I feel as if this whole idea of the Sabbath, and the idea of rest, is built into poetry. The greatest Sabbath, the greatest peace, and the most mysterious rest that we can find in language is the rest at the end of a line; that pause at the end of a line is the most mysterious rest, or the most mysterious peace, or Sabbath, in the world. It’s all about the pauses, and it’s all about the rests. When we write poems, that’s what we’re working with, that’s the real medium, the rests between words, between two lines, between stanzas. All those rests, I feel like those are versions of Sabbath. By rest, I don’t mean flaccid rest, something dead, but I mean something that is very full, full of meaning, and full of decision. I’m thinking now of between words and at the ends of lines in poems that go anywhere, so it’s full of myriad directions and surprise and at the same time, resolution, and fullness, and emptiness, and, on the one hand, it’s full of expectation. So it’s full of Parousia. Full of waiting, on the one hand, and full of deep answering. And so I feel as if, when we write poems and we wrestle with line endings, we’re wrestling with spiritual matters.
This is an entirely new way of thinking about lines and line breaks for me, and it's blowing my mind just a tiny little bit. (And interestingly enough, Li-Young Lee is coming here to read in a couple of weeks, so now I have a bit of something extra to listen for in his reading.)
When I took modern dance, lo these many years ago, there was a position my teacher called "constructive rest." It was a position of controlled relaxation, with limbs placed in positions where the pull of gravity would train them into good habits and work to stretch and limber them.
I think that periods of not-writing can, if you do it with thoughtful attention, serve as "constructive rest" too, and can be "full of meaning, and full of decision" as Lee says. What I love about what he says here is incorporating the idea of mystery -- which, when I took a workshop with Lucia Perillo a couple of years ago, was an idea she kept returning to and felt like something I needed to pay attention to. I once knew someone who was a new-age/psychic/spiritual worker, and she conducted a series of workshops called "Mystery School" -- and though I wasn't drawn to her particular spiritual path, I always have liked the idea of "mystery" in its religious or spiritual significance. Especially, I like the idea of accepting mystery, embracing the questions that can never be answered, embracing the very answerlessness of them. (My god, is that a word?)
But thinking about all this specifically in connection with the line-break ... thinking of the line-break as a measurable unit of not-writing, of constructive rest, of mystery and readiness -- a moment filled simultaneously with the mystery of silence and the intentionality of the poem.
And, of course, there is the rest in music as well, which is an essential part of the language of rhythm and time. Rhythm, like the heartbeat; and time, like mortality. And we're back to spirituality again.
I swear I'm not a religious woman, but my poetry sometimes feels it necessary to contradict me.