One of my personal obsessions in poetry (especially contemporary poetry), is the use of tone, most specifically, humor. Quite a few contemporary poets are mixing tone and the use of white space within the line that not only creates a sense of time, but also allows the white space to serve on a functional level (such as punctuation or as stage direction). For example, Beth Ann Fennelly has a delightful section in Unmentionables called kudzu chronicles. In poem #4, she uses both tone and white space to capture a conversation about kudzu between the poet and her neighbor. The tone is obviously one of humor, but Fennelly uses white space in two ways which support the tone and the essense of this short poem. First, the lines of the poem have a great deal of white space that mimic the syntactial breaks in the conversation between the two speakers — as a reader, you know when these people are taking a breath. Second, the the white space serves as the foundation for the punch line of the poem. In short, Fennelly sets the reader up for a good laugh. This is a poem that should be read aloud, following the obvious direction Fennelly is giving us — it is a poem I read often in my classes on humor, and it always brings laughter. You can find the poem along with its mates here at Blackbird.
For those of you who live in the NC/north Georgia area, I am going to be teaching a class on the very topic above. The first one will be Saturday, June 19th from 10 – 4. The press release for the class below. I encourage writers of all levels to sign up and attend, a least one laugh is guaranteed!