January 02, 2007

And so, 2007.

Congrats folks. If you're looking for a model of how to step boldly up and into the new year, go visit Alison Davis (née Stine). This woman means business.

In the meantime, I yield happily to Brent Goodman's request for a theory of line breaks. One day in our workshop, a student asked Charles Wright when he knew to break a line. "Well, I write until the line is full," he said. "Then I start a new one." If that sounds maddeningly intuitive, think of it this way--if we use the pause between lines to digest and store what is said, then it makes sense that we'd ask each line to accomplish one and only one thing to advance narrative or image. Anything more and we're supersaturating the line...because what is the free verse line beyond a self-regulating vessel for an idea?

Mind you, this theory need not result in lines of consistent length. A one-word line can work under this rule. Even a Hart Crane line fits, if most of the long line is occupied with contained play of sound and there's just that one clause that propels a larger story.

This is one of several theories I've flirted with through the years. For awhile I researched all kinds of systems for line breaks--Denise Levertov's organic breath, syllabics throughout history, poets for whom collaboration with visual artists (WCW, Louis Zukofsky) caused them to perceive the page as a literal canvas. But it's this casual comment that sticks with me, and I thank Charles for that...even if he did probably make it up on the spot to avoid a longer answer. This is, after all, coming from a man who writes in prime meter.


Steven D. Schroeder said...

This is really a fascinating are to talk about (I love micro-focused discussions), and I think I'll try to address it in my blog the next time I actually write a poetry post.

For now I'll say that I try to have at least two line breaks per poem create a strong sense of surprise/disconnect between what the passage/phrase suggests as broken and what it says without the break.

Pamela Johnson Parker said...

Sandra, I wonder about Wright's "under-lines/low-rider lines" in the context of what you've written. That's the formal choice in his poetry which really intrigues me, and which his student Judy Jordan also uses to devastating effect. I guess for me it comes down to considering the line as: unit of breath; unit of thought; unit of gesture-like a brush stroke. (This is the only thing I have understood from my forms reading so far).

Steve--I will watch for your further discussion on this. It's something we're going to discuss in my MFA residency next week.

Thanks for the posts.

Don said...

When I've gone back and revised first drafts, I've really looked at each line indvidually, looking to see if they'd be interesting if they stood alone. They don't need to express a complete idea or metaphor, but they have to sound melodic and intriguing; if I saw one by itself I'd read it over a few times to enjoy it. I have real problems with figuring out when to indent lines and how to move lines horizontally across the page. Is there a theory about when it's appropriate, how many times to do it in a poem, etc.? I think I cling too much to standard sized lines of 10-12 syllables.

Steven D. Schroeder said...

Hmm, seems like the "micro-focused" statement may have been taken to have negative connotations I didn't intend at all. I like talking about details of craft a lot, actually.