I’m Not Kidding: Enjambment Could Save the World
Never before has poetry been so urgent. I am not speaking about the healing power of metaphor or the necessity of politically engaged poems. Poetry is urgent now more than ever because poetry employs line breaks.
It’s a craft question we’ve wrestled with for decades: why do we hold on to the convention of line breaks when we no longer write metered verse? In an era of free verse, why are we clinging to the white space to the right of our breaks? With great urgency, I offer this thesis: we have been breaking our lines to make space. In the silence where a poetic line ends is space: to listen, to invite, to defend, to include, to act.
We have huddled countless afternoons in classrooms and living rooms, pointing out to one another minutia of form, line, syntax, tone and diction because all of that matters. Poets, it matters more than we imagined. We have been writing and listening to poems for a reason. We have been breaking lines and making space. We have been readying ourselves for the work of this moment, this moment when hate, misunderstanding and greed blister and burn in the prosaic, chaotic space of the public square. We are ready. We will not be afraid. Already we have courted insanity and foolishness. We more than others are comfortable with the incomprehensible, the obscure, the vague, the wildly emotive, the disingenuous, the cruel, the fanciful, the ignorant, the willful, the victimized, the helpless, the wounded, the misunderstood. In poetry we support the multi-vocal, the plural. We have attended enough readings in coffee houses and libraries, that we have no fear of egoists or narcissists. Poets, we are experts in all that is passing before us.
We know what to do. We have been practicing paying attention. We have been making space on the page. We have been attending our lines. We know language matters profoundly. We have been looking at details and tiny parts. Poetry allows us freedom, but poetry challenges us to reflect truth. Poetry allows invention, but poetry demands attention. In poetry, we are not bound to an electoral system. In poetry, we challenge borders and registries and prejudice. Poetry assumes a listener. Now we are the listeners, the space-makers, the line breakers.
Right now, the world needs us to offer the swirled sea-shells of our ears and the luminous tips of our fucking pencils. It is up to us to start campaign of line breaks: a campaign of attention and comprehension. Let’s listen to each other and study each other with attention and kindness! Join me in my online listening project or invent your own form of listening or writing or acting or including. Invent your own way to use the space we have been holding. Let’s take in refugees and outsiders and haters and the maligned and the fearful, the victims, the young, the outraged, the outdated. We’ve made so much space on the page these last decades. Now is the time it all matters. Go forth. Make. Pay attention. Make. Now. Make.