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Prose and the Worth of a Line

I've been reading a lot this past month in an attempt to gently swerve me back into the writing groove. Along the way, I started reading an essay written by Sandra M Gilbert called 'Glass Joints: A Meditation on the Line.' I was drawn to Gilbert's work as I'd been looking at trying to get back into those MFA reading materials, the ones with the research articles and the writing books and stylistic techniques (to be honest, this all ultimately culminated in my reading a fantasy adventure trilogy that I won't name as it was mediocre at best). There was a lot of talk of how, despite never having written poetry before, Gilbert found herself examining the prose poem and what exactly constituted a line. If you are someone with a background in poetry, you might have your own idea of what makes a 'line' in poetry. Many people consider it a gathering of words strategically sitting on its own line and broken to add dramatic effect of some kind. A line thus creates a pause, a slight moment of reflection before continuing forward. Gilbert has her own unique thoughts on the line that are much more elegantly stated than my own: "If a poem is a kind of glass house, then, each line is a glass cube that both merges with and separates its neighbors" (page 42). I love this idea of a line both being a part of and separate from the lines around it; I had never thought of poetry as any sort of 3D image before, but thinking on it now, it makes a lot of sense. I also learned from this article that Sylvia Plath counted syllables and that made me feel infinitely better about my own syllable counting. Though now I have to go back and read more Plath... I want to take a passage from another work I read around the same time that also discussed lines, Renée Ashley's Field Guide to Prose Poetry and The Art of the Poetic Line. She talks about her experience reading about lines and how there's something exciting about never knowing how a poem will end. There's so many ideas out there about poems and their structure, that this essay felt like a nice break from the educational and more of a dive into a writer's life experience learning about poetry. With that said, I quite liked her writing and have decided to see what playing with the lines from a section of her prose might look like if we break it up a bit.

This is a section of her unadulterated text from an experience she had: There was also a white china poodle whose poofy fur parts had obviously been extruded from a garlic press and who was chained delicately to two little poodles of exactly the same design. The mother poodle tended to fall over because her little china feet could get no steady purchase on the widely spaced wire shelves, though her doppelganger appendages were able to straddle a single wire and, more often than her, remain upright. Still, most of the time all three dogs were on their sides, apparently dead or sleeping, in the bathroom glare. The most interesting part, for the rare visitor, was that when you hunkered down on the toilet, all that paraphernalia on the shelves behind your head shifted a bit in an unsettling way, and your knees bumped the vanity. The longer your thigh bones, the wider you had to spread your knees to settle on the toilet seat. The combination tub/shower with its glass wall and sliding glass door was along the wall on the other side; that was your vista. You could almost reach over the sink and touch it. A line creates a beat, a breath, a pause. Let's try creating that now: There was also a white china poodle whose poofy fur parts had obviously been extruded from a garlic press and who was chained delicately to two little poodles of exactly the same design. The mother poodle tended to fall over because her little china feet could get no steady purchase on the widely spaced wire shelves, though her doppelganger appendages were able to straddle a single wire and, more often than her, remain upright. Still, most of the time all three dogs were on their sides, apparently dead or sleeping, in the bathroom glare. The most interesting part, for the rare visitor, was that when you hunkered down on the toilet, all that paraphernalia on the shelves behind your head shifted a bit in an unsettling way, and your knees bumped the vanity. The longer your thigh bones, the wider you had to spread your knees to settle on the toilet seat. The combination tub/shower with its glass wall and sliding glass door was along the wall on the other side; that was your vista. You could almost reach over the sink and touch it. If we look at a line as articulation, conveying a message in what it says, what it waits to say, and in some cases, what it chooses to not say, we can breathe mystery and emphasize meaning. By mystery here I mean even that short term bated wait to see what the next line brings and how the poem itself will end. If, perhaps, like me, you like to see things in comparisons instead of half-hazard examples, I have found a table! From the website, Key Differences, there is an article titled 'Difference Between Prose and Poetry' by Surbhi S that offers the one I have below:

I do disagree a bit with this chart: 1) Poetry is not just to 'delight or amuse,' I would add that it's to share an experience, add meaning to an experience, or offer some other emotional response, potentially convey a message; 2) is exact paraphrase not possible? I would love to see some examples of this happening in poetry but I'm too lazy to check right now; 3) poetry can be straight forward these days, as it moves into more modern forms; 4) stanza aren't always necessary (sorry, not sorry). With that said, I do feel it's important to learn from various sources. Each person/article/book has their own perspective on the line and poetry in general that we can learn from, even disagreeing with someone's ideas helps us learn what we actually think and feel about a topic. For me personally, a line is a breath. It leaves the reader in suspense for a moment before moving on, delving deeper into whatever is being said. I wish you all the best in finding what you believe a line means to you! -Mea



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