Reflective spaces

Many years back, I spent awhile researching and pondering the ways time can play out in a poem. I fully intended to spend another couple of years developing theory on space in poetry, but that essay never came about. Life diverted me from literary scholarship and criticism, and that’s alright. I never was very good at scholarship.

The idea, however, returned to me recently in one of those by-the-by moments; I had been writing to a friend about revisions and was re-reading Plath’s Ariel (the version with the facsimile pages and also drafts of the title poem and of “The Swarm”). I noticed that, from her earliest hand-written drafts, Plath chose to write “Ariel” in three-line stanzas–and that was something she did not revise or alter in any of her subsequent drafts.

Interesting. Stanza length happens to be one of the aspects of a draft I am most likely to change when revising. Stanzas being the little rooms of the poem, it seems the spaces between stanzas play, usually, a more than visual role in the best poems…well, that got me thinking about space in the poem and somehow led to thinking what poems offer. Why we read and write them, even in the 21st century.

Explicitly: The poem is a space for reflection. In the space of the poem, a reader can expand perspective or feel resonance, as in a concert hall; or find a mirroring of the reader’s self (reflection); or, in a critical sense, the reader can reflect upon the poem’s topic, context, argument, content, imagery, craft, language, or beauty. The space of the poem urges response and responsiveness. Poems are not rooms built solely by and for the writer but built of the circumstances and for the reader, too.

What poetry means, in terms of reflection, is that the response can be reflective of the reader’s space, as well as the writer’s. I know that I have had different responses/readings of the same poem depending upon the place I was in while reading it (emotional, physical, contextual “place”). Different kinds of mirrors reflect different visual images. The lighting matters. The time of day. The mood. All of those are spaces, metaphorically or actually. Different stanzaic rooms, different poetic rooms–ready for a reader’s exploration.

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5 comments on “Reflective spaces

  1. Mark S says:

    Hi Ann, I enjoyed this article. I have been thinking about the idea that there is the poet, the poem, and the reader. And that each one plays a role in the interpretation of the poem. I really like the idea of the stanzas as the space, or room, for reflection.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ruth Marcon says:

    Hi Ann–I’m always interested in your writing and your insights. And I love your image of stanzas being the little rooms of the poem. I think back on our Circle of Women Writers that Susan Weaver led. Glad to have had that time with you and the other women–and Norm. Wishing you well and good health in this new year.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am currently putting poems into a ms and reflecting on how they work together; in the process I’ve realized that a LOT of poems from the last year are in long blocks, and I’m trying to very that. So yes to stanza shapes being a major area of revision for me, too!

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  4. Yes, so true! I often wish I could do more of this in my novel composition.


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