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Flows of Reading

Engaging with Texts

Erin Reilly, Ritesh Mehta, Henry Jenkins, Authors

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4.13 Juxtaposing and Breaking Silence Through Poetry

We shall end this path with a note on creative expression. Let’s return to the images from Flotsam that we talked about earlier.

We started this path discussing how to engage with texts at a structural level. We do that by paying attention to continuities such as juxtapositions, seams, edits; and to gaps and openings such as kernels, holes, contradictions, silences, and potentials. What unites these structural elements is their ability to simultaneously juxtapose meanings with silence, or let silence reign while there is continuity (think of

This final activity is called the “poetry of the gutter.” The activity brings together the power of juxtapositions as filtered through and empowered by the silent qualities of gutters. The music of the meta-juxtapositioning (or the meta-breaking of silence) is what is meant by the poetry of the gutter.


1. Look at the following image from David Wiesner's Flotsam.

Observe, once again, the white space between the panels.

2. There are 7 panels with 6 gutters between them. For each gutter, write down a word that meaningfully relates to the silence of the juxtaposition or the white space between the two panels.

3. You now have 6 words. Write a 6-line poem in which each of the six words is used as the first OR last word of each line. Do not repeat any of the words.

4. Alternatively, to challenge yourself, write a sestina. It will stimulate ideas—juxtapositions, silences, continuities and potentials—when you engage deeply and expansively with a text.

An example of a sestina

Here is a sestina that used the following words for the juxtaposition and voices from the gutters:
1. being
2. memory
3. holes
4. potential
5. permeable’
6. ocean

Observe how, in the poem below, the poet was forced by the structure of the sestina to end each line with the above words in a fixed order.

Stanza 1 order: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 --> being, memory, holes, potential, permeable, ocean
Stanza 2 order: 6, 1, 5, 2, 4, 3
Stanza 3 order: 3, 6, 4, 1, 2, 5
Stanza 4 order: 5, 3, 2, 6, 1, 4
Stanza 5 order: 4, 5, 1, 3, 6, 2
Stanza 6 order: 2, 4, 6, 5, 3, 1

Afloat | Aloft
Enveloped in tense tides, our being
knows not the womb that cradled memory
or bore holes
into the succulent sands of potential.
Or is it our nature, so permeable,
gullible, generous as ocean

generative, indigo, tempestuous as ocean,
that is ignorant of Being?
Dark is space where matter is not permeable,
when, relegated beyond black holes, our memory
fades faster than intergalactic winds can chisel potential
into craters, crust: erode new holes.

Dark: or light? Baby crabs crackle holes
long before they have the faintest view of ocean,
its octuplet potential.
Spelunkers of sand, they know nothing of being—
no, becoming—little boys’ memories.
Only fluidity is their yellow caverns, too openly permeable

to waves, or their twilight ancestor, tsunamis, whose permeability
transcends tectonic shifts and coherent corals. Holes
are never emptier, nor more alive is memory,
than when the revolution of Ocean
bedraggles our well-being…
all the while, if we choose to see it, creating synapses of new potential.

Why don’t we? Our brains know tsunamis, neural action potentials.
Afloat is our mind, ever permeable
to the grasps of being,
which, like crabs caverning sandy holes,
deliver to ever-evasive ocean
our human creations, our sentience, our joy of memory.

Ebb and flow relentless. And still endures memory:
its objects, its desires, its flotsam, blending with the potential
of its unveiled muse, the grand ocean,
where music of waves and cries of children waffle, semi-permeable,
not insensitive to mankind’s forgotten holes,
yet more partial to rush of blood, soon sepia, from batholiths of being.

Being matter dark and light is our bequeath of nature to the ocean,
which holed us up, whose canals we swum out of, aloft in potential,
membranous of memory sandier than permeable.

(Sestina by Ritesh Mehta on 10.21.2011)

Click on the below PLAY! Challenge to participate in Flows of Reading Community of Practice. 

Here, you can register and participate in creating and sharing your own Sestinas.
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Previous page on path Continuities and Silences, page 13 of 13 Path end, return home