Ernest Hemingway's Blank Verse

Ernest Hemingway (aka Papa) was The Man. He wrote several defining pieces (to mentioned few The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast) of post World War I Lost Generation. He witnessed and reported on numerous historic events (including but not limiting to D-Day and Spanish Civil War). He shifted focus from flowery, musings-heavy writings of the previous generation towards more focused, economic storytelling. His condensed, telegraphic, no-nonsense writing style filled with strict, piercing remarks became one of the calling cards modernist literature. Over the years he assumed many roles - he was a writer, a hunter, an adventurer, a journalist, a matador, a lover, a Novel prize winner and many more...

He was a poet too. And here's a story about one of his poems. 


Lo and Behold, ye mighty!

This is Blank Verse. A little piece written in 1916 as a school assignment. Published later in November that year in a humor column Air Line of a school newspaper Trapeze. As you can see - it is a five line poem that consists only of punctuation marks divided by certain amount of spaces to resemble some sort of a text object. To be exact - a pair of quotation marks with a wide white space inside; exclamation mark, colon, coma, dot; coma, coma, coma, dot; coma, semicolon, exclamation mark; coma.

It was Hemingway's very literal interpretation of the eponymous literary term. While it was definitely conceived as a joke - it is more than just a frolic trifle. Even if it goes far beyond the authors intention. Consider the moment in which it was written. Things were obnoxiously dire in 1916. It was the year when the world was petrified in abhorrence of the World War I blood bath. Earlier that year a group of renegade artists and writers gathered together in Zurich to declare their complete and unmitigated desperate disdain to over-sanitized, bowdlerized mess that Western Culture had turned into. They called themselves DADA. Accidentally, Hemingway channeled this disdain for the old ways in his jest of a poem.

Blank Verse is an attempt to avoid the usual pattern of thought regarding poetry. It denies the opportunity to be read. Instead the reader needs to acknowledge the impossibility of perceiving the poem the usual way and let it go as it is. There is also an alternative - to try to fill the blanks or think about the missing pieces in a given context. But as it is - it is a shell of a text, a plan. It can be anything and nothing in particular.

The composition give some sort of a faux guidance. Vast white spaces in-between the punctuation marks suggest that there is a space for the text. It was left out and it can be added. The punctuation itself gives a clues of what could have been or could be.

Punctuation marks are the narrative of a poem. There are, at least, five potential sentences. Quotation marks obviously give away the title or the quote. Or it can be something described as a catalyst of a poem. Then there is something exclaimed. Possibly the nexus point of the poem. The next sentence digs into the concept. There is a possibly that it is turned around 180 degrees, then another 360 and then another 180. Afterwards there's some sort of a aggravation with imagery. Recounting of features or actions is also possible. At last there's a sentence cut in the midst of the action, possibly by means of dynamics. It is left ambiguously unfinished. And then another exclamation mark that concludes the narrative. The last mark - coma is a sole symbol in the line and it just hangs there.  

Aesthetically - it's a concrete poem, the one where visual, typographic elements prevail and dominate over the textual. Its blankness is the point. It emphasizes the ubiquity of poetry as a concept and in the same time mocks its pretense. You don't need words to compose a poem. After all - it's all about the composition. And since words tend to be interpreted in a variety of ways with a possibility of being misunderstood - why not just leave them out of a poem? And use something that can will be definitely understood only as it is instead. Something that by its audacity will perform an elaborately vicious extermination of rational thought. 

Blank Verse is a fascinating poem that needs nothing but overthinking. It strives for the ironic interpretation - for the imaginary making-of, change of context and overzealous analysis.