Blank Space 3

Silence is the acoustic space in which the poem makes its large echoes. If you want to test this write a single word on a blank sheet of paper and stare at it: note the superior attendance to the word the silence insists upon, and how it soon starts to draw out the word’s ramifying sense-potential, its etymological story, its strange acoustic signature, its calligraphic mark; you are reading a word as poetry. (Don Paterson, The Lyric Principal, The Sense of Sound, Poetry Review 97.2, 63).

Here, Paterson suggests that the self-aware special-ness of the poem is created by its being surrounded by silence and blankness. Once again there is the merging of sight and sound – pure blankness and silence. The blankness is not just something to be filled but an active component in the creation of the poem. The blank page is the friend of the poet allowing an infinite variety of form in the simple sense of shape. Philip Gross’ masterful command of space in his poems may be connected to an admiration for silence that comes from a Quaker faith. Consider the opening section of his poem, White Sheet.

Note to self: might have to work

to break the beauty of white pages:

not much gets conceived

on an unsullied sheet.


Might have to sweat it a bit – not,

not in bounden duty but

with all the ruthless lack

of circumspection


of pure play

The silence is beautiful but needs the sweat of words to create the play of silence and carefully chosen noise. Gross suggests a kind of ludic creativity at work in the forming of word and space. We have to break the beauty of the blank and yet we depend on it for our artfulness. And then the reader sees what has emerged from the careful and playful dance of the word and the space. There is still silence there. The space around, within and between the words stands as a sign for what has been achieved – a point made well by Paterson.

The white page is also a sign to the reader that our poems were won from silence, drawn out of it – when we went there, and sat in the as-yet-consonant-free breath of our inspiration, and begin to try and articulate the inarticulable, those beyond-words relations and feeling, and then were granted a few strange words that seemed to adhere to them. (Don Paterson, The Lyric Principal, The Sense of Sound, Poetry Review 97.2, 63)

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