In response to the blog entry at Ron Silliman’s blog which pointed to this blog entry by K. Silem Mohammad: Lime-Tree (click here)
I would like to contribute to this discussion on ‘torque in poetry’ by giving an example of how one may view the mechanics of torque within a poem. Furthermore, in particular, I will give an example using the Creeley poem previously discussed.
To understand the difference between torque and linear movement in a poem we should understand the difference between the components of the two within the context of a poem. Let me reiterate the interesting ideas that Silem Mohammad has brought forward in the blog entry referenced above.
The concepts in question are pulling, pushing, syncopation, and torque. First of all pushing and pulling are generally thought to be linear forces. (in a straight line) Force can also be used in torque as in pushing or pulling something perpendicular to an axis as in the example of pushing on a swinging door. Pure rhythmic (without glissando or modulation) syncopation seems to me to be a linear force due to the idea that we generally perceive time to be linear at least in an analytical sense. I believe syncopation in music or poetry can express torque with the additional use of pitch such as a talking drum or with synaesthetic visual imagery. I believe you may experience torque in Creeley’s poem due to the visual imagery associated with physical torque as in a car swerving to miss an object in the road:
“drive, he sd, for
christ's sake, look
out where yr going.”
To imply torque in the visual structure of the poem one has to imply force moving perpendicular to an axis. Like the twisting diagram above. So this brings us to the question: What is the axis and what is the force within the structural line-breaks of Creeley’s poem?
One way to visualize the torque within the structure of his poem is to notice that the movement in the line breaks creates a curve that our vision may follow. (See diagram above) It may not follow this exact curve but it must follow a curve if you are experiencing torque. There is an argument that your eyes follow a straight line to the next line. In that case you would experience a linear force not torque.
So let’s look at a curve connecting the lines in the above diagram. The red curve is an enlargement of the black curve in our diagram. Notice that the curve varies in curvature. The radius in the curvature is changing which means the torque is changing also. However, let’s freeze our eye movement for a moment and just look at one radius which is shown in the black circle that lays on the red curve. That radius is represented for a stopped moment in time at a certain place along the curve. This is the point where we can imagine that we can see the radius of curvature that our eyes follow in this poem. This radius is the “r” value in the equation for torque.
Now we must find the force and break it down so that we can see the components of force in the poem.
One of the ways physics describes force is that “force is equal to the change in momentum of an object per the change in time during the objects spatial movement”. (F = delta mv/delta t)
The Egg Toss Game
Many of us have experienced force when playing a particular egg toss game in which the goal is to have your partner throw you an egg and you catch it without breaking it. What you are doing in this game is change the momentum of the egg from its maximum speed when it is flying toward you, to a speed of zero when you slow its fall in the palm of your hand. Furthermore, the objective is to slow its fall over the greatest amount of time possible. Force is the change of momentum per the change in time in other words if you change the momentum of the egg in a short period of time the egg breaks because you created too much force on the egg. You created much more force than if you would have caught the egg over a longer period of time.
So how does all this relate to the poem?
The force involved in at the end of the line break is equivalent to the change in the flow (momentum) in the poem per the change in time as you read it. This idea is the “F” value in the torque equation.
Since force is the change in momentum per the change in time, let’s look at what ideas comprise the momentum at the end of the line break in this poem?
Let’s go back to physics and look at the definition of momentum. Momentum is the mass of an object multiplied by the velocity that the object is traveling.
What is the mass in the poem at the end of the line break?
I see the mass being static concept in the line’s subject. For instance “the darkness” in line five of the poem is the static concept.
What is the velocity?
I see the velocity caused by anticipatory interest we have in finding what the next line says. For example the line ending in the word ‘what’ is not resolved and we experience anticipation to resolve it. Our anticipation is what is moving in our mind until the idea is resolved at the next line. The velocity then slows down as our interest slows down. In other words the more anticipation we experience then the faster our need is to resolve the idea at the next line. Furthermore, the greater the change in the momentum of our interest then the more force we experience. The more force we experience then the more torque we will experience.