Empty or Full?

So. The blank space of the page/screen. Now empty now full. A space to fill with words that gets defined by the words or a seething endless presence of everything that has been written before. Which of these threatens the writer more and how to make the geography of a poem out of it?

I have been reading the Canadian poet, Nicole Brossard’s book Intimate Journal. Brossard is a brilliant observer of language and manages to combine words in orders that jump in and out of sense in remarkable ways. In Intimate Journal she reflects on blankness repeatedly.

“The blanks, what are called white spaces, are in fact so full of thoughts, words, sensations, hesitations and audacities that it can all be translated only by a tautology, by another blank, a visual one. It is  in the white space that anybody who writes, trembles, dies, and is reborn. Before and after the blank space everything goes well, because there is the text. And it fills up a life so well, a text does! Every text is a sample, that is to say a small amount displayed in order to give an idea of the whole.”

Nicole Brossard, Intimate Journal, (Mercury, Toronto) 2004, p65

Here Brossard’s text reflects the fullness of blank space found in Deleuze’s account of Bacon. The blank space is a presence that is full and overflowing – it is the space where everything happens. I wonder if this is what Jo Shapcott is reflecting on in The Black Page from Of Mutability? (2010). In this poem a page is black, not white, it is inky and portentous. It is the “dark portrait/of a rectangular mouth”. You can fall into it and swim in the ink. This, combined with a sense of afterlife suggests a full, rather than empty blankness.

And blank space as white space can also be full as white is made up of all the colours. Returning to Brossard she see-saws between blank as full and blank as empty.

“…one can never say everything. There are gaps, spaces. Blanks are inevitable. In painting, in music, in writing, the white space is de rigueur. The blank space is inseparable from fiction and from reality. Through the white space we engage the circumstances of writing as if entering into the invisibility of our thoughts. Others call white the void we need to fill in order to get to know society. Or again white, the vibrant luminosity that is eventually separated into the vividness of anecdotal colours, Blank of absence, white of full presence.” Intimate Journal, pages 72-73

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One Response to Empty or Full?

  1. Jo Shapcott says:

    I love your thoughts about ‘The Black Page’ and the full, inky afterlife. The poem has a back story, too: it was commissioned by the Laurence Sterne Trust at Shandy Hall to celebrate p. 73 of Tristram Shandy – the famous black page marking the death of Parson Yorick. There was an exhibition at Shandy Hall of all the black pages contributed – http://www.laurencesternetrust.org.uk/exhibition.php?id=42.

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