Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Indentation in Poems & The Subject of Possession

I’ve noticed in literary journals for some time now that a number of poets like to do all kinds of things with indentation. You’ve probably seen these poems yourself where it seems like each line of the poem has a different indentation or follows some sort of pattern of indentation. I find the looks of these poems to be unsightly, and the sight of them discourages me from reading them. I am fairly conservative in that I like my lines to all be aligned on the left side of the page and of roughly the same line length whenever possible.

At first I thought the indentation was some kind of avant-garde experimentation or maybe further exploration of using the page as a canvas. It recently occurred to me that perhaps these poets (or at least some of them) are doing all of these things with indentation and the spacing of their words as a technique for breaking their lines differently or printing the words the way the poets hear the poem in their minds. It is using the page as a more detailed musical score on how the poem should be read or said aloud. This gets into the whole Charles Olson thing about the unit of breath in poems, which is related I think.

I’ll try to keep all of this in mind that next time I come across one of these poems, but it still feels like they require extra effort to read. I’d love to read any other views about this topic. Please leave a comment!


Last week Netflicks delivered the movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose. I had seen the movie before in the theaters, but my wife had not. It’s a pretty good movie, and I recommend renting it. I especially liked the courtroom aspects of the movie.

While I was getting ready for work this morning I found myself thinking about the movie and about possession in particular. I’ll say upfront that I am a very skeptical secular humanist who believes in a higher power along the lines of the Tao rather than the Judeo-Christian God, devil, the eternal war between good and evil, etc. Years ago I read some books about possession. One was a detailed account of four case studies. The late M. Scott Peck of The Road Less Traveled fame talks about possession in his book People of the Lie. I remember Peck saying that he functioned as a psychiatrist at one or more exorcisms, and he believes what he witnessed was not mental illness but something far more sinister. Okay, but I have to keep in mind here that M. Scott Peck was both a psychiatrist and held Christian beliefs.

Ockham's razor is a “rule in science and philosophy stating that entities should not be multiplied needlessly. This rule is interpreted to mean that the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable and that an explanation for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known. Also called law of parsimony” (from The American Heritage Dictionary). In other words, all things being equal, the simplest answer is usually the correct one. It seems pretty fantastical that there are powerful demons roaming the supernatural realms that want to possess human beings. That seems pretty flattering towards human beings by the way. When it comes to possession, the simplest solutions seem to be that these are either hoaxes, some sort of shared delusion (ergot in bread can make people hallucinate and some say contributed to the Salem Witch Hunts), or examples of mental illness (perhaps something not currently in the DSM-IV revised). Aside from the traditional “a demon is inside of me theory,” one other fantastical option occurs to me that I get from science fiction. In science fiction books and movies some alien entities can enter the body as a parasite and take over the body. In other science fiction books and movies some aliens are non-corporeal and somehow can enter the body and take it over. I’m not saying that I think purported possessions are examples of alien involvement, but it is interesting to think about and somehow seems a little more rational than believing that evil demons are to blame. Just thought I’d share some thoughts on the subject.


A quote that I came across years ago that I think helps one live life more fully, with more awareness and attention:

“Ask yourself from time to time: Am I truly awake?”


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