Sunday, April 27, 2008

plumb lines and periplums

I recently discovered a new word – periplum. A periplum is a map or drawing that shows how land looks from a point at sea. Because I’ve been thinking about language lately, and the ways that the practice of reading and writing poetry somehow help one’s thought process, happening upon this new word has added something new to ponder. And, I like the idea that a poet, well any writer for that matter, is a voyager personally navigating history. Of course, this particular kind of voyaging isn’t easy, and for any lover of language, more often time is spent reading than actually generating new writing.

This word periplum and the idea of plumb lines, their alliteration, are bound to get me going, come what may, to simply begin listening as I lay down words on the page. I do this when I write poetry, and often end up with nonsense, but then with a little patience and reworking, sometimes something happens in the language and a poem emerges. Or, it could be the beginning of a story, as ideas, images and sensations begin to coalesce. So it’s the voyage that matters. And, then paying attention to what slowly comes into view.

I read a bit too much, and am known to re-read. Lately I've been re-reading Helen Vendler’s book The Breaking of Style. It has reinvigorated my attention to things like rhythm, grammar and lineation. Reading about these concepts in relation to specific poets and their poems, actually helps me re-enter my own poems. With some attention to craft, I begin to feel I have a tangible means to begin to chisel, shape and polish. Through the practice of technique a means of staying close and more acutely aware of the pleasures of the revision process very well may serve as kind of periplum for writing, whether poetry or prose.

Vendler’s descriptions of Hopkins’ work, specifically his use of what he called sprung rhythm, has given me some renewed ways of thinking about and noticing the rhythms of language. She uses examples of Seamus Heaney’s work to describe, in great detail, how grammar choices impact form and the perception of content. Her insightful and extensive study of of Heaney’s work brings fresh understanding to the concept of the symbolic plane in any given poem, which has been another bit of material to consider while I’m working to bring a poem to a satisfying place of completion. Her examination of Jorie Graham’s use of lineation is another concept that helps me think more carefully about the choices made relating to line length. Attention to each of these things, rhythm, grammar and lineation, fuel the practice of writing and revision.

The very sounds of language can also serve as a kind of plumb line to deeper connections with the writing at hand. Certain poets give me the feeling that I have pebbles in my mouth, which sounds strange, but is oddly satisfying. Heaney’s poem District and Circle has a sense of something material like tumbling stones. This sense of language carries a kind of satisfaction and mystery that I think can inform any kind of writing, regardless of genre. These things bring me to my own writing practice in new ways and keep me in touch with the mystery of language and the mechanics inherent in process.


Temporary Home

This blogsite is our temporary home while our website undergoes an extreme makeover of epic proportions (shifted septums, pacemakers, calf implants, dialysis, a fancy wig, contacts -- the works).

This was our old home, and while it is a bit dated, it's a good source of info regarding recent issues and the history of Prism Review.

Updates will follow regarding our new home. ETA summer 2009.