By Natalie Çelebi
Photo : Blue Painting by Wassily Kandinsky
To the poet, the line straddles a nexus of beginnings and ends– at once a breath drawn and a final exhale. Likewise, to the visual artist, the line deftly asserts and differentiates. Lately, I’ve wondered about the line, its sojourn into physical and conceptual space. There’s no denying–it gets around. But what does it do? What are its means as a constructive basis across these two disciplines?
Every poem leaves the trace of an invisible mover; under whose careful craft do these black strokes soar across the page, under whose charge do these ants march left to right?
Though lines are more often obscured in visual art, they serve as a similar constructive basis, leaving the scent of a not dissimilar mover. The intuitive drawing of the line is more divisive than we might initially think– an assertion, literally, against white space, an observation of illustration as opposed to blankness. This same tension, procured by the line, is readily observable in poetry. The white space of the page and the black text of the line exist simultaneously– the voice of the poem and the silence of the page are at once actualized. It is then the reader who traverses these silences and their acquittals.
The simultaneous assertion of these oppositions, this paradox, is in part the life of the poem, and the primary source of its constructive tensions. That a human scrawling can exist amongst an invisible order– or at the very least, a voice out of what might otherwise be deemed silence– asserts a tension around which art finds itself uncompromisingly gathered.
It is worth observing also that in the simplest visual terms, the line in poetry is a horizontal line. In his famous treatise Point and Line to Plane, Wassily Kandisnky writes that in the human imagination the horizontal line “corresponds to the line or plane upon which the human being stands or moves.” This perhaps is the most poetic basis on which to build our impressions of the poem’s structural nature and the purpose of the line; to stand, to move.
Though up from what does it stand? From what is it spurred into motion? It may suffice for now to say that poetry moves from and out of the invisible. The artist’s often indefinable inspiration, contextual mysteries within the writing, the mysterious arrival of a poem itself may all be things which signify and constitute these invisible points. Regardless, the line articulates these invisibilities and furthermore, it moves both at the joining and in the wake of their connection. It is the basis on which a poem is propelled logically and tonally, the poem’s vastness cocooned also in each line.
A line, in works of visual art, encompasses this same ethos of movement, a visible articulation of invisible points, toward which they are joined into critical parts of a whole. It is here in motion from the point to the line that Kandinsky notes, “the leap out of the static into the dynamic occurs.”
Some poets believe the line is breath; the syllabic spell of iambic pentameter was originally meant to encompass the measure of a single breath. Poets who write in projective verse–Jorie Graham, Barbara Guest, Ocean Vuong (to name a few contemporaries) – make white space an even more integral part of the line, so one measures the cosmos of the poem visually as well as linguistically, thematically, and the breath between each abstract term, each ‘line,’ becomes enveloped by this basis of survival: breath.
The lines of a painting or drawing may be more numerous than the lines of a poem, but each of them carry respectively the same necessity; each is air to their respective body. Both the poem and the drawing obscure the line, transform it, expound upon it, and when undressed, can also be brought to it, distilled in its brave and necessary insistence to move, to speak.
Temporalities should also be considered– the line as a unit of motion is also necessarily one of time. In Medieval times, before paper was easily procured, there existed a mode of recycling whereupon writing was scraped or washed off animal hides to be reused. These collective documents, called palimpsests, exemplify a unison among the disparate, containing not only the contents of a present document but traces and shades of previous writings.
It is through the destruction and transformation of the line that a painting contains and expounds upon its own past. Drawing then itself earns a kind of palimpsestic quality, past records of the line destroyed and transformed by the artist, quipped into form. It is called a pentimento in painting where earlier drafts haunt the final work and these spectral lines again reemerge.
Poetry, too, is a picture of palimpsests and pentimenti. When writing or reading a poem, there is a feeling one is impressing and being impressed upon by previous voices; who–yet again–are these invisible movers? Whether they be an engagement with the work’s previous selves, or with voices of the past at large—a work of art is always in conversation with its predecessors; an inky palimpsestic chorus, worn and feathered lines flanking each written word, each emerging shadow and shape. Between the two
disciplines lies yet another convergence; the past, and present, in all its looming candor, is on the line