Thursday, March 8, 2012

Elizabeth Alexander, Twitter Poetics & White Space

Elizabeth Alexander's project featuring teeny tiny twitter poems involves more than simply poetry. Alexander has also been publishing statements known as "Twitter Poetics" that offer her "ongoing observations on the process of writing in new forms and contexts." Alexander's statements have provided readers with the unique opportunity of viewing a notable black writer's serialized observations about the writing process.

In her first twitter poetic statement, Alexander noted, "Instead of the line break & white space that follows is the slash: bold, but no white space for the poem to breathe in." Here, Alexander suggests the challenge of limited space when producing poems for twitter. Her statement also laments the absence of white space.

Reading Alexander's observation about the lack of a place for "the poem to breathe in" led me to look back on her volumes of poetry for an alternative view. "The Last Quatrain," the final poem in Alexander's "Amistad" series, demonstrates how she utilizes an open area of the page to convey distinct ideas. The three-line poem reads:
and where now

and what now

the black white space.
What follows is the large and blank white space of the page suggesting the many open, unwritten possibilities concerning the Amistad in future histories. There was no space between each line of the "The Last Quatrain" when it was initially published in The South Atlantic Quarterly. But, Alexander made sure that white spaces were included in the revised versions, which appeared in American Sublime and Crave Radiance.  

That white space seems almost like a minor detail, a non-issue even until we begin thinking on Alexander's observations about the importance of its absence and how space creates room for a poem to breathe.

Elizabeth Alexander Week

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