Physical & Poetic Spaces

Since the first Poetic Whirlwind several class poems have stayed with me, but I’ve been especially thinking about and envying Romy’s poem “Uncles.” I’ve never written a poem that short, and certainly not one capable of packing as much of punch in such a tight space. And that got me thinking about space in general—poetic space, but also the spaces that we inhabit everyday.

While I was going for a bike ride this morning I was reminded how Geneseo always feels bigger and more complex when I’m on my bicycle, as opposed to driving in a car. When I’m biking I notice more about it—let myself see the character of the little farms and long hilly roads. I was struck with the realization that the space I inhabit here as a student tends to be repetitive: walk/bike to campus where I sit in the same rooms, then walk/bike back home. I often forget to leave the space of my routine to explore new places, and I think that’s important to remember as poets too.

The world we inhabit is a sensory one, and consists of physical space. I’m a very image grounded poet—I understand poetry better through image, and I tend to write poems from one image or a series of images. But I was reminded to look at poetry structurally, as a type of architecture, remembering that poetry has a physicality to it, and it’s the poet’s job to make sense of the space that the poem wants or needs to exist in.

3 Replies to “Physical & Poetic Spaces”

  1. Erin,

    Your post made me realize how movement and speed shapes our perceptions just as much as the perceived objects themselves. When in a car or bus I like to look out the window. The closer objects outside the window blur and zoom by, those a bit further kind of jog, and on and on until an object is so far away (i.e. the sun) it hardly appears to move at all, even if we do. And, of course, at this speed a lot is skimmed over. How much roadkill is out there? That’s a good indicator of how little time we have to pay close attention to our surroundings when we’re barreling through them, only trying to get somewhere else quickly.

    If the vehicle stops, however, the frenzied world that just was ceases to be, and now a tranquil, even deadened world has taken its place. We notice hoards of gnats in the air, smell the air, see the wind blowing through the trees, etc. But the blurry object that one drives past is the same as the object one stands in front of. It only appears to move if we move, as does the rest of the landscape. And the speed at which those appear to move is contingent on how fast we move.

    So short lines might be analogous to driving past a farm
    and long lines could be just standing in front of or walking slowly past it, contemplatively.

    How else can we understand poetry by understanding our perceptions of the physical world and how we move through it? I need help synthesizing it all.

    1. Nice ideas, Ethan and Erin. This will feed into looking at Williams a little, but more more widely it brings up idea of phenomenology, and thinkers like Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Is the poem an attempt to study or record the ways we perceive the world (to share that subjective perception with others)? Or does it need to transcend that somehow? What you both seem to be pushing towards, in different ways, is that we might work against our habits of perception, perhaps by changing our bodies’ motions through space. (Now I feel like making you do strange walks around the classroom was okay.)

  2. Erin,

    I too have been thinking about spatial energies and composition recently. I have only very recently gotten into experimenting structurally with my poetry, and it has opened up a whole new dimension for me in my work. Placement and white space can communicate so much more than the traditional words on a page, reading from left to right.

    I love what Ethan says about driving in a car and how it relates to reading lines of poetry. Moving fast keeps scenery and details to a minimum, but at the same time, what we do choose to see around an otherwise unidentifiable space becomes ethereal. Both in poetry and in real life movement.

    Perhaps words on paper are not as two dimensional as they seem.


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