The Last Friday

The Last Friday is a poetry editing group. Once a month, we post a poem and then offer feedback to the other poems on the Forum. We're a friendly but honest group. We value each other deeply and desire for every poet to be published or become famous.


    Aritcle from WRITER on line breaks

    Share
    avatar
    tsukany

    Posts : 597
    Join date : 2011-05-21

    Aritcle from WRITER on line breaks

    Post  tsukany on Mon Nov 28, 2011 10:05 am

    Section: Poet to Poet

    Harness the power of line breaks
    Find out what line breaks can do for your free verse, and 6 ways to make the most of them
    Have you noticed? The
    minute somebody finds out you're a poet, you're likely to hear what I
    call the famous TCR, or Totally Clueless Remark, that drives most of us
    straight up the wall. It goes something like
    this: "The trouble with reading a poem these days is that you can't even
    tell it's poetry." Or: "Isn't reading today's poetry just like reading
    cut-up prose?"
    The proper response,
    first, is to refrain from wringing the person's neck. Then you might
    say, as calmly as you can, "Well, no"--and proceed to explain, as
    clearly and gently as possible, that the importance,
    the subtlety, and the potential power of the line, and where it breaks,
    has an amazing effect on the whole of a poem.
    Often it's hard to get
    any of this across to the listener who firmly believes that if it calls
    itself a poem there really ought to be a rhyme at the end of every line,
    but it's worth a try. You might start out
    by quoting former U.S. poet laureate Charles Simic, who puts it this
    way: "For me" he says, "the sense of the line is the most instinctive
    aspect of the entire process of writing [a poem] .… I want the line to
    stop in such a way that its break, and the accompanying
    pause, may bring out the image and the resonance of the words to the
    fullest."
    The statement is
    simple, but it's one that poets everywhere should seriously think about
    committing to memory, and then quoting whenever someone utters a TCR in
    our presence. In addition, we should keep it firmly
    in mind every time we sit down to write a new poem in free verse.

    Why worry about line breaks? You should carefully consider line breaks for at least three reasons.
    You can use line breaks to foreground important words and images.
    To demonstrate this, here is a piece of descriptive writing presented as prose:
    The great blue heron
    sleeps like a bag of laundry on a limb of an old elm, high above the
    damp ravine still covered with night chill. Slivers of ice hem the
    Winnebago shore. Far away on the edge of Dickie's Cay,
    hot sun and jelly-green water wrap around me like wings, and inside a
    slumbering bird stirs, opens one blue eye.
    But take a look at how it comes across as a poem--which is how Wisconsin poet Rusty McKenzie wrote it:

    The great blue heron sleeps
    like a bag of laundry
    on a limb of an old elm
    high above the damp ravine
    still covered with night chill.
    Slivers of ice
    hem the Winnebago shore.

    Far away on the edge
    of Dickie's Cay, hot sun
    and jelly-green water
    wrap around me like wings
    and inside
    a slumbering bird stirs,
    opens one blue eye.

    As if by magic, or some
    other equally subliminal
    force, the reader now
    knows precisely how this
    piece of writing is meant
    to be read. Our attention
    is irresistibly pulled to the ends of the
    lines, where the words "laundry" "ice"
    "sun" "water" and "wings" now emerge
    clearly, whereas before they were virtually buried. We've also
    been shown where to pause, and where to place expressive
    emphasis. It's as if we've been
    given skillful stage directions on how
    to proceed.
    You can use line breaks to set the pace. Some
    poems are meant to be meditative and want to take their time. Others
    invoke action and dash down the page with impressive velocity--like this
    one titled "Bobolink"
    by Wisconsin nature poet Judy Kolosso:

    High
    on timothy
    and brome grass
    you dive
    pull up
    circle
    half twist
    burbling
    in celebration
    of a field
    as yet untouched
    by assassin
    mower
    How different the poem would be if Kolosso had broken the lines less often, like this:
    High on timothy and brome grass, you dive, pull up, circle, half twist …
    Notice how the poem's tempo has been drastically diminished--along with much of its energy, and certainly its bobolink-ness.
    On the other hand,
    sometimes speed is the last thing in the world a poem needs. Take a look
    at the opening to Kevin Prufer's "Poem for My Mother at Her Age":
    Stars are one thing we never run out of, The way they fill the black air with a million little breaths.
    Breaking these graceful, sinuous lines more frequently would result in a jerky, far less successful effect:

    Stars are
    one thing we
    never run
    out of…
    The damage I'm doing here speaks for itself.
    You can use line breaks to conjure implications that don't exist in ordinary prose. For example, here's a perfectly innocent sentence, taken from Michael Meyer's excellent textbook, Poetry: An Introduction:
    "At a poetry slam, poets perform their own work and are judged by the audience."
    It becomes a little bit less innocent, though, when it's broken into lines:

    At a poetry slam, poets
    perform
    their own work and are
    judged
    by the audience.
    Readers who are highly
    sensitive to line breaks and their possible implications might sense an
    undercurrent here. The word "perform," alone on the line and therefore
    attention-getting, can be read as a word full
    of earnest effort, whereas "judged," also alone on the line, could be
    taken as a word loaded with negative energy. A stretch, certainly! But
    even so, the question arises: Do carefully placed line breaks open the
    door to innuendos that the conventions of meter
    and rhyme usually prevent?
    It's my feeling that
    the answer has to be yes--as the following stanza, by Moira Egan, should
    demonstrate. Notice that when it's written out as an ordinary prose
    sentence, it's pretty straightforward: "Three
    women sit in a café, walls the brownish red of baked apples that smell
    of cinnamon and smoke."
    But when it's presented to the reader with Egan's line breaks, it acquires a sensuality that is almost sexual:

    Three women sit in a café,
    walls the brownish red
    of baked apples that smell
    of cinnamon and smoke.
    The transformation is
    pretty amazing --although it does require a poet (such as Egan) who
    knows how to manipulate and consciously capitalize on the liberties that
    free verse provides.

    Some general guidelines Please remember that in
    poetry as well as in politics, our liberties always need to be handled
    wisely. Breaking a line arbitrarily will get a poet nowhere. Certain
    conventions will always remain, even in the
    freest of free-verse poems. No rule says you have to follow these
    conventions--there are no poetry cops out there--but you ought to have
    good reasons for deciding not to. So here are a few suggestions to keep
    in mind when you're writing in free verse, with
    the understanding that you can ignore them if you're after certain
    special effects:
    • Avoid end-stopping every line. An
    end-stopped line, as you know, is one that consists of a complete
    grammatical unit--often a whole clause or a sentence, complete with
    comma, semicolon or period--with
    no enjambment, or "spillover," to the next line. It can lead to a very
    choppy read.
    • Try to avoid breaking up prepositional phrases, especially short ones. They're usually much smoother and more readable when they're presented as one happy grammatical family, all on the same line.
    • Avoid breaking a line after an article, like "a" or "the." Unless the poem is long and skinny and in a terrible hurry, it's a move that almost always comes across as awkward.
    • If you can, end every line with a strong word. Try
    for one that will nudge the reader down to the line that follows. Keep
    in mind that words like "that" or "was" or "when" simply don't carry the
    semantic
    horsepower of words like "kneecap," "frenzy" or "pelican." Why bury that
    terrific energy in the middle era line?
    • Resist the temptation to center the entire poem on the page. No
    matter how cute it might look, how much it might resemble a Christmas
    tree or a football or a caterpillar, a centered poem is usually a
    bad idea. Unless you've consciously set out to write a "concrete poem"
    in which the shape is part and parcel of the meaning, you're far better
    off leaving the text left-aligned.
    • Don't feel chained to the left-hand margin. A
    little indentation, on the other hand--or even a lot of it--can add
    rhythmic variety and provide a poem with an interesting, more sprightly
    look on the page.
    Do this with restraint, though. Haphazard arrangements might only serve
    to confuse.
    I hope this brief
    discussion of the free-verse line will prove helpful to you. It's an
    enormous subject--I haven't even scratched its surface--but if it
    intrigues you, my final suggestion is that you pick up
    Best Words, Best Order, a terrific book by Stephen Dobyns. It includes a
    comprehensive chapter on the free-verse line and deals with the
    preceding issues in fascinating detail.
    ~~~~~~~~
    By Marilyn Taylor

      Current date/time is Sat Jul 21, 2018 2:50 am