30 ago. 2006

Lineation is overrated. Take Juan Ramón Jiménez. Please, take him.

No, seriously. At the the end of his life, he compiled a huge anthology of his work entitled Leyenda. It's not his whole work, just what he wanted to save, about 1,300 poems. Anyway, he wrote out all his free-verse poems as prose. In fact, anything without rhyme, became prose. It's rather shocking, because, much as I'm ambivalent about JRJ, I would never question his ear. He practically invented free verse in Spanish, or at least one variant of it. So is this a huge blunder of an aged poet? That was my first reaction, many years ago when I first noted this. You wouldn't want to have an edition of Creeley with poems like

"As I sd to my friend, because I am always talking, John, I sd. which was not his name, the darkness surrounds us, what can we do against, or else, shall we, and why not, buy a goddamned big car, drive, he sd, for Christ's sake look out what your doing."

It seems to ruin the effect! However, the presumption that we cannot pay attention to rhythm if something is written out without lines is absurd. Any poem with a powerful rhythm will have the same rhythm without the division into lines. I wouldn't mind even reading The Prelude that way. I would still know where the line breaks were. I'd lose a few specific effects due to enjambment, but the effect would be similar to having it read aloud to me. John Hollander [The Untuning of the Skies] points out that many people have always found it difficult to discern line-breaks when hearing blank verse. This complaint was often directed at Milton: his line-divisions were more for the eye than the ear.

JRJ's poems work perfectly well in prose format. They aren't less rhythmical. Whatever rhythms exist in them do not disappear. It's like taking the training wheels off a bike: you know longer have that assurance of knowing where the metrical divisions are, as opposed to the syntactical ones. If there wasn't much enjambment in the first place, if the line had syntactic unity, then you still have those same syntactic units in the prose poem. It's only when enjambment is a major technique, as in Creeley, that you lose very much.

Sometimes, when listening to Ornette, I lose track of where the "one" is. There is a bar line, implicitly there, but it isn't written down anywhere. Isn't the whole point not to mark the bar divisions so rigidly, to have a greater flow? Poems in my memory, curiously, do not have line breaks, unless written by Creeley or Williams. I might know where the line breaks are, but they don't have much weight, compared to the importance they seem to have on the page: "I AM A POEM."

I read an early article by Borges, in which he outlines all the arguments against rhyme, starting with Milton. (Of course Borges' own poetry later rhymed more often than not.) At the end, he says that it's more interesting to outline the arguments against rhyme, because they are less frequently heard. I feel the same way about lineation. I feel, yes, it's very significant for most people writing poetry--otherwise they would write prose poems. But at the same time, lineation is boring and overrated most of the time. Anyone with any sense, who's been writing for more than a few years already, would run away from such a topic. Even this post is boring, since it is about this topic.

It's like fiction-writers discussing things like how to get characters in and out of rooms. It's easier just to stipulate that if a character is found in a room, he or she got there somehow, and leave it at that.

8 comentarios:

Henry Gould dijo...

Lineation slows down the reading. It's in part a sign for vocal recitation, complementing sight-reading. And it adds a sort of recursiveness : you go back over the line slightly - or are encouraged to do so - before moving along.

So if one doesn't appear to lose anything by running the poem out as prose, it raises the question of why it was lineated (as poem) at all.

However, running it as prose is already a "second reading", so it's a little hard to evaluate objectively. (We may only be bothering with such an experiment because the original lineation allowed us to concentrate & focus carefully on the poem in the first place.)

The slowing-down caused by lineation has the effect of emphasizing all the other rhythmic effects.

Jonathan dijo...

I don't know that that's emprically true. I think reading a poem written out as prose might be slower in some cases. In either case, we aren't trusting the reader to figure out the rhythms of the poem.

Henry Gould dijo...

I think it's hard to argue against the idea that line-breaks (spatial isolations of individual lines - shifts, pauses in the word-to-word reading process) do, in most cases, slow that process.

Not sure what you mean by your second point. I think the writer assumes SOME relation between his or her own experience of the poem, and the reader's experience of it...

Henry Gould dijo...

I see, though, that it IS possible to imagine lineation as a technique for INCREASING speed, using individual lines as motors or templates for fast phrases. I don't think that's as common as the slow-down mode, however.

With both approaches, the line-breaks obviously make for a difference! You could take a chunk of prose and recite it AS IF if had line breaks... but perhaps you'd only want to do that if the language has poem-grade intensity in the first place.

Lineation marks out intensity, presence, recitation...

Jonathan dijo...

Are long lines or short lines faster or slower? For example, I could see long lines as relatively slower, heavier, and short lines as quicker.

But, the same

long line divided

up into several shorter

lines would be

slower than the

original long line.


Jonathan dijo...

Anyway, the arguments in favor of lineation are quite obvious. I could make all of them myself. I'm more interested in the arguments against it.

Henry Gould dijo...

Lineation is the origin of xylophonic lymphoma in certain species of bats. It may also contribute to global warming.

Ray Davis dijo...

Even spaces between words came relatively late in the history of poetry. I F A S T R A I G H T S E Q U E N C E O F C H A R A C T E R S W A S G O O D E N O U G H F O R S E X T U S P R O P E R T I U S I T S G O O D E N O U G H F O R M E

Odd that Pound should get nostalgic about ideographs instead of the days when intuited melody was all a reader could go on. The grass is always greener on the other side of the sphere.