Literary News and Views by Tim Love
Moved to http://litrefsarticles.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/poetry-punctuation.html
I’ve always viewed the line break as an additional thing that poets have and I’ve never understood those who limited themselves to only line breaks. You mentioned that poetry theorists used an advanced form of notation. I would be curious to learn more about that. One thing I hate about poetry is that there are no consistent rules and the line break is probably the one thing in modern poetry that’s handled with less finesse than anything else. I’ve asked poets why they’ve chopped up their poem a certain way and most of the time the best they can come up with is that it felt right at the time.
"You mentioned that poetry theorists used an advanced form of notation" - I don't have much about that, though I've a few notes at http://www2.eng.cam.ac.uk/~tpl/texts/notation.html"the line break is probably the one thing in modern poetry that’s handled with less finesse than anything else" - I'm puzzled by line-breaks. I think their use can be easier understood if you're into marketing and sociology. My notes are at http://www2.eng.cam.ac.uk/~tpl/texts/lines.html and http://www2.eng.cam.ac.uk/~tpl/texts/lines2.html
thanks for those links - line endings are something I have been thinking about a great deal of late and they have come to be problematical to me. In some of my work I have ditched them altogether in favour of making a kind of prose poem, but not all work suits this style and I would not be in favour of ditching line breaks altogether in poetry because they can be used very effectively to enhance the work and give emphasis to some words over others. I used to (a little arrogantly perhaps) think that I had line breaks within my work sussed, but the more I write and deepen my writing practice, the less certain I feel about where to put the line breaks. In some poems they come easily, and others lend themselves to the kind of prose poetry treatment I mentioned earlier and poems about journeys and landscape often work well set out in a more visual way and with no punctuation - so that the poem echoes the physical journey (like Alice Oswald and Philip Gross). But it is in the smaller poems that I sometimes struggle - finding it hard to know whether to favour long lines or short lines - such a fundamental thing, I can only think that I am over-thinking it, but I don't want the line endings to be meaningless - otherwise I might as well set all my poems out as prose.
"I can only think that I am over-thinking it, but I don't want the line endings to be meaningless" - ditto with me. Line-breaks might not be a defining feature of poetry, but they've been associated with poetry for a long time, so I'm surprised when poets struggle to explain their choice of line-breaks. Saying that "they just feel right that way" doesn't convince me. As people have said before, free verse freed us from the obligation to use line-breaks, yet some people seem compelled to use them as if they were writing terza rima.
yes I have noticed that more and more recently - or else as you said before they just seem to be completely random - neither of which options really do the work justice in my opinion. I was reading an article earlier (wishing I had bookmarked it) that was making the argument that setting poetry out with line breaks is really important. The line breaks give the words room to breathe (a bit like white space on a canvas). This argument works for poems like Alice Oswald's "Dart" where the text moves around on the page, but I'm not sure about other types of poetry. It reminded me of something Simon Armitage once wrote - he was proposing that the original version of a poem be displayed and valued much like a work of art and that the versions in books would be reproductions of the original. I thought it was an interesting idea but it is hard to say what the original of a poem actually is - especially if it has had lots of edits - but maybe the edits would be akin to layers of paint...
"The line breaks give the words room to breathe (a bit like white space on a canvas)" - or the words dangling in the air like a mobile. This sounds worthy to me. The words' position on the page is given an aesthetic value. Each chunk of words is both a fragment and part of the whole. Juxtaposition becomes as important as punctuation-articulated grammar. It's 2D poetry. Maybe Jorie Graham does this sometimes.
yes definitely and C.D. Wright too.
My story collection "By All Means" (ISBN 978-0-9570984-9-7), published by Nine Arches Press, is on sale from Inpress. For Reviews and Notes see the website
My poetry pamphlet "Moving Parts" (ISBN 978-1-905939-59-6) is out now, on sale at the HappenStance site. For Reviews and Notes see the website