Lively Lines


When I think of a line, I think of a moment. A snapshot. It is a space in which I linger while being pulled forward, as though a tour guide is leading me through a museum. But a painting catches my eye! I must pause. The artist has put away their brushes and the reader makes meaning of the completed work. I find, though, that this proves troublesome to me as a poet and a reader.

Recently, I have been paying more attention to the conversation between my poem and the reader, and not enough on that created by the individual lines. When Albert Ríos writes that the line “a line does its own work. And in this way, it is a contributing member of that society,” I begin to imagine lines as entities of their own (209). Moving, breathing entities. I no longer see a gallery of related or complementary artworks, but a village of lines that all have functions necessary for the poem’s survival. This interpretation leads me to think more about how each line stands on its own: that they must be self-serving as well as participating in community service.

Looking back at my newest poems, I am finding that lines in some of them rely on their neighbors to hold them up. Maybe I focused too much on line breaks rather than the lines themselves, and a wanting to be clever about it. But I have put consideration of the lines as whole, singular beings at the back of my mind. This probably contributes to why I am unsatisfied with those poems.

Ríos reminds me that the lines need to be whole and survive even if they were to migrate to another poem, another place. But this poem needs them, so they stay. And so the poem, full of movement and voice, lives. Its buildings are well-kept.

It becomes a space for the reader to visit and, by doing so, the two create something new. The lines talk back and their concurrence becomes the poem’s law. I want my poems to become villages, and to make laws that the reader must respond to. But to do that, I need my lines to be whole and strong again. Maybe we’ll have a potluck, and invite the reader, too.

One Reply to “Lively Lines”

  1. I can sympathize with the dissatisfaction you feel when you review a select number of lines in your most recent poetry. After participating in a class with a strict focus on lines I am more apt to assess the strength of each line as a singular entity, and as a contribution to the rest of the poem. I want to write poems that can be cut up, dismantled, and each line is able to hold its own.
    I love the paradox this creates– that a worthy poem must have lines that hold weight by themselves, but also improve the rest of the poem. Perhaps this is how great poetry is made, when each line deserves a nod of approval.

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