Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Harnessing the Power of the Line Break

One of the fun things about working in poetry as opposed to prose is that you have the opportunity to harness the power of the line break. I find it very frustrating when folks read straight through a poem without any (even minor) pause at the end of a line. It's a poem. If it were meant to be read without paying attention to those breaks, you may as well just chunk it as prose. The line break is essential to a poem - it creates a specific rhythm (truly - read Nikki Giovanni and then read Merwin. The difference is startling, and it's not just because of the difference in subject matter. The length of the line makes a great difference in the delivery of a piece and how you must breathe to get through it. Yes, you may be reading it to yourself, but the true experience of poetry is aural, and you should think about that that as you read, and even read some pieces out loud to yourself to see how they work with your breathing rhythm.) Anyway, yes, a giant peeve of mine is folks ignoring the break.

The line break. It provides the opportunity for the poet to not only play with rhythm, but to play with language as well. I attended a small group discussion led by Trish Jaggers, a Kentucky poetess and soon-to-be Spalding MFA grad, where she discussed syntactic doubling, or creating multiple meanings through judicious use of words at the end of a line. I find myself fascinated with line breaks, and how those breaks create multiple meanings within the language. I'm currently working on a piece I'm not certain about keeping, but have been really enjoying working with the line breaks to create something more powerful. One of my favorite lines is "God says I am" followed by the self-affirmation of "worth more than rubies. I am" - but of course, I'm biased. And this is a new piece, so I couldn't even tell you if it's worth keeping yet or not. For your critique (and hopefully your enjoyment), I offer "I Am":

Edit: Poem removed due to pending publication


  1. I like this a lot - but the reference to England seems a bit anachronistic.

  2. Hmm. But isn't "lie back and think of England" the way we still denigrate folks who tolerate the bad sexing? I say this phrase all the time. perhaps *I* am anachronistic...