September 30th, 2006

ozarque figure

Linguistics; stylistics; making choices in poetry; part two...

Topic today: making choices in poetry through patterning for the eye. I'm going to work only with the original version of the woman-as-person/woman-as-property verse -- not because I consider it the best version but because (a) any of the versions will do for this topic, (b) it will save space, and (c) because I wrote it myself I won't be tampering with someone else's intellectual property. I can only give the topic a lick and a promise (doing it properly takes at least a weekend at a blackboard, or a book chapter, and you wouldn't put up with either of those things voluntarily).

There's one type of patterning for the eye that isn't relevant here, but has to be mentioned for completeness' sake: the "shape" poem. For example, you could write a poem about a sailboat and arrange the lines on the page in such a way that they have the shape of a sailboat. (Shape poems are very common in religious verse, and I'd be inclined toward them if I wrote Cowboy Poetry.) If there were some established icon instantly recognizable as referring to "metaphor," I would have that option for this poem -- but there isn't. Once past the shape poem, the major purpose of patterning for the eye is -- in my opinion -- to help the poet control the pace at which the poem is read. For an extreme example, a poet who scatters the words all over the page in no recognizable pattern ordinarily does that to slow the reading down drastically, or to make multiple different readings possible, or both.

The original version of the verse -- the prototype -- goes like this:

"If raping a woman is a sexual offense,
you need a prison.
If raping a woman is a crime of property,
you only need to make a deal."

I can pattern that as I've done above, or I can set it as couplets...

6. "If raping a woman is a sexual offense, you need a prison.
If raping a woman is a crime of property, you only need to make a deal."

Or I can set it as triplets...

7. "If raping a woman
is a sexual offense,
you need a prison.

If raping a woman
is a crime of property,
you only need to make a deal."

I can break the lines differently....

8. "If raping a woman is
a sexual offense, you need
a prison.
If raping a woman is
a crime of property, you only
need to make a deal."

Any of those changes will change the path the reader takes through the poem, and will slow down or speed up the reading in various ways; the poet tries to choose the version that will get the reading the poet prefers.

I'm going to discuss only one choice explicitly -- space reasons again. English poetry customs allow a poet to start each new line of verse with a capital letter, even when if the sequence were prose that would be a major Punctuation Violation. It seems like a very minor matter, something you'd do just because you like doing it. But it has a specific effect on the reading: It emphasizes the line breaks and slows the reading fractionally. The capital letter, placed where there wouldn't be one in speech or in prose, calls attention to itself and says "Reader, this is a new line!" I would only do that if I wanted to make that happen. If only that one change is made in the X-version, it looks like this:

9. "If raping a woman is a sexual offense,
You need a prison.
If raping a woman is a crime of property,
You only need to make a deal."

(And -- accidentally -- the capital letter emphasizes the word "You" and nudges readers toward identifying themselves as the "you" in question. I'd only do that if it were my deliberate intention; I wouldn't do it accidentally.)


Lickety-split, you perceive....
ozarque figure

Linguistics; stylistics; making choices in poetry; part two -- postscript

Oops.... forgotten chunk:

I would prefer to set the verse we're discussing, and all the others, as triplets; I think it's more effective that way. But if I wanted to publish the poem that would be a bad strategy, because it would make it much longer, and it's hard to find a publishing home for long poems. Poets who want to publish, rather than writing just for themselves, have to pitch marketing concerns into their stylistics...
ozarque figure

Personal note...

I don't know how many of you have toured the "Top 50" Live Journal sites -- perhaps all of you, for all I know. I've been doing that tour over the past few days, a few at a time, and it has certainly been disconcerting. What it all means, I have no idea... The 50 links are at http://lj.portos.ru .