Hey, writers! Please welcome hybrid writer Heather Sargent to DarWrites! Heather specializes in weaving poetry and prose – her work is really cool and I think you’ll like her advice on “The Space Between Words!” Take it away, Heather!
The Space Between Words by Heather Sargent
I’ve been thinking lately about how words matter. Or should it be how much words matter? Not just words in general, but the choice of words and the order in which they are arranged. Lately, it seems, people hang on every word, analyzing it for its truest meaning. As writers, especially poets, this is a familiar struggle. Every word has a job, every syllable must work for its space. Today, I want to talk about words, the arrangement of letters and spaces that create a structure to frame our thoughts and in so doing, create a way for us to communicate them to others.
I am reminded of two books I read last year for grad school. The first is For Want and Sound, by Melissa Buzzeo. Without going into the purpose of the book, because that is not the point here, I want to talk about how she questions the sentence. In the introduction, Rob Halpern asks an important question: “How is one to communicate a sentence whose subject wants more than grammar allows?” I thought about this while reading Buzzeo’s book and found myself wrestling with questions of my own and wrote an annotation that was essentially my questions in a poetic structure – which is absent here.
I am haunted. Undone. But I don’t know why. Can a sentence hold a story? Does it have its own agenda? Is it not still bound by rule, contained within some structure? The story follows a breeze. Or is it a storm? How do you hold the wind? the story? How do I tell you? the meaning? the measure to which the poetry has entered me? It has changed me. Can you see? Within these lines, these sentences.
Is it there?
Or is it like a deconstruction of post-structuralism? Within which there still lie rules. Say the same sentence, in a different language and the sound separates. Say the same sentence, by different people even the same person on another day and the inflections separate. We bring in our own emotions of the day, that moment, different from every other day. The sentence can only be the same once.
And in this same fashion, even as it is written here, it is different than I wrote it then. It was poetry then, separated by lines where something breaks, as Jenny Boully notes in her book, The Body: An Essay. The purpose was different then too, I wrote it then as I pondered what a sentence can contain. I reshape it now for you, so you may consider the same but not get caught up in where the line breaks for me. We each have our own ways of making meaning and I want to open a door for you to explore a room as you see it, not one of my construction. This thought brings me to Boully’s book, the second book I was reminded of, which I mentioned just a moment ago.
This curious little book is all about a body with no text. The whole thing is written in footnotes and negative space. The top of each page has varying amounts of negative space which became very loud as I read. What started as a curiosity turned into near obsession as I pondered what was in this space. There was nothing there. Or nothingness. Or maybe nothing was there. Do you see how each of these sentences invoke a bit of a different meaning?
As writers, we might ask what is Boully’s point here? We deal in the realm of bodies of work. Why would she leave this space blank? Is it a placeholder for the body? What is she saying by leaving it out? Is the body not important? Perhaps what really matters is the annotation of the body, which is essentially her work in this book. Or maybe the point is that there can be nothing without the body. Perhaps it matters what is in this space, perhaps it doesn’t, but one thing becomes clear: it forces the focus elsewhere.
What if Boully’s work is a code to better understand the body, but only with the body. Perhaps without the body the work is meaningless, or perhaps meaning less. Out of all the slivers of brilliance in Boully’s work, my favorite remains: “I know now why the line breaks: it is because something dies, and elsewhere, is born again …” Perhaps when the body dies, it can be reborn in the annotations left behind.
When you write, think about your words, your sentences, your body. Consider each of these alone and in relation to each other. Are you stuck in a particular spot? What would happen if you drew a line in the space that stops you and moved on outside of that space? Come back to it later and see if you have answers for what belongs there. Depending on what you write, maybe the answers are not yours to find. Let the work breathe, especially when it steps outside of a traditional genre or grammatical rule. It doesn’t mean it must stay that way. It also doesn’t mean it must conform. Play around with these elements and see what else is there, in the spaces left behind.
Heather Sargent is a freelance writer and mother who believes in the motivating power of coffee and deadlines. Her work has been published in the Sasquatch Review and more recently in The Pitkin Review. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College where she was also an Associate Editor for The Pitkin Review. You can find her at: Heather Sargent.