The topic for the May 6th edition is Metaphor, to be led by member Sheila Deane.
LINE BREAKS (one of the major differences between poetry and prose)
Free verse isn’t easier to compose than traditional forms: With no set limits, how to write it isn’t as obvious.
- lack of regular metrical rhythm defining the poem has to be made up for in other ways, one being the effects of line breaks.
- each line break, as with every other technical gesture in a poem, must justify itself with meaning; should have a reason, at least one of feeling.
- As with rhythm, the meaningfulness or lack thereof of your line breaks will be decided in the first few lines
A line is a meaningful groupings of words, in what they say and in how they say it.
THE LINE BREAK (has no formula: think of it as an effect)
- If not writing in a given form, like a sonnet, it’s even more important to understand the effects created by line breaks at various possible points: at the end of sentences, at the end of logical phrases, or within logical phrases (breaking them)
- creates a pause, a momentary silence, equal to half a comma
- is not something outside the action of the poem, but part of it, like a rest in music (in the music of the poem) Check out Poem #1 on Page 3.
- can help create nuance in a poem (to make up for not being able to see the poet’s body language or hear the nuances in the poet’s speaking). A line break can create nuance in the following ways:
- emphasizes words—at it’s end and the beginning of next line: In general, the end word, and, a bit less, the first word, stands out more to the reader, thus are the most important on the line. You can emphasize important ideas this way.
- creates tension (especially enjambed breaks) or relaxation. Check out Poem #3
- can speed up or slow down the reader’s eye.
- can create double meanings that might otherwise be missed. Check out Poem #2
- can fulfill or thwart expectations.
- influences, and is influenced by, the rhythms of the language on the line. eg. a break after a nice rhythm creates a feeling of pleasant harmony, vs. a rhythm broken by a line break. If you change the rhythm (or line breaks) arbitrarily, the reader is puzzled and irritated. But rhythm of some kind, and to some degree, should always be there. The more rhythm, the more pleasure. But some variation keeps the readers on their toes.
- Any lines shorter than the 5-foot pentameter adds some excitement.
- short lines, at extreme, can become fragmentary and jarring
- For when something is critical, painful, even worrisome and we have no time for inessentials.
- One word by itself becomes a critical word. All attention is drawn to it.
- The shorter the line, the tighter the language must be.
- longer than 5-foot pentameter suggests a greater-than-human power (beyond ordinary lung capacity), can seem grandiose, prophetic, or indicate abundance, richness, a sense of joy. Emits a sense of an unstoppable machine.
- long lines, at extreme, can easily flatten into prose if the flow isn’t kept moving through some rhythmic strategy: syntactic, meter, etc.
End-stopped line breaks, with break at a punctuated or syntactical pause. Check out Poems 3, 4
- can plod along, giving a slow and comfortable effect. (In short lines as well as long ones.) The end-stopped pause invites the reader to weigh the information and pleasure of the line before moving on.
- use end-stops if you need a line-by-line unfolding of clear statements or images, so that each thing is presented before moving on.
- extreme has oracular effect, like public speaking, often with repetitive phrases or beginnings.
- If a sentence runs on for several lines, enjambment gives a feeling of forward motion, and speed. The break in mid phrase forces reader to keep going, plus the reader will hurry even faster over the pause because it is there. There is a tugging effect.
- extreme use, with many enjambed lines, gives a meditative and ruminative effect, or private feeling, eg distraught
- We’re made uncomfortable when words that usually go together are suddenly severed. Can be disorienting. Can mimic and recreate powerful emotions.
Some effects to watch for on the line
- effect of the sensuous play of syntax over the line
- whether the line break coincides with breath pauses, or cuts against them.
A line break inside a line (caesura): announces an important or revelatory moment, where emotion is amassed, (also sometimes to set a conversational tone: a dialoguee from opposite sides of the caesura).
eg: “Forlorn! the very word is like a bell” (Keats)
Stanzas themselves can be end-stopped or enjambed. If an end-stopped line occurs before the final line, we end with a sense of tension and want to read on to the next stanza. A number of stanzas like this can give the final end-stopped line greater power. Check out Poem #4
1. This is a sample from a piece of prose: He just laid bare his heart and the young woman kissed him until he yelled, “Stop fooling around and get down to business!” Now see what adding line breaks to it can do:
He just laid bare
his heart and the young woman
kissed him until he yelled, “Stop
fooling around and get down
(new emphasis on words at the ends of lines: more of a sexual overtone & more relationship depth.)
2. From a poem by Eleanor Wilner: “Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm”
the armies grow again, human beetles in
their masks, vague hatred with its poison
gas, the air itself a deadly trench…
I moved, and could not feel my limbs: 4-foot tetrameter
I was so light—almost enjambment: tension (line makes one shape & sentence another)
I thought that I had died in sleep end-stopped
And was a blessed ghost.
(Coleridge: The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner)
4.Where Is the Angel? Denise Levertov
Where is the angel for me to wrestle?
No driving snow in the glass bubble,
but mild September.
Outside, the stark shadows
menace, and fling their huge arms about
unheard. I breathe
a tepid air, the blur
of asters, of brown fern and gold-dust
seems to murmur,
and that’s what I hear, only that.
Such clear walls of curved glass:
I see the violent gesticulations
and feel--no, not nothing. But in this
gentle haze, nothing commensurate.
It is pleasant in here. History
mouths, volume turned off. A band of iron,
like they put round a split tree, (iron & tree both as end-words emphasize difference)
circles my heart. In here
it is pleasant, but when I open
my mouth to speak, I too
am soundless. Where is the angel
to wrestle with me and wound
not my thigh but my throat,
so curses and blessings flow storming out
and the glass shatters, and the iron sunders? (all enjambed stanzas finally bring us to rest in this final question)