What Sparks Poetry

Books We’ve Loved

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature in which we invite poets to explore experiences and ideas that spark new poems.

In Books We’ve Loved, we’ve asked our editorial board members and select guest editors to reflect on a book that has been particularly meaningful to them in the last year, with the intention of creating a list of book recommendations for our valued readers.

Heather Green on Renee Gladman’s Plans for Sentences

“We who draw do so not only to make something observed visible to others, but also to accompany something invisible to its incalculable destination.”
—John Berger

I don’t really draw, but I am interested in drawing, and in the potential relationship between visual images—especially drawings—and writing. Drawing and poetry both require a certain kind of visual and spatial imagination, and both often work with a “line.” I’m intrigued by pairings of image and text that resonate from a relationship charged by mystery or instability, a charge that requires the participation of the reader-viewer, and Plans for Sentences, by Renee Gladman, a collection of sixty drawings, accompanied, on the facing page, by a corresponding set of “descriptions for future sentences” (themselves also sentences) recently expanded my idea of how an image-text pairings could work.

Gladman has previously published numerous poetry collections, a cycle of speculative novels centered in the invented city-state of Ravicka, and, recently, two other collections of drawings, Prose Architectures and One Long Black Sentence (indexed by Fred Moten), working in these many modes to explore questions about, among other things, the relationships between line and language, gesture and form, space and action. In the notes of Plans for Sentences, her most recent volume, Gladman writes, “For a long time, I hadn’t wanted legible, narrative language anywhere near my drawings. I felt that no matter how I arranged them, one or the other (i.e. the text or the drawing) would fall into the category of illustration.”

But here, the images and writing have an intriguingly porous relationship. The drawings are wondrous and architectural, sometimes evoking chimerical cities, and other times inscribing a landscape with dense structures and with weather, in the case of the later images in the collection, where Gladman adds a wash of color to the ink drawings. Parts of the images are formed with a tight illegible (or hauntingly almost-legible) script, as if the “sentences” are there, bunched up and nascent in their “plans.” In this way, writing penetrates the drawing.

There’s a common notion that drawing must exist in space, and can be apprehended somewhat simultaneously, whereas writing, because we experience it in a linear fashion, is time-based, and must be apprehended in a certain order. By shaping the drawings with a quasi-writing, and contextualizing the sentences as “plans” for other, future sentences (which will themselves, “in the future,” be in motion, altering the spaces envisioned in the drawings), Gladman has complicated, and at least partially upended that duality of space-based versus time-based work.

The words that come to mind when I think of this work are “vision” and “dimension,” and in “Fig. 55,” a structure the approximate shape of a barn stands above a block of almost-text. In the text, we learn that the sentences will “leak their histories” and “build an essay under the floor and have math be the ghosts.” Each of these gestures has a plausible analogue in the drawing, including the squiggles that could represent the ghosts, like fragments of an equation left on a chalkboard. In the last paragraph, the sentences envision something not yet represented in the image: “The sentences will be on fire by the time the dream arrives and will not want the dream. . .” The pathos in these lines might bring up different associations for different readers. For me, there’s pathos somehow “leaking” from these sentences, calling to mind the ways we build or fail to build communities, shelters, and habitable spaces. Taken together, the text and images here dream and draft and gesture toward future creations, lines of many kinds that will create, inhabit, and alter future spaces.

Writing Prompt

Write a poem in conversation with Renee Gladman’s Fig.55. It can be inspired by the drawing accompanying the poem, the “plans,” or neither at all. Still, under the constraints of  the project Plans for Sentences, write a poem with at least five sentences, each beginning with, “These sentences will.”

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Heather Green

Heather Green

Heather Green is the author of No Other Rome (Akron Poetry Series). Her poems have appeared in Bennington ReviewDenver Quarterly, the New Yorker, and elsewhere. She is the translator of Tristan Tzara’s Noontimes Won (Octopus Books) and Guide to the Heart Rail (Goodmorning Menagerie). Her translations of Tzara’s work have appeared in AsymptotePloughsharesPoetry International, and several anthologies. She is an Assistant Professor in the School of Art at George Mason University and is a faculty member of the Cedar Crest Pan-European MFA in Creative Writing. More at https://www.heather-green.com/