moves,” the story’s title, also rhymes.
Try these (non-)sentences aloud:

Tumour mash scoops, mole hill, speed bump, a face of sheer beaver.
. . .
Time bungles by on the long borrow.

– Room Little Darker(12)

So I’m identifying music, image, rhythm and verbal play as marks of the poetic.
As opposed to story-line or verse-line.
I’m isolating the dense concept as poetic.
The node, the place where many processes become a complex dynamic.
The enmeshment of lines . . . .


(1) “A Few Don'ts by an Imagiste”, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1913.
(2) “The End of the Poem,” The Lyric Theory Reader: A Critical Anthology, ed. Virginia Jackson & Yopie Prins, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014, 430.
(3) Poetry and Consciousness, University of Michigan Press, 1998, 9.
(4) Metre, Rhythm and Verse Form, London: Routledge, 1996, 112.
(5) "Projective Verse," 1950.
(6) “All About Her,” in Migrant Shores: Irish, Moroccan & Galician Poetry, ed. Manuela Palacios, Salmon Poetry, 2017. 
(7) Stanzas, trans. Ronald L. Martinez, Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993, xvii.
(8) ibid., xviii.
(9) Lines: A Brief History, London: Routledge, 150.
(10) “The End of the Poem,” Lyric Theory Reader, op. cit., 431.
(11) Dialogues II, London: Continuum, 2006, 93.
(12) Dublin: New island Books, 2017.

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