"The White Space" of Olivia Cronk's "Skin Horse" and Gunnar Björling's "Where I Know That You"

by on Sep.10, 2012

One of the cliches of contemporary poetry is to talk about “the white space” of the page that surrounds the poem’s words as a kind of “silence.” I thought about this for the first time in forever when I re-read Olivia Cronk’s Skin Horse last night.

In Olivia’s book, there are a lot of poems with “you” erased:

Is there a worm in [blank] wound? When [blank] bring it up to [blank] mouth, it is so natural. It slips so nicely in. It is now

some aways off
in some town

[Note: I put in “[blank]”to show where there’s a blank space, but in the book there are just plain blank spaces.]

I love how the blanked out yous bleed into the linebreaks, so that I get this vertigo of “you” all over the page. Suddenly that “white space” is incredibly loudly “you.” Everywhere. The erased becomes overpowering, hidden behind every part of the page.

*

It is something similar to what happens in Finland Swedish modernist Gunnar Björling’s erasure-based poems.

From the second section of “Where I know that you” (from 1935!) (for the whole thing go here):

O sure there are,
and every human.

– you
and have a face.

I – and until I lie down
I – that one word
I – that with your features.

Never saw I
as in the morning
I
you.

Here I have always been amazed at the way “saw” becomes transformed into white space, as if seeing become this act that totally eradicated the possibility of language, as if the I-you relationship has to be represented by “I/you.” But more importantly, how the blank looking then kind of goes all over the page, as in Cronk’s poem, looking looks back at us in some way.

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