(l to r, T. S. Eliot/Ezra Pound, Susan Stewart, Lebbeus Woods)

Some poets and writers—even the occasional architect—think of a page as a space to be explored and defined by words. Whether typeset or handwritten, words are marks of a precise nature—they have shape, density, extension—that establish spatial boundaries and limits, in other words, they are the stuff of architecture. While the marks made by architects on a sheet of paper are most often abstractly pictorial, writers work with alphabets and languages, their form and syntax. The writer’s work is complicated by the fact that the marks called words have a pre-assigned meaning that is shared by a community of people who use them as instruments of understanding. The writer’s creative task is to make people see the words afresh, as though they were at the same time both new and known. Words used in too-familiar ways are clichés, trite and tired and worn, and refer in the reader’s mind more to the writer’s dullness than to what the words might potentially mean. The bad writer is one who does not arouse the reader to a fresh understanding of the familiar.

Even the best writers—those who enable us to read the same old words with new meaning—most often stay with the conventional arrangements of words on the page. A few of the best, and some of the less-than-best, employ the arrangement of the marks called words on the page to help us discover their familiar meanings in new ways. It is the most experimental, riskiest, and least often successful of techniques. All the more reason it remains a way of writing to be further explored. 


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