Sandra Alcosser on Brevity

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

-Ezra Pound, “In a Station of the Metro”

It was worth flying back and getting a short night of sleep last night to hear Sandra Alcosser speak about brevity in poetry this morning. I am no stranger to shortness–my most recently published poem (Askew, Issue 3) is eight lines long, the longest line being eleven syllables.

But Sandra really spoke to what makes a poem compelling, independent of length, focusing in particular on the technique of diaphoric metaphor. She explained that diaphoric metaphor was taken up in American letters after the opening up of Eastern culture to the West, when Asian literature became available for translation. This method creates energy in a poem through juxtaposition of dissimilar lines to create new meaning. In a sense such associations strike me as the essence of creative thought. In its modern presentation, however, the approach comes unburdened with the conceits (“is” or “is like” or “as”) of its sibling, epiphoric metaphor.

In my own work, I started out–as I learned today that apparently the ancient Chinese poet Li Ho did as well–collecting individual lines to stitch together. This technique seems to naturally focus itself around compelling imagery (though the music can often be just as important). Alcosser also pointed out that if post-modernism is a kind of “random-access literature,” this technique of stitching together diaphoric juxtapositions represents “random-access observations for a random-access world.” Depending, therefore, upon the intensity of the leap–and whether the valence of the line tends more toward imagery/music/rhetoric or language itself as an elemental tool–this technique seems to me to be well-suited to both the personal lyric and the bold avant garde.

Sandra’s is a voracious creative intelligence that is always a pleasure to behold. I am looking forward to having her be my faculty advisor in the coming semester.