“Framing” has many connotations when we talk about art. We might describe it as a boundary that sets off a photograph, the silence that surrounds notes of music, or the stillness that informs the movements of a sculpture or a dance. In the literary arts, writers frame images and ideas with line and stanza breaks, punctuation, titles, and white space, the latter being a frame that works on visual, auditory, and conceptual levels. Framing is the artist’s instinct. Through juxtaposition and compression, framing in poetry often functions in metaphor-like ways—for, by setting off a selected combination of elements, new meaning emerges beyond the literality of the summed parts. The white space, itself, functions in a metaphorical way in poetry, and framing elements with white space fosters narrative.
Similarly, the experience of white space between the parts of a poem (e.g., titles, lines, stanzas, sections) are those instances of change and liminality that Jane Hirshfield writes of in her book Nine Gates as “the enduring transformation of the threshold.” These threshold-shifts engage with the reader’s expectations, prompting him or her to compare the “before” to the “after,” the presence to the absence, and to create something greater, both emotionally and conceptually, than the sum of the words on the page. This is a basic feature of poetic compression. Certainly, shifts, pauses, absences, and silences are integral components of our work—what poet Heather McHugh, in her book Broken English, calls “indispensable connectors.”