The length of a line

What does the line length say on the page? In the shorter line a feeling is finding a voice. A process or unfolding is happening. A song is beginning. Something very old is happening again. A single or collective subjectivity is finding words. An innocence is appearing.

It never had a name, 

                     Charles Simic, Description of a Lost Thing

I owe so much  

                      Wislawa Szymborska, Thank You Note

My mother as a child

                       Jean Valentine, In This Egg

the bruise will stop by later.

                            John Ashbery, Anticipated Stranger, 

The line of ten syllables, Shakespeare’s line, is a thinking line, reflective, individual and discerning. The virtuosity is a virtuosity of reason and the undoing of reason.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds 

Admit impediments. Love is not love 

Which alters when it alteration finds, 

                                                        from William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

This line of ten is still with us like a lodestone we push off from  . . . .

Well,
she's long about her coming, who must be
more merciless to herself than history.

Her mind full to the wind, I see her plunge
breasted and glancing through the currents,
taking the light upon her
at least as beautiful as any boy
or helicopter,
poised, still coming,
her fine blades making the air wince

but her cargo
no promise then:
delivered
palpable
ours.

                                 from Adrienne Rich, Snap Shots of a Daughter-in-Law
                                                                                                    (Stanza 10)

And beyond the line of ten, beyond thought and breath--a nether world or unknown and a voice of reckoning:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, 

                                                                                   Allen Ginsberg, Howl

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there. 

                                                                                   Marie Howe, What the Living Do

Then the cicadas again like kindling that won’t take. 

                                                                                   Jorie Graham, The Errancy

 

Practice

Write a paragraph. Write the same paragraph out in lines of 8, 10 and 14. Notice how each is another voice and body speaking.

Brigid Yuknavitch