Pausing With Your Eyes

I’ve looked into what the exaggerated gaps between words or phrases in lines of verse are all about, curious whether or not they should affect my reading and, if so, how. A writer named Emilia Phillips calls them visual caesuras — a term I find slightly absurd — and says they could as well be line breaks.

A turgid article about white space at POFO quotes John Cage from his “Lecture on Nothing.” Its black space (!) is so engaging that I captured several screenfuls of it and transcribed some of the words to my notes, discarding the unruly white bits fractiously separating them.

Here’s what Cage wrote:

The text is printed in four columns to facilitate a rhythmic reading. Each line is to be read across the page from left to right, not down the columns in sequence. This should not be done in an artificial manner (which might result from an attempt to be too strictly faithful to the position of the words on the page), but with the rubato which one uses in everyday speech.

Cage’s advice for reading his text seems applicable to verse: ignore eccentric spacing and read in your own voice. I confess to feeling bullied, distracted and interfered with by writers who over-curate their verses with ruptured typography. If your conceit is too ethereal for candid representation, re-think it!

I’m attracted, however, to Etel Adnan’s conception of the purpose served by the leporello, the fanfold device mentioned in a previous post here: The basic idea is about slowing down the way we look at things, about intensifying our experience.

(c) 2023 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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