This semester I’ve stocked my schedule with classes I may never need, yet have nonetheless ended up loving. Two of my favorites so far are Human Geography and Intro to Urban and Regional Planning. Like Erin mentioned in her post about her perception of a physical space based on what method of transportation she is using, the way we approach the space of a poem is more deeply rooted in crazy spatial ideas of human preference, information construction, and even territoriality. While these classes may seem entirely irrelevant to the creation of a poem, I’ve actually found a lot of correlation between these three topics (proceed to blather on about geography of poems).
In Human Geography we’ve spent a lot of time taking spatial perceptions and preference. For instance, there are places in America none of us ever want to go, just based on our rather biased perceptions of what we think those places are like. Similarly, people are more likely to prefer their home area, just because it’s home. As people, we construct the world around us, based not in fact, but in a strange conglomeration of increasingly unreliable sources. This construction of our world made me think of the way we create our poems. For many of us, there are places in poems that we’re just unwilling to go. I have no desire to write a villanella, but then again, I’ve never actually tried it or bothered to search for an example of one that I’ve really enjoyed. There are probably topics we’re afraid to approach, but feel like we need to at some point within our poems. If we never visit these places within our body of poetics, we’ll continue to perpetuate this strange spatial preference that can often leave us oblivious to some aspect of poetry–a topic or style, etc.– that we could actually really enjoy, or perhaps even be successful with. Another aspect of this spatial preference is spatial territoriality, something I’d never considered on a small scale before. Human territoriality is often personal and habitual–we might use the same bathroom stall every time or sit in the same chair in the library. This territoriality comes across in our poems. We go back to certain sounds, images, and ideas again and again without really thinking about why we do that. We construct spaces that we feel at home inside of–we get too comfortable in them and make them our own, when we should really be branching out to South Dakota or the next bathroom stall to figure out how far we can push ourselves as poets.
I’ve also found that urban planning is incredibly similar to structuring a poem. I hadn’t really considered how much effort goes into creating a functional city. The majority of urban planning remains unseen, whether it’s the sewers that run under every road, or subtle changes in the route of a train that can impact the traffic patterns of an entire neighborhood. There are so many small yet vital aspects of urban planning that allow cities to function at the surface level. The inclusion of green space allows a city breathing room, and contributes to the health of it’s residents. It offers a break from the hustle and bustle, just as a poem might need something a little softer or more abstract to balance out a concrete jungle of images and action. This urban planning is incredibly similar to understanding the way different parts of speech, word choice, line breaks, etc. can all impact the flow, function, and effectiveness of a poem. Poems need you to be their urban planners–if you aren’t there making subtle functional choices, the whole thing could easily devolve into traffic jams or dead zones. Minute changes in word choice or line breaks may seem like insignificant things, but they can change the way a poem functions–where it takes you, what it passes, and what you see, just as a tiny shift in a road can change so much that we might not be conscious of.
Essentially, poems are tiny cities–we are territorial about them, we construct different ideas of our own poems in our heads than our readers will. We have different spatial preferences, and we’re consistently building their infrastructure, whether or not we realize it. We seem to be ending on questions, which I like, so I’ll ask a couple here. What perceptions do you have about poetry that may be different from the reality? What things have you put off trying, and what things do you try too much? Are you including all of the infrastructure of your poem? What’s its traffic flow, how does it function?