The line, for a poet, locates the gesture of longing brought into language. It is the visual enactment of perspective and difference. Whether that point of view rests primarily in musical voiced units or invented visual clusters,the line reveals a great deal - intentionally so, when it is visibly notating the moving path of a poet's discovering intelligence or, unintentionally, when it is merely repeating or echoing agreed-upon codes of "right" music, "serious" subjects, or "well-crafted" metric constraints.
A poem whose line breaks adhere to these comfortably established systems can hope for easier access to the literary community, the canon; that poem has well-programmed scanners, advocates of the known, ready to recognize its virtues.
Alas. The poet whose oeuvre is essentially spent in emulating, catching up with, and achieving a repetition of the known has got to be swallowed by her own accommodating shadow; there is very small chance of repeating the particular brilliance of the original master's work and still remaining free to imagine her own experience in new formal terms. For the masterpiece, the poem admired and held up through time and still setting us aquiver with anxiety and delight, unknowning and - ah! - disturbed acknowledgment, is a poem in which its author was able largely to deny or push beyond the outside world of acceptable, over-used, blunted and bullying language usage and to attend, instead, to some dangerous and intimate region of the unsaid.
The poetic line is a primary defining place, the site of watchfulness where we discover how we hear ourselves take in the outside world and tell it back to ourselves. There are very few great poets whohave not taken chances with the line, perceived it as a tool for reassembling language to a new order - one's own, at that moment.
For this reason, the frame of the page, the measure of the line, has provided for many contemporary women poets the difficult pleaseure of reinventing the givens of poetry, imagining in visual, structural terms core states of female social and psychological experience not yet adequately tracked: hesitancy, silencing or speechlessness, continuous disruption of time, "illogical" resistance, simultaneous perception, social marginality.
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One may admire [prosody] and at the same time feel a sudden silence of resistance descending, if one is a woman trying to give shape to her own experiences, yet perceiving that almost all the models being held up to her have been created largely out of male privilege and assumed access to public speech. The confidence that existing poem forms cover the essential and important areas of human experience is a troubling barrier to the discovery of new formal possibilities.
Given this resistance, how have contemporary women poets visualized, structurally, that marginal and unspoken region they claim as difference? After Emily [Dickinson],the modernist women writers provided the next maps and notations. H.D. introduced the concept of the palimpsest: writing "on top of" other writing which, through time and benign or active neglect, has been imperfectly erased, defaced, lost; this moment in history is re-inscribed over the fading or dimming messages of a female collective consciousness, a spiritual and erotic set of valuings essentially ignored by the dominant culture.
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Resistance is an ongoing condition-of-being for most women poets . . . the inability to say how it is or not wanting to say, because what wants to be said and "who" wants saying can't be expressed with appropriate tonal or spatial complexity in confident, firm assertions, cheered on by witty end-rhymes or taut lines marching with left-margin precision down the page. What wants to be said is both other and of "the other world." It wants words and worlds to be registered in their multiple perspectives, not simply his or yours.