(W)Right Side of the Page

Okay. So we have the left side of the page, right? That’s where most of our poems start. Martha Rhodes mentions in her essay in A Broken Thing that she tends to stay to the left side of the page in the fear of her writing sounding to wordy or rambling when she begins to stretch to the right. The left side of the page is safe. The left side of the page is quick and neat and, as we read from left to right, sensical.

I’m only going to talk about poems that are situated to the left and the right side of the page. More abstract poetry works differently here and, for the sake of emphasis, I’m only going to talk about juxtaposing ways of writing (ie. right and left).

It got me thinking about white space and what white space does when we write starting from the left. The physical margin of the poem is close to the edge of the page, so when it begins, it’s like the words are forming from nothing. It’s a natural start to the poem. It’s a neutral location, one that we’re used to experiencing. We’re not distracted by white space beforehand: it’s just the reader and the word. The end of the line, here, also makes sense, especially in regard to line breaks. We have this beautiful yawning space of white following our caesuras and breaks and pauses and it serves to heighten the intimacy with which the reader experiences the break. When writing from the left side of the paper, the white space functions as a contextual and emphatic way to strengthen the meaning of the poem, whether the poet realizes it or not.

The right side of the page works in a different way. At the start of the line, this aforementioned yawning space acts becomes more than a neutral zone; it’s this overwhelming statement and the poem becomes this invading force that strikes the reader without them realizing it. It serves as a dreamy space that cannot be ignored by the reader. It says something. From the absence of nothing, comes something: the poem. Following that, we don’t have this break that serves to highlight the end of the line. We aren’t left to sit and mull over the lines final thoughts because suddenly the page is done and you simply have to go to the next line because all that’s left after is paper, then table, then the rest of the world, but you want to stay locked in this beautiful poem so your eyes are scrambling to be welcomed back to this white space followed by the start of another beautiful line.

Then you can take a breath.

Let me know what you think! Please contradict me or agree or just say that I have no point in the matter and everything I said is complete nonsense.

4 Replies to “(W)Right Side of the Page”

  1. I think it’s really interesting how you highlighted the power of a “right side” poem, and how it forces the reader to become immersed in it in a way. I think it highlights the decision that we all make when writing a poem, and the impact we want it to have. I’m usually afraid to stray from the left, because it’s more aesthetically pleasing to some people. But now I’ll think about the right side’s commanding presence when I’m writing a poem from now on. Thanks for the insight!

    1. Thanks Francesca! Of course there are wayyyyy more methods to interpreting the right vs the left side of the page, but I thought it was cool to think about in regard to Rhodes’ idea!

  2. I found your thoughts on the line very interesting! I completely agree that it’s a completely different experience reading poems that start on the right margin or the left margin. I think the first thing I usually notice about a poem is how it looks, and so if a poem is on the right side of the page, I think about that instantly. It challenges my expectation of what a poem should be like when it is formatted so differently.

  3. I’ve never thought of the way that the actual sides of the page reinforce the work of the writer, other than providing physical limitations; however, after reading your article, I realize that I have my own set of superstitions against the right side of the page. I typically feel that any lines that stray closer to the ominous right side will lose the audience’s attention. I guess I should toss this bias towards the right side of the page away. Thank you for your article!

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