See what I did there? It was line break in a title. Cool right? Well, hardly. But we did enjoy ourselves during the November 17, NSPF meeting. It was held all the way at the top of the Beverly Public Library in the Mezzanine due to the library’s annual book sale. While the book sale (and all the different church holiday fairs going on) made it difficult to find parking, the sale did provide some of us bibliophiles with a little side shopping excursion. I, however, was too nervous about my presentation to the group to do any shopping. I was so nervous I got off the elevator on the wrong floor and had to ask the reference desk librarian how to find the NSPF-ers!
Luckily, the rest of you were not as discombobulated as I was and more than a dozen poets filled the conference room. I certainly wasn’t prepared for such a terrific turnout! I only made 10 copies of my presentation and the poems which went with them. So, as promised here are the links to the materials. You can download the presentation and the supporting materials. I have also included some links to the poems we reviewed today during the session.
- Line break presentation
- Essay regarding Thomas Lux’s poem “Behind the Horseman Sits Black Care”
- Essay regarding Larry Levis’ poem “In a Country”
- Maryanne Moore’s poem “The Fish”
- A. E. Housman’s poem “The Loveliest of Trees”
- William Carlos Williams’ poem “To a Poor Old Woman.”
- Richard Wilbur YouTube video reading of “Love Calls Us to the Things of this World”
For those of you who were unable to make it, you can also review the materials posted here. In my opinion, the important thing to remember is that rhythm, meter, rhyme, dropped lines, enjambment, caesuras, etc. represent tools poets can use to help elevate, to help enhance, the meaning or theme that the poet wants to convey. Every poem has its inspirational point, the genesis of what drew the poet to the blank page. Conveying that inspiration point, often requires quiet contemplation and employment of the tools of our artistic craft. Determining where to break the line is just one of those tools.
I also planned a couple of activities for us to do during the session today but we ran out of time so if you are feeling energized by the meeting and want play around here are those exercises.
- Take out the poem you brought to share with us today. On a blank piece of paper write out your poem in paragraph form. Now read it slowly to yourself. Does the change in structure highlight any internal rhythm? Look at the sentence structure and its syntax. Do all your sentences follow the same style and structure or did you alternate the sentence lengths or tones? Now read the poem one more time quietly to yourself and mark with a pencil the places where you naturally pause to breath or natural syntactical segments. Re-write the poem with these new line breaks and awareness. How can you employ line breaks to enhance the point of your poem?
- Take a random book down off your shelf. (We were in the library so I was going to have us go and borrow one from their shelves.) It can be a cookbook or a do-it-yourself manual or a collection of essays, anything as long as it isn’t a book of poems! Pull out a paragraph at random and lineate it. How does your lineation affect your understanding? Could you even make a poem from a science book?
- After preparing all night for the presentation (okay not “all” night but I was up until 1 a.m.) I took out my Martha Stuart “Living” magazine and flipped through the pages. I came across a Geico advertisement and actually thought about how they had applied line breaks to their message! Pull out your magazines and see if you can find any instances where the point or product of the ad is enhanced by how the words are placed on the page. Ask yourself how it was done and why it worked (or didn’t) on you.
Well that’s all I’ve got folks. I’m sure you’ve all got a ton of information and thoughts about you use line breaks in your own poems. I hope you’ll share them in the comments section below.
See you in December at the joint NSPF/Massachusetts State Poetry Society meeting.