"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

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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