In Earle Birney's poem "Vancouver Lights," why does the poem use irregular spacing instead of conventional punctuation?

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To understand the reason why author Earle Birney might have chosen to subvert traditional grammatical conventions and employ irregular spacing in "Vancouver Lights," it is first necessary to examine the thematic intentions of the piece.

"Vancouver Lights" is a poem which seems primarily concerned with exploring how ultimately...

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To understand the reason why author Earle Birney might have chosen to subvert traditional grammatical conventions and employ irregular spacing in "Vancouver Lights," it is first necessary to examine the thematic intentions of the piece.

"Vancouver Lights" is a poem which seems primarily concerned with exploring how ultimately meaningless human life might be. Birney refers to human history as being composed of "feckless" years, hinting at an irresponsible sense of randomness which governs the universe. He refers to the fragility of the "planets" before referring to humanity as "a spark beleaguered by darkness."

This last quote, that humanity is "beleaguered by darkness," serves as a potential justification for the seemingly erratic spacing employed by Birney. Birney uses this poem to explore how insignificant human life can be and how meaningless it appears, especially when presented against the backdrop of an infinite universe.

Similarly, one major thematic reason for the spacing is to demonstrate the emptiness of the universe, the smallness of the subjects being examined, and the lack of inherent meaning of the human experience. He ends his poem with a brief reprise from the negativity, offering an image of intense light in the form of his reference to Prometheus, who gifted fire to man in the Greek mythological canon, but Birney's outlook is ultimately that humans exist as a small speck encircled by an endless expanse—though we can, he seems to suggest, stay the darkness by the art we make (just as we can bring it on by other things we make, such as war and violence).

As a consequence, Birney's choice to use irregular spacing instead of conventional punctuation in his poem is an extension of the thematic point of his piece. It serves to visually demonstrate the emptiness of the subjects of the piece—and the potential, though not absolute, emptiness of the human experience.

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