May 25, 2013

Where Is the Line of Energy?

Muriel Rukeyser said, "The work that a poem does is a transfer of human energy." In the article "Gesture Writing," Rachel Howard suggests that writers can learn from drawing techniques.  Poetry is even closer to visual art than other genres; the economy and compression of language, the image and metaphor make it so.

Life drawing requires the visual artist to look for the energy of the work using strong gesture and line before doing fine details. Howard says:
Realizing that writing is a lot like drawing gives us a deeper approach. Because really, before we put a word or a mark on the page, both writers and artists must first step back and see. And seeing is not simple...Ellen Collett said:
As fiction writers know, every story is told by a narrative voice, and voice reveals itself by what it sees. Voice is a synthesis of seeing and speaking, of sight and syntax. While syntax — the mechanics of diction — can be made to toe the line and conform to a particular “style,” seeing is trickier to control. Seeing is choice. It’s inherently personal.
To see in the way that Collett is describing, to see deeply enough to capture the vibrancy of life on the page, a writer must move her consciousness out of information organizing mode into an intuitive way of seeing subtle organic connections and capturing them in bold strokes.
When Howard used the technique of gesture drawing, "There was the whole. It made leaps. It had perspective. It had emphasis and connection. It had life."

Poetry has a lot of energy: opposing forces, resistances, enjambments, and tension between the lines. Drawing can lend its gesture, but there is also an element of sculpture in poetry.  An excellent poem has been described as a "perceptual object" or "tensile being."  Poetry is physical; by this I mean it must be in the body and engaged with all of the senses.  Christopher Allen said of sculpture: "The material must undergo transformation; and it must have its own distinct and even stubborn character, so that the transformation is a kind of metamorphosis."  The language, the image, the metaphor, the patterns are the materials in poetry; the line of energy initiates the transformation or metamorphosis in a poem, creating new meaning at each reading.

Where is the line of energy in a poem?  Throughout the poem, and then, if it's a good poem, into the reader, the place of its transformation.


To read "Gesture Writing" in the NYTimes:

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