Recently by Elisa Gabbert:

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Etymology has become an overused avenue into semantics. It’s a cliché to begin an essay or meta-essay with a reminder of the original meaning of essay, to try. Still, recently, I wondered after the etymology of aphorism. Since it’s often paraphrased as “truism,” I wondered if the roots involved truth. And was it one root or two? Perhaps the negating prefix a- designated the opposite of phor? I sort of wished this were true; phor means to bear or to carry, which would make an aphorism something that does not carry — more of an untruism. A contronym. I looked it up and learned that the Greek root aphor means to define: The definition of aphorism is “definition.” But I reject the armchair linguist’s inclination to use etymology as argument. In spirit and in use, an aphorism is not a definition, but something more like an essay, an attempt to define. An aphorism is an essay, an essay in its smallest possible form.
More… “Aphorisms Are Essays”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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Title page from a first edition of Jane Eyre
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My last two books have consisted entirely of poems with no individual titles. This felt like the right decision in each case; I want the poems in the manuscript I just finished, for example, to be read as a running internal monologue (the speaker, Judy, is a character I borrowed from a play). Titles would be interruptive to this experience, and overly aggrandizing — Judy wouldn’t frame her own thoughts that way. But as a result, I worry I’m forgetting how to title things. I worry I’m becoming a critic who can judge good titles from bad but cannot produce good titles herself. Take the title of this essay: a semi-ironic gimmick. It could be in scare quotes.

What are titles supposed to do, exactly? More… “Title TK”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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“Eye contact” is not as well-defined a concept as it seems. As a child, I had an idea that true eye contact required a perfect eye-to-eye lock: my right eye looking into the other’s left eye, my left eye looking into their right, and vice versa. This, of course, is impossible; you have to pick one eye, or a point somewhere near the eyes on the face, in order to focus your gaze. The paths might randomly cross, but they don’t meet and stop. When standing near someone at a party, or sitting on opposite sides of a desk, holding eye contact is tricky — not because of the intimacy, but because you have to move your eyes around to take in their whole face. Counterintuitively, the illusion is easier to maintain if the person you’re looking at is farther away.
More… “Ways of Looking”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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Move over, sentences.
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In the past few months, scanning the new arrivals at my local library, I have picked up the same paperback novella several times. Drawn to its one-word title and desaturated blue and off-white spine, I never remember why I decided against it on previous occasions. Then I see the descriptive copy on the back cover, which begins with something like “Written in one long incantatory paragraph…” At this point I put it back on the shelf. I have no desire to read a book without paragraph breaks. The lack of white space on the page can make me feel a little panicky, like being on a train in an underground tunnel – what’s my exit strategy? Reading a book, I always glance ahead to see where the section or chapter ends, so I know when I can stop reading if I want or need to. Stopping mid-paragraph is deeply unsatisfying – no sense of closure, no easy way to remember where I left off when I next pick it up.
More… “The Art of the Paragraph”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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One must have a mind of winter.

The greatest lines in poetry are infinitely quotable while having no definite meaning. What is a mind of winter, and why must one have one? It doesn’t matter. Wallace Stevens’ greatness lay in his ability to produce these kinds of anti-aphorisms, seemingly wise but ultimately ungraspable: Thought is false happiness. She sang beyond the genius of the sea. The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream. And, most pointedly: The poem must resist the intelligence / almost successfully. (Or, nay, successfully!)

I believe that to read poetry, one must have a mind of poetry. You must enter a state where you come to understand meaning-resistant arrangements of language as having their own kind of meaning. It’s quite similar to those Magic Eye posters from the ‘90s: If you haven’t figured out how to look at them, you can’t believe that anyone really sees the dolphin. (This metaphor has its limits, making learned skill seem like an on/off conversion; too, with poetry, even when you’ve mastered “the trick,” not everyone sees the same thing.)

Is this “negative capability”? I’m not sure. More… “Inside the Mind of Poetry”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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Much Hinges

On the joys of using the "wrong comma"

By Elisa Gabbert
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There’s a delightful essay in the 90th anniversary issue of the New Yorker, in which longtime copy editor Mary Norris expounds on her craft, with particular attention to the comma, and defends, almost successfully, the magazine’s indefensibly arcane comma style in sentences like “When I was in high school, at Horace Mann, in the Bronx, in the nineteen-seventies, everyone took pride in the brilliant eccentricity of our teachers.” (“I really don’t see how any of them could be done without.”) My favorite passage involves her questioning the idiosyncratic commas in James Salter’s novel Light Years. She’s sure Salter is too careful a writer to make a mistake; so why then does he insert an unnecessary comma in a line about a “thin, burgundy dress” that shows the outline of a woman’s stomach? And later: “that stunning, wide smile.” A ship’s “black, stained side.”
More… “Much Hinges”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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