Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Computers have revealed to us
that prose
has never existed
if we define prose
as text written
line breaks.
This makes sense
since most people recognize
that almost nobody
speaks in prose,
grammatically correct prose.
With computers now
we can actually have text without line breaks,
we can have left-to-right scrolling
with computer texts.
So-called prose writers
have always relied on
to decide on the line breaks.
But if a printer were to
print a book
on pages so wide that they would accommodate whole paragraphs,
which are the only line breaks that the the so-called prose writers put in themselves,
if a printer were to print these super-wide pages
with one line per paragraph,
people would go bananas.
People would hate it.
People love line breaks.
They just like to pretend that
the line breaks don't matter.
And I guess they don't
as long as they're there.
One of these days I'm going to figure out how to print some prose
with a paragraph per line
just to show people
how much they love poetry.
I don't expect gratitude for this revelation --
the idea of people being grateful for learning this about themselves makes me chuckle --
but I have to admit
that gratitude would be nice.
Typesetters have been the most important poets
in the age of prose.
They've decided on
print size and page width
and that has determined line lengths.
I know I get nervous when paragraphs go on too long.
I like that breath at the end of the paragraph
and if I can't see the paragraph's end
I worry that I won't be able to hold my breath that long,
not that I literally hold my breath to read a paragraph --
it's a psychological thing
and I don't think it's uncommon.
A friend of mine who used to teach prose writing in college
used to bust me for my long paragraphs,
telling me that people don't like
long paragraphs.
Which is funny
because since I started writing
poems on the computer
for my blog
I've decided on a,
an, rather,
an endless scrolling stanza
in honor of the computer scroll,
the computer's scrolling function.
I sometimes think about gathering
computer poems
into a collection
and ideally
I would collect them onto
a long long scroll.
I got to thinking about
the poetics of prose
because sometimes
in these
computer poems
I've put some
passages without line breaks
and simply relied on the
screen width
to generate the line breaks.
I could modify this blogging program
so that it could accommodate
lines without breaks
where the reader would have to
scroll left to right
for the prose-like passages
but I probably won't.

Hi John - that's funny to me at the moment, because I got a Kindle in March, and I love it and read everything on it that I can. But one thing I'm finding is that I panic slightly if I click to the next page and the paragraph is so long that there's no paragraph break. In the one-screen-at-a-time world of the Kindle, it's a little like being lost at sea. Those paragraph breaks are points of orientation that become (even) more important than they do in a book. Yours, Kyle
Interesting question to open up. John. Early poems were written down without punctuation or linebreaks, but the rhyme or alliteration pattern showed where the lines ended (early ms. versions of Beowulf, for example). Seems like we need some kind of rhythmic units, but they don't have to be created only by white space.

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