Last week, I went to my first writing workshop in 14 years. The company I work for sent me to a workshop on mastering policies and procedures using Information Mapping. Information Mapping is a research-based method used to analyze, organize and present information based on the audience’s needs and the purpose of the information. It helps the writer break down complex concepts into digestible information. The workshop made me think about poetry from a chunking perspective.
I have an easier time reading poems that use stanzas to chunk the content effectively. Take Chad Redden’s “Memory Kite” from Potluck Magazine:
What rules prevent communicable
diseases from adopting children?
I lost my memory kite
and feel confused
because aren’t there rules?
I packed my son in a bed of ice
but the heads of hot exclamation
marks periscope up through his skin.
The carpet is full of water.
Everything feels too alarming.
My socks are full of water.
Redden’s chunking choices give the poem room to breathe between stanzas, a pause that lets you take in what you’ve just read (and the opening stanza is now on my list of favorite opening stanzas in a poem).
Then there’s this poem by Robyn Art from the debut issue of Tinderbox Poetry Journal:
This would be ’92.
Everyone was drinking ten glasses of water a day,
not yet hip to the hypnotremia scare.
There was the New Austerity
that wasn’t much different
from the Old Austerity.
Suddenly, we don’t eat out.
We don’t “grab something” “on the road.”
There’s all this stuff to do over and over,
like buying lunchmeat.
Our backs hurt.
We’re always writing stuff down.
There are enough Q-Tips in this house
to last us a year.
Now, steering past the minimalls,
verbiage clogging the airways,
more divides our childhoods than the presence
or absence of secondhand smoke.
The earth to date still turning
and nobody falling off–
All the shit that would happen
wasn’t happening yet.
In the issue, there is extra space between the lines that helps with the reading (my formatting doesn’t capture that accurately). However, even with the extra space, I have a hard time processing the poem because of the lack of chunking.
The question becomes for those who write: how important is chunking our work to help readers better process it?
There is a school of thought that says the work shouldn’t bend to the reader, rather that the reader bends to the work. I disagree with that school from a presentation standpoint. Your content should challenge and engage the reader, but the shape of it should be easy for the reader to access. I’m a big fan of flash fiction also because of the chunking needed to make flash such an effective medium.
I learned a lot from the workshop and it’s made me revisit my writing at work to tear down the walls of words I’ve constructed. It’s made me continue considering the shape of the work in my creative writing as well as what is within that shape.
I have a poem over in Matter Press. You can read the poem and what inspired it here.