Tag Archives: #poetry

The Line

The books have accumulated quite a bit of dust here at Book Dust. Layers and layers.  I’ve been in hiding, but here I am, peeking out from the protective covers that I’ve had myself buried under as of late.  I’ve been doing a lot of self examination and in the process of course I’ve discovered some correlations between my life and my work. My latest obsession: challenging my theories on the line.

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of essays and articles on this topic to challenge my thinking. As someone who is largely guided by sonic qualities of a poem and the line itself, I decided to challenge my own instincts, to be a bit more vulnerable. I recently drafted a poem that was intended to document an experience with storms. Those who live in the Northern VA area know that storms here  are prominent and vicious in their destruction. Most storms are, but I do find our particular geography to be plagued with strange, beastly storms that know when your weak and strike at that exact moment. This poem came out of one of those storms.

My original intent was to build the anxiety of the speaker and the speaker’s experience with each line. As I began drafting, the poem took the shape of a longer line (shocker, I know.) The poem looked on the page just as I’d expect a poem of mine to look. Then a new thought occurred: this poem seems…unchallenged, too expected. So I took to the page (with the prompting of one of my Readers) and began challenging my instinct and re-evaluting the line based on how the breaks can add potentially more ambiguity to the poem. I’ve posted the poem’s original draft version below so you can see where the poem wanted to go.


Thoughts upon a Storm Centralized to One Block in One Neighborhood and That Block Happened to Be Mine

All the trees decided on this one night to finally give in,

to let the softness of all their years finally break them.

They fell like a parade of sound, smashing cars and roofs,

shattering windows. They did not go quietly.

 

It started mid-night. I woke to the sound of pelting against

glass and wondered what beautiful man was throwing rocks

at my window. Whose voice was going to crawl inside of me,

make my body split open like a watermelon that implodes

 

with its hissing and sucking sounds, the way it cracks itself

open and all the juices drip from the countertop onto the tile

floor, as if the watermelon suddenly couldn’t stand itself

anymore.

 

The sky surged with its light show and like a fool

I stood in front of the three-pane picture window waiting

for the gusts to break through. Hoping that kind of force

would find its way inside of me. In the dark storming of night,

 

I grabbed towels to fill the gaps around the door where water

was spilling in. I sat feeling the shutter of wind rattle wood to my spine.

Something was wrong and it was coming for me. All this destruction

occurring and I couldn’t yet see the chaos it was leaving behind.

This was not the case with the fence. I could see it, from the back window,

collapsed, whole sections fallen, a line of white plank and then suddenly

an infinite black whole and it made me think of my running shoes

and how now, with this fence so open, it would be a good time

 

to start running and shortly after that, I fell asleep once the clangs

of the night had muted. That next day as we all cleaned up our messes,

as men walked down the streets with their chain saws and the streets

were weighed down by plumbing trucks, tree cutting trucks,

 

power trucks, I thought of how proud you’d be that I’m doing this all

by myself. Neighbors who never spoke were sewn together by all this

destruction. Everyone was outside, cleaning twigs, scraping

mounds of debris to the curb. Push it all to the curb they’d say.

 

The lilies you like out front droop now, pounded down and scattered

from the hard rain and I think of how just yesterday they were open,

yellow, tall and just yesterday you were here and then gone so quickly,

just in time to miss this storm.


As I went back to the page, I wanted to examine adding layers of ambiguity and tension in the piece with the line breaks. The short line is something I struggle with mostly because to my ear it sounds so foreign, so truncated. However, the intention of this poem was not fully served by the long lines. In the current draft stage, the poem is operating in shorter lines opening up new possibilities that weren’t in the original draft version. I noticed the words that carried the most weight in regards to the speaker’s experience were given a line all to themselves to live and breathe and the tension and syntax of the piece began to function dramatically different. This was also a great exercise in releasing the exposition that existed in parts of the poem. The shift to a shorter line made those expository (read: unnecessary) moments more apparent at every turn. Here’s the revised version:

Thoughts Upon a Storm Centralized to One Block in One Neighborhood and That Block Happened to be Mine

They did not go
quietly. All the trees
decided on this
one night
to finally give in,
to let the softness
of all their years
break them.
They fell
like a parade
of sound, smashing
cars and roofs,
shattering
windows. It started
mid-night. I woke
to the sound of pelting
against glass,
wondered
what beautiful
man was throwing rocks
at my window,
whose voice
was going to crawl
inside of me,
make my body
split open
like a watermelon
that implodes
with its hissing
and sucking
sounds, the way
it cracks itself
open and
all the juices
drip from
the countertop
onto the floor,
as if
the watermelon
couldn’t stand itself
anymore.
The sky surged
with its light show
and like a fool
I stood
in front
of the three-pane
picture window
waiting
for the gusts
to break through.
Hoping
that kind of force
would find its way
inside
of me. In the dark
storming of night,
I grabbed towels
to fill the gaps
around the door where
water was
finding its way
inside.
The shutter
of wind
rattled wood to
my spine.
Something
was wrong
and it was coming
for me.
All this
destruction and
I couldn’t yet see
the chaos
it was leaving behind.
This was not
the case
with the fence.
I could see it,
from the back
window, collapsed,
whole sections
fallen,
a line of white
plank and suddenly
an infinite black
hole and it made me
think
of my running shoes
and how now,
with this fence
so open,
it would be
a good time to start
running.
Once the clangs
of the night had
muted, I fell
back to sleep,
sleep had waited
so patiently
all night for me.
That next day
as we all cleaned up
our messes, as men
walked down the streets
with their chainsaws
and the streets
were weighed down
by plumbing trucks,
tree cutting trucks, power
trucks, I thought
of how proud
you’d be
that I’m doing this
all by myself.
Neighbors who never
spoke were pushed
together by all this
destruction.
Everyone
was outside,
cleaning twigs, scraping
mounds of debris
to the curb. Push it
all to the curb they’d say.
The lilies
you like out front
droop now, pounded
down
and scattered
from the hard rain.
Just yesterday
they were open,
yellow, tall
and just yesterday
you were here
and then
gone
so quickly, just
in time
to miss this
storm.

This poem is still incubating, but its learning. This is a lesson I continue to learn as a poet and as a human: pushing one’s self to operate in new ways is essential to our own growth, despite how unnatural and ill-fitting the new ways may be, despite how terribly itchy or snug this sweater of change may be. The ways in which we encounter our work need to be fresh and challenging, even if it doesn’t stick. We need constant reminders to return to a process we know well and shake it up, much like we constantly review the proper way to floss at each dental visit. We have been doing it for years; we simply need to be reminded and consider trying it a different way to get different results. (Yes I just compared poetry to flossing). I’ll keep you posted on what this poem morphs into from here.

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Jeffrey Levine

poetry, publishing, and mentoring

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