calling all right brains !

My brain thinks in pictures.

Mostly big ones.

This makes poetry hard when we’re dealing with small units like the line, punctuation, a space, a breath.

I was having a phone conversation about music yesterday in which the person I was talking to referred to albums as a “collection,” which I’ve heard many times before, but it hit me right then that a poem, too, resembles an album: a poem is a collection of lines. Just as each song in an album is it’s own entity, singing its own melodies and showcasing it’s own rhythm, tone, and meaning, each line in a poem has its own agency and independence within a poem. It gets interesting to think of many different independent lines or songs working together as a collective whole.

I admit that I generally think more often about the collective whole: the meaning of a poem or the narrative flow of a poem and how to convey certain things to a reader either directly or indirectly. Only recently have I discovered the independence that lies within a poem and how lines can be listened to over and over again on their own, shuffled with other lines, or even stolen and put in a “playlist” with other lines by other poets. What I once thought was only pure interdependence actually turned out to be a network of independent things linked together, or broken in a way that they may fit together.

This is not new information to many of us, but by putting an analogy with what we are learning about lines, I became a bit more flexible in how I think about poetry and the line.

For any of the rest of you right-brained “big picture” type folks, what has helped you understand the line in poetry specifically? What has helped you to focus on the unit rather than the whole in our discussions of the weight each line holds?

4 Replies to “calling all right brains !”

  1. You know, you put it into words. I appreciate you.
    I’ve always been a more “big picture” kind of person before I’m able to get to the nitty-gritty details. I need to know what I’m working toward to be able to justify the actions needed (ex. I’m not going to start a project before knowing the end goal). Like within poetry, a level of cohesion needs to be reached, either through a similar theme, narrative, or at the very least, the title needs to be able to tie it together.
    I guess that means I’m right-brained. Cool.

  2. Thinking about the “big picture” is actually something I need to do more often. I guess that makes me left-brained? Most of the time, I start a poem because I have a phrase in my head that is nagging me to use it in something. As Marley says, “a level of cohesion needs to be reached,” and sometimes my small-scale focus seems to thwart that in my poetry; I worry that my poems become a jumble of images and thoughts that are trying, but often struggling to work together. As right-brained poets, do you guys have any recommendations for how to start thinking more about the “big picture”?

  3. Hey Grace! I wrote about something similar in my blog post with regards to songwriting. I always try to feel for the symmetry in a line, based on what the subject is and the feeling behind the poem I think you’re right though, in that each line has a rhythm, and I think that’s how you know how long or short to make a line. It sounds pretty stupid but I think you just have to feel it. Think of each line as a song in an album and maybe you’ll start to have some “greatest hits”! (Sorry this was so cheesy) 🙂

  4. I think the one thing that I’ve changed in my own readings of poetry that has helped me understand the line as it’s own unit is reading poems out loud! I sometimes don’t get to do this if I’m not alone, but any chance I get, I try to read poems out loud to show the importance of a line on its own, and how it sounds on its own. I also think of poems most of the time as whole parts, and this technique has really helped me understand a poem line by line. That could be something that brings about a different way of thinking about a poem all together.

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