Sunday, February 25, 2007


Line Measure
Measure is any notable feature in a poem that is repeatable and whose repetitions and modifications have a rhythmical effect. Traditionally this has been restricted to the counting of stressed syllables within one line, which relegates the line to being the result of this choice. However, the line itself has measure, especially in free-verse, and contemporary poetry is rich in examples of line-measured poems.

The measure of the line can still be dictated by the words or syllables within it, for example poets like Ashbery, Schuyler, Silliman and Raworth composing poems based either on one or two words, or on a strict number of words per line. However, increasingly the visual appearance of the line and its rhythmical impact, what we call the graphematic side of the poem, has been foregrounded. Thus a poet might adopt the triadic foot of William Carlos Williams where the line is fragmented into three sections which move across and down the page like three steps. Rachel Blau duPlessis' Toll is one of the best recent examples of this as is Charles Bernstein's Parsing.

The important element of the line-measure is that it is a rhythmical effect of the line itself as a semiotic unit that is central and if one is going to count one must count lines rather than words or syllables. Line measure can operate in the following basic ways: -the line becomes reduced to the point where each word or mark is a line -the number of lines in the poem is controlled and extended over a sequence where this limitation produces a rhythm such as in my own "theseecstasies" where the measure is nine -the visual rhythm of lines in space is exploited -the line becomes extended to a point where it can neither be spoken out loud in one breath or held in the mind as a single semantic unit -a combination of features makes the line a part of the fabric of the poetic field or page at which juncture the measure of line becomes part of a visual, rhythmic interchange between marks and space in a visual field. The line-measure has a fundamental relationship with the importance of the line-break in contemporary poetic practice.
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