The Volta

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“The poem is a ritual space for the practice of feeling.”  -Gregory Pardlo

I’m less than a year away from finishing my MFA and recently chose my thesis advisor. David Payne is a poet, fiction writer, and memoirist. His most recent book, Barefoot to Avalon, is a memoir about his brother. He discusses it here.

After David read the sample I sent him, he asked me to think about “where the status quo is broken”. And I have. For most of the summer and now into the fall. And I’m still not exactly sure. Then I was assigned the poet Gregory Pardlo’s memoir, Air Traffic for one of my other classes.

For Pardlo, the tipping point, or fulcrum, is the point in the poem where something in it shifts. It could be a plot twist. It could be a change in tone. It may be a point midway or more toward the end, and Pardlo calls it the volta, or “moment of transformation”.

He says there may be many patterns in a poem, but THE VOLTA IS SPECIAL. The volta marks a moment when the poem breaks its deepest and most characteristic habit. He says if there is no volta, no tipping point, the poem is “a laundry list of selections and anecdotes…a litany of relapses…the barren passage of time unthwarted.”

Maybe one day I will find my volta.