This week I’ve been reading essays written in the second person point of view, preparing to attempt to write one of my own. In doing so, I have fallen in love with this particular essay by Sarah Stromeyer from You: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person.
“Merce on the Page” is a formal-textual tango of language and dance. The text is arranged in columns of different widths and text blocks spaced so they curve across the page. The essay plays with the limits of form in as much as the text moves about the page in nontraditional ways, but also because it plays with smaller formal elements like capitalization, punctuation, and even the space after periods. Stromeyer uses the layout of text on the page as well as the text itself to portray Merce Cunningham in a way that pushes the reader to feel the rhythm and grace of his choreography. Each element that is played with affects the reader’s understanding of the text—not only does the form visually add to the text, but the text is about the form. The second person point of view challenges the reader, telling them what is happening formally and how they are reacting to it as a reader. The text lyrically describes what the form is, what it does, how the reader feels about it and is approaching it (magical second person trick), and gives it the dance context necessary to understand the form. Here’s an example from the essay:
“and you find as you read without capitals, you tend to lean less hard on those first words, put less of your weight on each beginning. which makes you carry more of your weight onto the next word, and the next, and the next thing you know you’ve not plopped yourself down and heaved yourself into a sentence in the usual way, nor come to a crashing halt at the end. no. you have made of each sentence the kind of gesture launched by that lighter, more seamless, beginning. you have ‘held’ your weight even as you let it fly, and this, you will feel in your muscles, is like what a trained body feels when dancing” (Kupperman, Simons, and Chesbro, 173).
Stromeyer’s playful form and lyrical tone work together and ask the reader to feel the similarity between language and dance. They ask the reader to, through reading this essay, connect with Cunningham and feel his passions.
Stromeyer’s essay, in addition to being seamless and gratifying to read, proposes some intriguing things to consider with your own writing. How can you break formal conventions to further your writing’s impact? What power does the second person point of view have? When is writing in the second person point of view helpful?
Kupperman, Kim Dana, Heather G. Simons, and James M. Chesbro. You: An Anthology of Essays Devoted to the Second Person. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: Welcome Table Press, 2013. 173-174. Print.