The Substance of Space

Just as I am picky about the logic of line breaks, spaces in the middle of poetic lines often leave me wondering. Are they visual suggestions of something forgotten, unwanted, or better left unsaid? A slip of the finger on the keyboard? Might they even represent a gasp? If no reason is clear, are they just trying to make the poem look avant-garde?

What a delight when Tara Borin’s powerful poem “Midwinter Walk at the End of the World” recently appeared on The League of Canadian Poets’ Poetry Pause. The spaces were so large and well placed, it was hard to dismiss them as accident, sloppiness, or affectation. Indeed, they demanded the reader pay attention to something important, conceptually and emotionally. The poem begins:
          I walk my grief along a river
          that should be stopped by ice

With the third line comes a massive space before the end two words:

                                                                       but isn’t

How forcefully the brevity, bluntness, and last-word position emphasize the immensity of death that not even ice can conquer.

Lines four and five continue with another but less grand space, contrasting the relative powerlessness of the attempt to slow the river, and making the pain of straining to do so almost palpable as the eye is caught in the gap before “reaching”:

          dark channel of open water
          slow build of shelf ice           reaching
          across the dark swirling distance 

The effectiveness of such focused spaces continues throughout the poem. But rather than more of my enthusiastic analysis, experience the poem in its entirety and feel the grief, especially in the poignancy of the final two lines.