Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2015  Vol. 14 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Between the Something and the Nothing . . .
Editor’s Commentary on Kimbrell’s Form and Process

Although Gregory Kimbrell’s columnar poems look almost machined, the near-regular alignment of a poem's right edge (which sometimes leads Kimbrell’s work to be mistaken for prose poetry) is achieved by a rigorous and exacting process of composition, not by electronic tweaking of relative spacing, nor by the application of full justification.

Kimbrell's ritual composition sees poems drafted in one font, converted to another for manuscript, and then set in the unpredictable body font of a given journal. The regularity of lines and attempts at a perfected right edge, seen in the poems that follow, have survived a silent transfer from Garamond to Baskerville to Blackbird's san serif Verdana. 

In a recent email exchange with Blackbird editors, Kimbrell explains:

Each of my poems starts off as a block of text—I focus first of all on hammering out the plot, characters, and so on. When those elements are in place and the poem starts to read like a fairly polished prose poem or piece of flash fiction, I break it into lines and stanzas according to punctuation.

This produces a left-justified column of text with a very ragged right edge. I then look for the stanza that seems the most complete, the one that seems the least likely to need significant revision. That stanza becomes my anchor stanza, and I revise the other stanzas so that they have the same number of lines as the anchor stanza. This means cutting material from longer stanzas and creating new material for shorter ones.

I then look for the individual line that seems the least likely to need revision, and that line becomes my anchor line. I revise the other lines in the poem to match its length, which means reworking words, phrases, and whole lines in order to make the lines longer or shorter as needed—while neither muddling the story nor contorting the sentences.

It's a laborious, semi-archaeological process (one poem takes about a month to complete), but I like it because it forces me to spend a lot of time with the poem and to polish it on multiple levels. It also pretty much guarantees that my poems don't sound too much like my simply telling a story in my own speaking voice—they have a voice of their own, as it were.

I compose all of my poems in Garamond. In Garamond, the right edge is even more consistently aligned. When a poem is finished, I change the typeface to Baskerville, which roughens the right edge slightly and gives the poem a less chiseled look.

Several readers have asked me if I created the even right edge of my poems through simply narrowing the right margin in Microsoft Word. The answer is no. In fact, this technique would not actually result, unless by some miracle, in uniform lines and stanzas.

Some readers have even thought that my poems were secretly prose poems, with wrapping text, made to look like lineated poems because of a narrow right margin. The response to this is also no. My poems do have, you might say, a kind of ancestry in prose, but they do not take that form.

I suppose that my poems feature especially prosey language—specifically insofar as they privilege the integrity of the sentence at times over that of the line—and thus my poems could, perhaps, be seen as poetry/prose hybrids of some description. However, I have always intended that they be poems, not prose, and that intention has directed my entire process.  

The title for this commentary is a phrase quoted from Gregory Kimbrell's poem, “1900 Gibbon Street,” appearing in this issue of Blackbird.

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