Sequence (3)

Talk of sequence is all very well, some may argue, but is it even a valid concept in an era of hypertext? When websites are navigated by jumping around from link to link, why should the reader have to follow a single path throughout the poem? L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets will juxtapose “constellations” of unrelated language bits and pieces, where the reader becomes co-creator by filling in the gaps with possible meanings.

On a smaller scale, haiku has used a similar principle for centuries—setting two concrete images side by side that force the reader to leap dimensions to reach the third. In “Modernity and Postmodernism”, Charles Ess suggested rather than providing a bus tour, why not treat the reader as a lone hitchhiker with a backpack, as if to say, “go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do. What you put into the experience, what you put into your brain, what you put into your ‘trip’, is what you will get out of it.”

Indeed, if a poem is not descriptive, nor its thought meant to flow in a single line from beginning to end, the theme may work itself out sideways, setting up parallels or contrasts between stanzas. An example is Fred Cogswell’s “Classroom”:

         a great gust of words
          bends our student heads to one
          attentive level
          in the yard outside
          each flower shapes itself in the
          silence of the sun

In their three-line layouts, the two stanzas parallel each other. As well, each presents an image of a cluster: the students’ heads and the flowers. However, the stanzas differ in a series of contrasts: the “great gust of words” versus the “silence of the sun”, the indoor classroom versus the outside yard, the human students versus the natural flowers, the massed heads bent and obedient versus each flower’s individual freedom to find its own form. In other words, the second stanza does not continue the thought of the first in a straight line, but tit for tat, counters each of its elements—a “poetic hypertext”.