Breaking the Line

If you asked Joe Bloggs on the street ‘What makes up a poem?‘ he might say ‘A Poet!‘ and then you’d say, ‘No, that’s Who makes up a poem. I’m asking you What makes up a poem.‘ And then there’s a fair chance he’d mutter about rhyme, and something about ‘all the sentences are on different lines, or something?‘ And he’d be correct. Ish.

We’re not concerning ourselves with rhyme in this blog, but we are very concerning-ed with All the Sentences Being on Different Lines, or Something.

In poetry, Line Breaks are absolutely vital to getting your poem’s message out there. There’s no real ‘right way’ of doing a Line Break, but one must be conscious of the effect a Line Break will have on a reader’s interpretation of a poem. Poetry Foundation have a good article on this topic, and they mention the poem Homeland Security, by Geoffrey Brock. So let’s look at that poem.  It opens with a simple, small, four line stanza:

The four am cries
of my son worm
through the double
foam of earplugs

The first thing to notice is how the Breaks don’t occur ‘naturally.’ He could have written:

The four am cries of my son
worm through the double foam of earplugs.

Or he could have written:

The four am cries
of my son
worm through the double foam
of earplugs.

But he didn’t do any of that. Instead, by splitting the breaks up so as to punctuate the natural flow of the sentence, Brock lends the poem to the mind of a sleepy father, awoken at four am to a head full of half-dreams and baby’s cries.

Now let’s look at another poem, this time one of stanzas’ own from Shane Vaughan’s LiMBO series.

even when we touch
hand to hand

my finger to your thumb
there is a space

In this poem, Vaughan is looking at the theme of space, and how it is everywhere, even when we think we are touching. He replicated this spaciousness of the theme by adding in lots of Line Breaks so as to give the poem that space which it is talking about.

Interestingly, one could take the opposite approach, and make a poem about space feel constricted by tightening up the words, bunching them together or reducing the space between letters themselves.

When you’re working on your own piece, try to ask yourself what the poem is about, and how might the Line Breaks lend to that message. You’ll find #NotAllPoems will need their Breaks to act as visual metaphors, but you never know what a poem is trying to tell you until you learnt to listen.

If your Line Breaks are just splitting up the sentences into easy-to-read formats, maybe have a go at confusifying yourself. You may even find that your sentences don’t want to break apart, and the poem you thought you were writing was secretly a piece of prose all along.

*

This piece was written by Shane ‘Linebreaker’ Vaughan. If you have something to say and nowhere to say it, why not submit it to us at stanzas.limerick@gmail.com

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Breaking the Line

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