Terese Svoboda’s Big Line

Line allows you to breathe, to hold the words in your head before charging into the next set of words. But what if you don’t breathe, what if you dive into the poem, like Bernadette Mayer in the example below, and swim past all the beautiful fish to the very end of water, each line indented two spaces, to indicate no breaks, just the poem going on and on and on? Prose does this now and then when a character is drugged or rushed or over-stimulated, why not poetry?

What I propose isn’t prose poetry, per se, it’s using line to excess, overextending it for effect, really flexing syntax, manipulating punctuation. While writing this kind of poem, you must pay a lot of attention to how you manoeuvre. Too quick and you’ll cut off your oxygen, too slow and the reader won’t want to wade on behind you. If you opt for a list somewhere along the way, make it fascinating. If you use several voices, each has to be clear. Enjoy yourself.

The bed is like a typewriter, sometimes I think the bed’s a refrigera-
   tor with the holographic head of a man in dichroic color to be
   seen in ambient light on the door, I mean the cover of the
   book the bed is, you do look all the time at some of the same
   things until the names of the objects might as well fall off
Then maybe you die, that’s the scare of mornings, it’s loose or lush
   like this or blood but darker than it ought to be, it all has a
   beauty and a structure I haven’t seen all of yet like a story, I
   always forget the most important part

— Bernadette Mayer, excerpt from
Midwinter Day

Terese Svoboda is an award-winning American writer of poetry, fiction, and memoir. She has just been commissioned to write a biography of the poet Lola Ridge, who spent her early years in New Zealand and Australia. Terese will be teaching a masterclass at the Institute of Modern Letters this Monday, 6 August, when you can also catch her in conversation with Mary McCallum and reading from her work as part of the Writers on Mondays series, 12.15 pm, at Te Papa. Full WOM programme details here.

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