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‘Sequential Imagination’ by Steven Leyva

— Andrew Sargus Klein

Stan Lee has passed away. While it’s impossible to know what the world would have looked like without him, odds are our pop cultural zeitgeist would be a little thinner.

Except for some dabbling in X-Men trading cards back in the day, I’m a latecomer to the broader world of comics, graphic novels, and anime. What has hooked me deepest is the immediate connection between these new-to-me art forms and what I’m already familiar with: poetry. For the most part, I’ve connected deepest to animated/graphic art that hums along the same frequency as poetry and prose. Surreal, surprising, tender, brash storytelling that is as humble as it is self-serious.

Today I return again to poet Steven Leyva, who is a guest contributor for the Washington Independent Review of Books with a series on poetry and anime, titled Nerd Volta. His first essay—‘The Poetics of Anime’—is definitely worth a read (and worth it just for the recommendations), but I want to talk briefly here about his most recent piece, ‘Sequential Imagination.’

It is ostensibly a craft essay on revision in poetry. What does it mean to “play” with line breaks and stanza breaks? What changes with one or two hits of the return key?

In poems, stanzas are one category larger than the fundamental poetic unit of the line, and therefore are vital to a poet’s craft. The word stanza derives from an Italian word which can be translated as “room” or “station,” A spot of rest. A place of preparation to enter or exit the larger world. A last check to see what has been forgotten. Time slows down when standing or sitting in a room one enjoys.

From there, Leyva makes the startlingly apt comparison of stanzas to individual panels in a comic. The latter quite literally crops an image, which governs how the reader experiences the narrative. He uses poems by Brenda Shaughnessy and Alan King to demonstrate how that sort of cropping works in verse.

It’s overall a straightforward, even simple demonstration, that nonetheless offers a deep opportunity for poets of all experience levels to meditate on what stanzas are doing in any given poem. It’s also a wonderful bridge between two art forms, and once bridged, only expands their possibilities for creation.

Washington Independent Review of Books