Ars Poetica VI – stanza

(or: how to set up a perfect exhibition)

It seems to me that poetic theory is very often also is relevant for visual aesthetics. See for example the concept of stanza, which actually originates from the Italian: room, station, stopping-place, halting place, from Vulgar Latin stantia – station, from Latin stāre to stand: STANCE. 

in poetry stanza is – according to Edward Hirsch:

The natural unit of the lyric: a group or sequence of lines arranged in a pattern. A stanzaic pattern is traditionally defined by the meter and rhyme scheme, considered repeatable throughout a work. A stanzaic poem uses white space to create temporal and visual pauses. The word stanza means “room” in Italian— “a station,” “a stopping place”—and each stanza in a poem is like a room in a house, a lyric dwelling place.“The Italian etymology,” Ernst Häublein points out in his study of the stanza, “implies that stanzas are subordinate units within the more comprehensive unity of the whole poem.” Each stanza has an identity, a structural place in the whole. As the line is a single unit of meaning, so the stanza comprises a larger rhythmic and thematic sequence. It is a basic division comparable to the paragraph in prose, but more discontinuous, more insistent as a separate melodic and rhetorical unit. In written poems stanzas are separated by white space, and this division on the printed page gives the poem a particular visual reality. The reader has to cross a space to get from one stanza to another. Stave is another name for stanza, which suggests an early association with song.

— Excerpted from A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch (2014)

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Riitta Päiväläinen: VESPERTINE II (2002), 100 X 125 CM, C-PRINT

I think stanza can be used as an interesting concept when looking at separat works in an exhibition. Appropriated from Hirsch, one can say: — each stanza (= art-work) in an exhibition is like a room in a house, a lyric dwelling place. And continuing with Ernst Häublein: Each stanza has an identity, a structural place in the whole.

Here is my proposal (how to organize an exhibition based on the idea of the stanza): To make an exhibition work (whether it consists of works by a single artist, or a group) one should try to make every individual unit function as a stanza, but at the same time assure that the totality of the exhibition – all the works seen together – function like a complete poem. The ideal must be to create a totality where nothing can be added or deducted without lessening the aesthetic experience. 


Riitta Päiväläinen: Born in Maaninka in 1969. Lives and works in Helsinki, Finland. 

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