Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999
Subject: Looking Around / spaced-out

>>> Alan Sondheim <sondheim@PANIX.COM> 04/26/99 02:34pm >>>

> I laugh and laugh at indentations because they seem a weakness,
arranging the lines just so! Why bother if the words are terrific? Maybe
the words aren't so good and the "just so" part has to carry the weight
of the day.<

Even though I too have abandoned special spacing and just left-hand
justify my poetry for the most part, I think there may be answers for your
question ("Why...?"). Charles Olson had this to say:

"It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its space
precisions, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the
suspension even of syllables, the juxtaposition even of parts of phrases,
which he intends. For the first time the poet has the stave and the bar a
musician has had" (quoted by RS in Close Listening, p. 370).

In other words, for anyone with a vestige of the spoken word in their
poetry, spacing can be a way of measuring timing and pace [sic]. -- By
not using spacings/indentation in my poems, I wind up resorting to a
heavy use of commas (and semi-colons!).

There are other aspects, too. For poetry that is more text-centered than
speech-centered, spacing may represent a defining dimension of the
medium. After all, spacing (the spatial) is what differentiates text from
voice: there is no way, in speech, that one word can be "above" another


as they can in lines; there is only before and after, linear. For
text-poetry, the spacing can be as intrinsic as timbre is to

One other thought: The name "Julia Kristeva" has been circulating in the
discussion list in the past few days. She talks about spacing, too
(although in a different sense). To (mis)quote Linda Kintz's "Plato,
Kristeva, and the Chora: Figuring the Unfigurable" (Plato and
), she says:

"The important point in her revision of Plato's chora . . . is her definition
of it as spacing, rather than as space---as the site of an aesthetic
wobble . . . The aesthetic wobble is the ground of meaning . . . a moving
dialectic or wavering between the body of the subject and the historical
train of symbols and signs . . . The mobile ground of this spacing, [is] this
wavering between perception and intellect which is fantasy . . . '(S)ocial
organization . . . imprints its constraint . . . through an ordering,' or a
series of . . . spacings."

And, now (to misrepresent Kristeva!): these spacings have to do with
an archaic disorder, traces of which still show through the
conventionalized, "patriarchal" order of learned language. The goal is to
find a way to introduce an imprint of the speaker as unique, material
individual, to offset the homogenizing, dematerialized, "weightless"
language of The Information Age. (Maria Damon?) Typographical spacing
is one such way.

Of course, I'm literalizing Julia. But it has that effect. Which may be why
you "laugh and laugh," Alan. Laughter always erupts over the returned
of the repressed. And the chora, with its irregular spacings, seems a
funny joke: text is supposed to run along in one big prose block (Law
of The Father), and poetry that is neatly trimmed into a sort of column of
type more closely approaches that safe monolith.