By Shannon DeNatale
How would you define a beautiful poetic moment? Does it have identifiable qualities? When I read poetry, I trust the writer as I engage in the language, on the language’s terms. This trust in the language, devotedly, is the space where beauty has a chance to emerge. As the writer leads me through the piece, it is my role as a reader to determine if this leading was done convincingly. This leading can be done through line breaks. Choosing where the reader must stop, and start again, is essential in guiding the breath and then consequently, the momentum of the poem. Another way of leading is through stylized syntax. The structure of a sentence defines its meaning and its emphasis, thus guiding the reader’s attention.
The poetry of Walt Whitman is often noted by its long and enjambed lines. I sometimes see this as something syrupy, spilling from one line to this next, propelling itself forward by its own content. For example, in the middle of section VI of “Song of Myself” Whitman writes, “The smallest sprout shows there is really no death, / And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end / to arrest it, / And ceased the moment life appeared.” These four lines make up one sentence. However, this one sentence feels long, it feels vastly informative, thorough and engaging. The enjambment of the lines creates tension and release, which ultimately propels us, the reader, forward. This is what I find beautiful, the careful guiding of the reader through the poem.
Tommy Pico’s book of poetry titled Junk guides the reader persuasively with its stylized syntax. This 72-page book is made up of one large poem, punctuated sparsely with commas and question marks, ultimately ending with an unpunctuated line on the bottom of page 72. Similar to Whitman, Pico’s run-on sentences do not sound like one long idea, but instead, they feel clear and distinct. Pico’s layering of ideas without ample end punctuation means each idea needs to build meaning as well as move the language forward into something new, never redundant. The choice to omit smooth and thorough transitions between ideas creates this aforementioned creative space in which beauty emerges, and we as readers, are persuasively guided. This is where carefully crafted syntax must be used. For example, on page 1 of Junk, Pico writes:
Everything that can cross I am crossing: eyes arms shoulders Back to bed, come back here The air is heavy feathers in mid - summer, literally and metaphorically in my foul apt above the chicken slaughterhouse where we wheeze awake Yr bangs look real perf n coiled strangely I smell like horror burgers n you smell like lavender doves and all the best stuff Yr comforting
The powers of language and syntax are apparent. Each of the speaker’s ideas are stacked upon the previous one without much in between. Instead, each idea begins with confidence. Each idea is phrased in a way that serves the singular idea best and does not speak in reference to the last one. In terms of syntax, each idea lives independently from the ones preceding and following it. However, each idea’s content builds poetically, creating a larger meaning and context.