I’ve got a blank space, baby: White space?

Our in-class discussion today on white space was super helpful to me in terms of interpreting white space, but I feel like I still have a long way to go in the way of actually utilizing it myself in a way that feels genuine.  I’m very interested in it, and I love the way it can function in a piece.  A few months ago, I stumbled on this poem by Eugenia Leigh, and it stuck with me:


How carelessly God hummed us whole
with such pronounced
holes                for lungs.

How hollow                 we are. How

anonymous—six billion
in a faraway warehouse.

I guess at this point I’m very interested in how white space can be used to denote physical space or a physical feeling, like it does in this one.  I absolutely love how the space functions in this poem in such a way that I have a physical reaction: I feel myself breathing, but I am also aware of the effort it takes for me to draw breath, somehow. I feel the holes in my chest.  One of my favorite things about poetry is its ability to elicit that physicality in the reader, and that’s something I really want to look into playing with.

That being said, white space is such a wonderfully flexible element, and I’m interested in how other people like to see it used/how others use it.  I know we did a brainstorm in class, but I’m wondering how everybody else views white space and how you go about incorporating it? I know what I like when I see it, but I feel like I struggle in incorporating it successfully myself.

2 Replies to “I’ve got a blank space, baby: White space?”

  1. Sarah,
    I know I personally struggle with everything that white space can be. For example, let’s say I’m using white space to stack words and create a column, well that’s great. Except then I start thinking about the other ways in which that white space is functioning. Do I want to feel a pause here? Do I want to create so much time that I force the reader to ruminate on the words just before the space? Does the poem need a breath here? I just wanted these words to stack! I think for me, utilizing white space is a battle of function and meaning. I have a hard time using it because I find myself getting hung up on all of the ways it could be read, and if it doesn’t work in all of those ways, I have a tendency to back away from it altogether. I don’t think I actually answered your question, but like you, I have a hard time with white space! As for the poem you shared (which I love), I actually am going to push back and say I’m not sold on the white space here. While the softness of the words “holes” and “how hollow” do beautifully warrant that breath that the white space creates, I feel as though using the white space to create an actual hole and hollowness on the page feels contrived. This is why I struggle with white space. While I love one of the ways in which it is functioning, I don’t like another.

  2. Hey Sarah!
    I really like the poem that you posted. I never used white space until being in this workshop, so it’s very new to me! I really enjoy using it though! I like to use it to stack words on top of each other, but I also like the pause effect they create. I think white space is really useful in creating dramatic pause, or even just for letting the reader take a break and think about what he/she just read. It also emphasizes words that come after it.
    I don’t think it’s necessary all the time. Sometimes you can create a pause with enjambment, or punctuation, and you don’t necessarily need to use white space to stack words on top of each other.
    I guess everyone has their own opinion on white space, but I really enjoy using it!

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