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Filtering by Tag: Adie Smith


Adie Kleckner

old-gate The grammarian Roy Peter Clark refers to the semicolon as “a gate that stands between two thoughts, a barrier that forces separation but invites you to pass through to the other side.” It is a punctuation of subtlety that has plagued college freshmen for years. Wouldn’t a period be more succinct? A comma more enlarging?

To think about semicolons, one must first think about what punctuation does—it organizes thoughts into units. Punctuation creates rooms for ideas to fill. Some rooms have windows (coma) and some doors (period). Long, dark hallways (ellipses) that are frequented by angsty teenagers uncomfortable with conforming to one particular room. And there is Clark’s meadow and the gate that swings.

Two months ago I married my husband, packed up my books, and moved across the country. Marriage was a relief; engagement, and its obligation for transformation, was exhausting. I should be more excited, more blushing, but I was terrified. I’m sure it is something akin to what a tadpole feels as its tale begins to shrink and nubs of legs begin to sprout. Will she be as good at living above water as below? Lungs bring new dangers.

Not all joinings are the same. In woodworking, there are dovetail joints, finger joints, tongue and groove, birdsmouth joint, and stitch and glue. The dimensional stability of the construction must be considered; what holds the materials best. The semicolon indicates both connection and separation, and in this way, it could also be a hinge. Two parts working in conjunction, opening and closing, leaving and returning, but sharing a pin.

Perhaps in this way, the semicolon is also always filled with unrequited desire.

The semicolon is Like a sperm forever frozen in its yearning towards an ovum, like a tadpole swimming upstream to rouse the moon’s dropped coin —Maurya Simon

This particular punctuation mark seeks a connection that is not realized in itself. A connection that occurs in the reader’s mind. It is two objects placed side by side on a shelf. The twin lenses of a pair of binouculars that magnify in parts to show the whole.

At our wedding, we read Jane Hirshfield’s “For What Binds Us.” Hirshfield saves the semicolon for the last stanza, in which a long love is both a scar and a fabric—something both broken and healed and woven together. Something made strong by perpendicular threads. And by brokenness.

here are names for what binds us: strong forces, weak forces. Look around, you can see them: the skin that forms in a half-empty cup, nails rusting into the places they join, joints dovetailed on their own weight. The way things stay so solidly wherever they’ve been set down— and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And when two people have loved each other see how it is like a scar between their bodies, stronger, darker, and proud; how the black cord makes of them a single fabric that nothing can tear or mend.

If there was going to be a punctuation of matrimony, I would argue for the semicolon. It can be broken—an independent clause packing up her things and leaving for her own, punctuated space—but it is a joint of flexibility. It allows ideas to be separate from each other, to be in meadows, rather than rooms. It is equal. It is two ideas working towards a unified argument. It is the punctuation of striving.

The Internet: The Least Final Frontier

Adie Kleckner

15 Space Jam Late at night in the mid 1990s, I dialed into the World Wide Web for the first time.

With an unmapped continent at my fingertips, I first discovered the familiar: I downloaded the opening credits of my favorite television show, PBS’s Wishbone. (I was 7 years old.)

I didn’t know it then, but that pixelated and drag ridden video revealed one of the Internet’s greatest gifts—immortality. Here, in the backlit glow, we can live forever.

With each round of Webby awards, the constraints of the Internet are challenged and acknowledged. We are in awe of our human endeavors. We circumnavigate the world from our rectangular screens. Just this morning, I saw photographs of Antarctica, I read my favorite New York Times article from 2010 about Eddie Feibusch and his zipper business, I watched Nicole Kidman’s monologue from the 1999 film, Eyes Wide Shut.

But amid all of this progress, the website for the movie Space Jam has never been updated or decommissioned. Michael Jordan is still teaming up with the Looney Toons to take prevent an alien invasion. I can still download a limited edition Space Jam cursor. We are trapped in a timeless time. The past continues alongside the present and future. Nothing is a limited edition. Nothing ends.

In my newest obsession, Gimlet’s podcast, Reply All, Alex Goldman and PJ Vogt dig deep into a story about the Internet. Their episodes run the gambit of subject matter, which more than anything else is a testament to the diversity and evolution of the net. With each episode, something that is so familiar, something I use everyday and am using right now (and so are you), is made mysterious. It is like that first time again, waiting for the dial-up tone to open like a door.

Isn’t this the same mystery I experience when the sunlight falls on my floor in an unusual pattern, when an iridescent beetle crosses my path, when the clouds clear and the moon hangs heavy and low and orange? It’s a joy of discovery. Of feeling, for a moment, like the only person alive. Of pushing to the next best thing and knowing your footsteps will trail behind you.

Our cyber fingerprints are on everything, but it is the sense of wonder and discovery that is the gift. It is fleeting. It is mysterious.

Thoughts from the Air

Adie Kleckner

clouds-from-aircraft Early in June, I flew out to Tacoma, Washington for the weekend. It was a short trip—21 hours of travel, including a red-eye return flight, for three days vacation.

Once the anticipation of arriving wore thin and the in-flight movie began, I settled in to the wait. I pulled out a novel too thick to read anywhere else. I looked out the window. I shifted my weight and tried to not bump the elbow of the person sitting to my right.

The disorder of familiar streets, rutted and potholed roads, are orderly from the air. The stitches are lined-up and straight. But the order of the air is also a kind of disorder—the sprawl of human passions is insignificant when compared to the breadth of the horizon. Not to mention the limitless space overhead. The pattern of the trees and rocks is more timeless then anything we can construct.

I didn’t notice when the dusty Texas high plain replaced the luscious green of the Mississippi river valley. Roads wound like termite trails in wood.

In the 1960s and 70s, Georgia O’Keefe was inspired by an airplane flight to paint a series of paintings depicting the view from the window. Instead of a ceilingless sky that is a blue so deep it has weight enough to fill the crevasses of desert valleys and the spaces in skulls, O’Keefe depicts clouds cobbling the sky. More marshmallow then textured bodies of gaseous water, the clouds are steppingstones to a horizon that is unreachable. She paints a landscape void of any human’s touch.

On the ground, my cast shadow is capable of all kinds of things. It crawls walls, curls into corners, stretches the length of a street, and puddles beneath my feet. It taunts with freedom. But in the air, my shadow (or rather the plane’s shadow) runs itself along the ground, unable to find its way free of the surface upon which it is being cast.

Flying is a separation of feet from ground. From self from a place. In the air, we are nowhere. We are between the Earth and space. In this purgatory we prepare for where we will be, and recover from where we have been. We are insignificant. An airplane ride is the closest most of us will ever be to outer space; to seeing our world to scale.

This Is So Late

Adie Kleckner

Smith Blank Page This blog is late. I don’t mean a couple days after deadline. No, I mean it’s-been-months-and-I-still-haven’t-found-a-topic-to-write-about late. I have so many emails sitting in my inbox kindly, and more recently, desperately, asking me if I have a blog written yet. And would I please, please, please write something?

This week, a biography of the New Yorker journalist, Joseph Mitchell hit bookstore shelves. A reporter who immersed himself in the mid-century streets of New York City to capture the eccentric of the everyday, Mitchell immortalized a city between modernism and what came before—gas lamps and saloons and the Depression.

What has captured the imaginations of most of his readers (and is the subject of the biography) is not his prolific profiling and immersive journalism, but the thirty years he wrote nothing. For the final chapter of his career, Mitchell rode the elevator to the New Yorker headquarters. He sat in his office. He went to lunch. But his office was silent—no clicking typewriter keys, no shuffling of papers.

Several years ago, Anthony Marra stopped by Lemuria bookstore (and also my place of employ) to sign his novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. He wore the same blue, button-up shirt he wore in the author photo. He was kind and asked as many questions about us as we did about him. In a quiet moment, before the storm of people came demanding his autograph and a witty answer to their questions, Tony and I talked about writing.

A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and a Stegner fellow at Stanford, Marra had done everything right. His debut novel was a smashing success and would go on to become a finalist for the National Book Award. We talked about his girlfriend who lived in New York City and the poetry she wrote. We talked about his Pushcart Prize, the short story that became the seed of his novel. And we talked about what he was working on next.

“Nothing,” he said. “I sit down to write, and all I can think about is what I have already written. It’s terrifying. What if this novel is the only story I have?”

Isn’t that what all creators fear—that what is behind us is also our last? “You are only as good as your last plate,” is the chef’s motto. But how many days, months, years can pass before you are no longer a chef, but instead someone who once cooked?

This week I found out that Anthony Marra’s next book releases in October. It might be a weak replication of his first, as second-novels tend to be, or it could be a step in a new direction. But that’s not what this is about. This is about trying and failing and trying again to write. Sometimes you succeed. Sometimes you are blinded by the blank page.

The first sentence is for someone else; prove to your audience, the critics, your high school class that you have something to say. The second, third, fourth, etc. are for you; to prove to yourself that you still have something to say.


Adie Kleckner

Books burning in fire Great acts of destruction haunt us: photographs of Nazi book burnings, piles of shoes, the loose paper that floated in the air after the Twin Towers were attacked. These losses find order in lists. We engrave the names of our dead in war monuments. We catalog our libraries and museums in order to notice loss.

I have been reading through French poet Henri Lefebvre’s recently translated list poem, “The Missing Pieces.” Compiled from various sources, it is an 83-page list of objects, memories, and people that have been lost, destroyed, or never made.

In some instances the losses are heartbreaking—“Totally deaf, the father of the writer Regis Jauffret never heard the voice of his son”—but other times, the loss is also a creation—“In 1961, the sculptor Arman pulverizes a contrabass in front of Japanese television cameras.”

We are captivated by lost treasure, unsolved mysteries, the compelling questions of what happened and what could have been. It seems that every year another headline touts the discovery of a garage sale painting that is a missing masterpiece. Vivian Maier lived her entire life in obscurity; her photographs were very nearly lost. Vincent Van Gogh’s brother bought all of his paintings in order to bankroll his brother’s lifestyle. In so doing, he kept them safe from destruction.

To be lost is Biblical. We are found in Christ. But what about the things that have faded away? The never-was? The never-again-will-be? What did we lose the three days Christ was dead? But also, what did we gain?

Ezra Pound wrote a sonnet a day for a year. At the end of the year, he destroyed them all.

The sonnets are lost. But the process of making them—of rhyming and metering and twisting the phrase—was gained. The ghosts of art linger.

Austrian artist Otto Muehl said, “I cannot imagine anything significant if nothing is sacrificed, burned, destroyed.”

God, Guideposts, and the Modern Miracle

Adie Kleckner

15 Jesus in the fire Sometime in the early 1990s, I sat in a barbershop while my brother’s hair was trimmed and read a Guideposts. As with all barbershop and waiting room magazine selections, the Guideposts were outdated and incomplete, a scattershot of the 1980s.

Earlier that year, from my sleeping bag pitched on a friend’s living room floor, I watched “The Towering Inferno.” I saw the skyscraper catch fire. Wonderment turned to fear as a family trapped in their room soaked towels in water from the sink in an attempt to escape the blaze. Several floors below, a posh party was in full swing. It was the partygoers' ignorant bliss that frightened me.

Unbeknownst to me, the roof over my head could be consumed. What we believe to be true—i.e., that the struts and beams supporting the weight above us are in fact solid and weight bearing—could come down at any minute.

To sate my fear, my parents bought a fire ladder that could be unrolled and hooked to a windowsill. On the front of the box a photograph showed a girl, her brother, and mother calmly descending the metal rungs as bright orange flames snapped from the window they had just escaped. When I woke up in the middle of the night, sure that I smelled smoke or heard the distant crackle of a fire, I would look at the picture on the box—the calm face of the girl in the footed pajamas, the fire stilled by the camera’s shutter.

I read about Bud Ward’s miracle photograph in the barbershop that year, the year my fear of fire was beginning to take shape.

Bud Ward, a retired New Jersey fireman, took several photographs of a burning shed. When he developed the film, he was amazed to discover Jesus in the flames. People flocked to the shed, praying and taking home shards of burnt wood.

Guideposts included the photograph.

I was too young to know much of modern-day miracles, but I could recount most of the biblical miracles. Water from stone, loaves and fishes, parting seas, plagues and manna. The veil between the world I knew and the miraculous was thin.

But I couldn’t see Jesus in the flames; I could only see the fire. In the black and white photograph, the fire is a pure white light. Bare tree branches jag through the image as if they could escape. The miracle to me was not the figure, but the fire’s slow destruction—flames billow out of the doorway and surround the roof in a halo of light. In the photograph, the shack, despite the fire and heat and smoke, is still standing.

Perhaps, if the photo was taken with a better exposure, the miraculous Jesus would return to the flames. If the distinction between black and white was more decisive, the photograph would be evidence of nothing but a fire and a roof withstanding, if only for a little while longer, the inferno.

Now, when I am alone in the darkroom agitating the developer and waiting for the photographic image to burn into the paper, I always think of Bud’s photograph. As the blacks darken and the lights pull forward, I look for a figure to appear. A Jesus in the threshold, a figure present for the burn before the collapse.

Keeping a Record of War

Adie Kleckner

15 Windsor Ruins A couple hours drive outside of Jackson, Mississippi, the Windsor ruins are all that remains of an antebellum home that survived the Civil War only to catch fire in 1890. The fire destroyed the original floor plans, photographs of the house, every brick baked and laid by the injustice of slavery. Even the original name of the plantation home is forgotten; Windsor refers to the sound of the wind passing through the trees and the pillars left to hold up the sky. The only record of the mansion’s appearance is a drawing by a Union officer, sketched while encamped on the grounds.

 Two years ago, both my brother and my boyfriend, Seth, deployed to Afghanistan. The flurry of their departure was like any departure—packing, good-bye dinners, delays, more good-bye dinners, and then the actual leaving itself, which was on a cold January day (Epiphany, actually) filled with wind and waiting. Like all departures, once the men had left, there wasn’t much to say. There was a lingering silence; all of our ears were ringing.

In static-ridden phone calls, my brother called from the FOB he was stationed at to tell me about the boredom of war, of lifting weights to kill time, of horse-riding Afghan officers with automatic weapons strapped to their backs, of bureaucratic horrors, and of a platoon member who shipped his entire drum set to the base so he could fill his free time with music. His deployment, it seemed, was filled with both excess and starvation.

While they were gone, I read about the war. Not newspapers—it was too risky, I didn’t want to stumble upon an account of violence they were witness or victim to—but fiction and poetry. I watched movies and documentaries. I looked at photography books.

In July 2014, The Guardian compiled a list of the top ten war poems. The list spans 1,000 years of poetry, but World War I poems are numerous on the list. World War I was the first time poetic voices from the trenches shed a light on the violence and ugliness of war:

 Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, And towards our distant rest began to trudge. -Wilfred Owen, “Dulce Et Decorm Est

There is no glory in this muddy war of trudging and waiting. The illusions of grander and the noble death of a hero are just that, illusions. But isn’t this trudging, this story of the soldier as victim of false hopes and someone else’s orders, also a Romanticized vision of war? Is it possible to write of war, of violence and death and waiting, without coloring the truth? How much of art is artifice?

Throughout Seth and my brother’s deployment, I mined their absence for material. Yes, as Flannery O’Conner wisely wrote, “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” Much of my writing never made it to a final draft. But that’s only part of it. I returned to the page in hopes of unearthing the most human moment. I wanted to be awed. I wanted to feel. Isn’t war, that great equalizer of man, the best place to search out the searing moments of clarity?

Going back to the sketch of the Windsor ruins, I can’t help but wonder what art from this war will serve as the record of experience. Each war has a token literary voice—the poets of World War I, Joseph Heller and Eli Wiesel of World War II, Tim O’Brian and Ken Marlantes of Vietnam, the list is seemingly endless. We use the sum violence as our record. This war is no different: the photographs of Tim Hetherington, Phil Klay’s National Book Award winning short stories, the countless video games that allow the player to step behind the gun in fateful battles, Brian Turner’s poetry, all seek to give artifice to the truth of war.

In short, is our desire for a record feeding the fire? In giving violence an audience, are we creating a system that requires more violence? Do we do the pure an injustice by making the ugly beautiful? When have we written too much? And equally important, have we written too little?


Adie Kleckner

ansel-adams-image-of-Church-in-Taos About a month ago I was back in New Mexico finishing my MFA. I drove out to Taos while I was there. I took the high road, through towns slumped in the valleys and perched on peaks.

I was the only visitor to the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church, made iconic in Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and Ansel Adam’s photograph. The heavy-hipped adobe church was silent. The mud and hay exterior held the heat at bay so the sanctuary was cool and rich with the smell of carved wood and old incense. I thought that I would write inside, or draw the elaborate altarpieces I wasn’t allowed to photograph. But I couldn’t bring myself to do either. I just wanted to sit. To be inside a building that seemed to breathe.

I have visited Cathedrals in Europe, with soaring buttresses opening the nave up to the sky. Rooms filled with colored light and air. But the Mission Church is not like that. It is made of mud. It is close to the earth. It is raw and its beauty is in the baseness of its materials. Sitting inside the church is like being inside a turtle shell.

Every spring, parishioners and community members gather together to add a fresh coat of mud and hay to the exterior of the church. This annual ritual is called enjarre or remudding. It takes two weeks to shore up the walls; to strengthen the adobe that has shrunk and expanded over the course of the last year. With each addition, the building is stronger.


On my drive back home from New Mexico to Jackson I detoured through Hondo, New Mexico. This small town is not famous. Built in the narrow seam between two mountains, its best feature is that it has the only gas station between Ruidoso and Roswell.

But to me, driving through Hondo was worth the extra two hours added to my already 19-hour drive. From my desk in Jackson I had written about Hondo, had researched its history and geology and agriculture. Each poem was just another layer painted on the mythos of the town. It had become larger than itself. With each layer it grew and came alive.

In a letter Willa Cather wrote of Death Comes for the Archbishop: “I did not expect to write a book about the Southwest. It was too big and too various…You see, the story of the Southwest involved too many individuals—little related to each other.”

But it was in two priests working to found the church in Santa Fe, two French missionaries in the act of uniting disparate parts, that Cather found the common ground for her novel. These priests began a tradition that continues to unite communities every spring, to add another layer to the church.

In the sparseness of the landscape, rituals are extraordinary.

Clouds build mountains that crumble as soon as they reach their peak. The century plant blooms, shooting a firecracker of white petals into the sky. When it rains, the desert erupts in green, frogs hum in the night, the cholla speckled in burnt red pepper the landscape. Another layer.

(Photo by Ansel Adams)

Freedom Summer and Poetry

Adie Kleckner

freedom-summer-oxford_wide-7280ed4c7c60684492366928b178182f478f1299-s6-c30 In 1964, the Civil Rights movement was in full swing. The summer before, Martin Luther King Jr. had led his famous march on Washington. And in Jackson, Mississippi Medgar Evers, the head of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP was shot and killed outside his home. His children were in the house.

That summer, in a civil rights fervor, college students from around the country were bussed into Mississippi from Oxford, Ohio to break Jim Crow’s strangle hold on Mississippi. The 300 students were in their mid-twenties, black and white, self-educated and college-educated.

This summer marks 50 years after Freedom Summer.

I moved to Jackson, Mississippi 8 years ago. I had studied the Civil Rights movement in high school, had read MLK Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. But nothing prepared me for the stark contrast between white and black in the Deep South.

So much has changed, but also nothing has changed. Everybody can ride the bus and sit in whatever seat they would like, but in Jackson, mostly African-Americans ride the bus. The schools are not segregated, but the public schools of Mississippi’s capital city are comprised mainly of African-American students.

50 years ago, the Freedom workers established Freedom Schools throughout the state to teach disenfranchised people their rights. They came to register voters, but they also came to educate. Many of these freedom workers taught poetry.

One such worker wrote in her journal about a student in Indianola on August 17, 1964: “I can see the change. The 16-year old’s discovery of poetry, of Whitman and Cummings and above all, the struggle to express thoughts in words, to translate ideas into concrete written words. After two weeks a child finally looks me in the eye, unafraid, acknowledging a bond of trust which 300 years of Mississippians said should never, could never exist.”(110).

Poetry, but more importantly, the ability to understand the power of words and naming, the subtlety of language that kept so many African-Americans locked in slavery years after it was abolished, broke chains.

Here is one such poem:

A Negro Condition

by Lillie Mae Powell, Pilgrim’s Rest Mississippi

On a day while I was visiting a certain

City this is what I saw. A Negro

Soldier with a broken arm who

Was wounded in the war.

The wind was blowing from the

North; there was a drizzle of

Rain. He was looking from the

Last place; his arm was in a sling.

The Negro soldier didn’t go

Home. He was looking to the east

And to the west. His broken arm

Was in a sling.

I live in a state that struggles with its past, tries to reconcile wrongs done generations ago. The battle lines have been smudged. Fifty years ago, bravery was found in walking across picket lines, in refusing to move, in silent (and sometimes not silent) protest. And in poetry. Always in poetry.


Adie Kleckner

15 empathy1 Writing is often an act of stepping outside of one’s self. The skin we inhabit is not our own; we live in many rooms. The best writers, the ones that show us something familiar in a new way, that transport us from ourselves to something else, that cause us to experience sensation with linguistic sleight of hand, are also the most empathetic.

Tragedy strikes every day, each time wearing a different mask. But when the lightening strikes far away, how are the observers affected?

Several years ago Manny Fernandez of the New York Times reported on the murder of four women: Megan Waterman, 22; Melissa Barthelemy, 24; Maureen Brainard-Barnes, 25; and Amber Lynn Costello, 27. All four of them had been reported missing with very little police response; all four of them were prostitutes.

I cut the article out and hung it in my room. To save it was a compulsion. I did not save it because “it could be me”—though how easy it is for our lives to gain momentum away from what we had planned them to be—but rather because I wanted to remember that these women had lived, for no other reason than that I didn’t know that they were alive before they were murdered.

Leslie Jamison’s collection of essays, The Empathy Exams breaks down the human capacity to share someone’s life. She writes that, “when bad things happen to other people, I imagined them happening to me. I didn’t know if this was empathy or theft.”

Some who saw the New York Times article hanging above my desk asked me if I knew the victims. I did not, but my response to their deaths was just as real as if I had.

To inhabit someone else’s tragedy is an act of surrender. Of giving up ourselves, what makes us individual, in exchange for someone else’s individuality. “We care because we are porous,” Jamison claims.

It is this porous-ness that is both our salvation and downfall. We are vulnerable to tragedy, whether it is our own or someone else’s. But it is this vulnerability that fosters compassion.

Clothed in Mystery

Adie Kleckner


After being out of town for a couple weeks, I climbed the stairs to my apartment, dropped my suitcase to the floor, and noticed the light had changed. The sunlight no longer blared with cool blues and purples; it filtered through thin chloroformed leaves leaving fluorescent green slatted across my wood floors.

Even now I write this in the light from my laptop screen. An unchanging, medical light of pure white. My cursor blinks with black insistence to cover the light with words.

When Justinian rebuilt Hagia Sophia, after conquering Istanbul and overthrowing her Islamic rulers, he sought to fill the halls with a holy light. Small windows circle the dome so closely set it appears to be floating. Under the dome, our position is not fixed; we are awash in illusionary light and shadow.

The gospel of John begins its account with light. A light so strange that the darkness cannot comprehend it. Can darkness know something that is not only its opposite but also its destroyer?

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Over the course of two years, Claude Monet painted a series of thirty paintings of the façade of the Rouen Cathedral. He painted at varying times of day and year. His view of the cathedral did not change, that is, he was not trying to paint the cathedral, with all of its complexities and architectural innuendos. He was trying to paint the light, the way it marked time and weather. But in order to paint light, you must also paint shadows.

The Impressionist palate did not include black. Rather Monet slathered the shadows in crimson, umber, burnt orange; light in mauve, rose, naples yellow. In some instances, the shadows and light are nearly indistinguishable. He adjusted value—the relative lightness or darkness of a color—by adding white. The colors found in shadow also appeared in light, and vice versa.

In order to snap a properly exposed photograph, the photographer must first establish the middle point between shadow and light. That is, the shutter time needs to be both long enough to capture the details in shadow, but not so long that the details in light burn out.

The dome would not hover in Hagia Sophia if there were not also edges of darkness.

Annie Dillard writes, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, “if we are blinded by darkness, we are also blinded by light. When too much light falls on everything, a special terror results.”

Back in my apartment, I watch the light change throughout the day. The northern light in my living room a consistent glow, the light in my southern bedroom crawling up and down the walls, the slow dimming of the close of day when the shadows spread and the distinction between darkness and light is clothed in mystery.

(Photo by Hiroshi Sugimoto)

Negative Space

Adie Kleckner


As a poet, I devote a sizeable portion of my writing time to thinking about form. Where do I break the lines? How many lines to this stanza? A poet is always trying to find the edges of the argument, the geography of the line. We are wary of saying too much.

Throughout high school and college I played violin in the symphony orchestra. Over and over again I was told to “play the rests.” Zipping through a 32nd note run in a Shostakovich symphony, what difference could one small rest really mean? But when I took a moment to lift my bow from the string, to let the string hum a bit, the difference was noticeable. The measured space of silence buzzed with solitude.

Beryl Markham, in her wonderful memoir, West with the Night puts it another way: “There are all kinds of silences,” she says. “And each of them means a different thing.” If we take the silence and give it form what are we left with but the silent white of the page? This is a sound the writer knows well. It is our siren song; it is what calls us in the evening to our desks and windows. It is a silence we try again and again to make mean a different thing.

Simone Weil wrote, “the poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real.” I come back to this over and over again, because what does “real” mean, i.e. what is the form of real? When Weil says “real” I don’t think she is talking about reality, not what is physically in this world. Weil is talking about Real in a platonic sense. A real that walks in the garden with the Real.

The artist/makers’ responsibility then, is to create something beautiful. We are meant to find the beautiful among the Real.  Tomas Transtromer, Nobel Prize winner and Swedish poet, wrote that “through form something [can] be raised to another level. The caterpillar feet…gone, the wings unfolded.” In order for the moth to be, the caterpillar must first rest.

To write (and to be a “maker”) is to live with the paradox of filling and emptying. It is one of the numerous paradoxes that give our lives form—to be both forgiven and in need of forgiveness, to live because of death, to learn what is already known.

So perhaps when it comes to space, the form of our work must be one of respecting the silence. We must fill in the blank white of the page with not only what is beautiful, but also something that nudges at the essence of God and his creation. The poet must speak in order to make room for more silence.

Simone Weil also wrote “we can only know one thing about God—that he is what we are not.”

(Photo by Hiroshi Sugimoto)