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Old 03-17-2004, 02:35 PM
Clive Watkins Clive Watkins is offline
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From some points of view, the least interesting thing about a piece of verse is that it is written in lines. Notwithstanding this, and given that the topic of writing in lines is vast, all I can to do here is touch on a few matters prompted, directly or indirectly, by the non-metrical poems I was offered earlier this month.

Let me begin by defining some terms.

For the purpose of this discussion, I shall assume that any piece of writing deliberately organised in lines is a piece of verse. (There are exceptions to this statement, but I shall not trouble with them here.) Where the length of the lines is determined by a set paradigm, the verse is metrical – that is, measured. Thus, accentual verse, accentual-syllabic verse and syllabic verse are all, by this rule, metrical. If a poet were to invent a new paradigm - for instance, that each line should contain a set number of letters - this, too, would constitute a form of metre. All other cases are instances of non-metrical verse. In these, the length of the line is determined by the poet, not by means of a set paradigm but by an evaluation of the expressive effect of the words as they are broken into units of lines. In writing non-metrical verse, we ask ourselves - I take it - whether breaking the run of language at such and such a point rather than at some different point better catches the effect we are after. Such decisions are made, therefore, on what might be called rhetorical grounds.

The charge is often levied that line-breaks in non-metrical verse have no real existence, that non-metrical verse is merely “chopped up prose” and that only in metrical verse is the line-end “heard” and therefore expressive. In my view this is mistaken. While it is certainly true that verse – like language itself – exists as sound, to say this is to say a limited and limiting thing. The existence in pre-literate cultures of something we might recognize as verse does not oblige us to accept that the nature of verse in our own literate culture, pervaded as it has been for so many centuries by print, might not have subtly changed. As I have remarked on other occasions, Hardy was well aware of the contribution made by the printed lay-out of metrical verse to the overall expressive effect. (In this, I am not referring to the “emblem” poems popular in the seventeenth century in which the lay-out of the text illustrates a key image of the poem. George Herbert’s “Easter Wings” is the most commonly cited example, the stanzas as originally set suggesting two pairs of wings.) Nor is it always the case that in listening to metrical verse read aloud without reference to the printed page we are immediately aware of where lines end. Blank verse affords a clear instance of this, but even in some rhymed verse, where the texture is enriched by much internal rhyme and assonance, line-ends as aural phenomena may be suppressed.

In any case, metre is not a purely aural or acoustic phenomenon: its effects depend on the interplay of expected and actual patterns. The paradigm sets up expectations which the actual rhythm either follows or deviates from, crudely or subtly. Metre, that is, happens in the head, not in the ear.

In non-metrical verse (and also to a lesser extent in metrical verse), then, the existence of the line-break on the page is a kind of pointing, a rhetorical marker for the reading mind. This requires a different way of reading, a mental shift of perspective, from the perspective required in reading metrical verse. In my own case, if I have been reading or writing a lot of metrical verse, I experience an almost physical sensation of shifting into a different mode when I turn to non-metrical verse, particularly if the verse is not of the kind in which the ghost of metre manifests itself to any degree. This shift is, I imagine, a matter both of taste and of mental schooling. Some people, I know, find it a difficult shift to make. But then there are those who find the shift in the opposite direction equally hard, and who really don’t understand how metrical verse “reads”, something occasionally all too evident at Eratosphere, even at the metrical forums.

An anecdote may illustrate the inward nature of non-metrical lineation. A few years ago I attended a reading by the British poet, John Ash. Ash – his collection Disbelief (Manchester, UK: Carcanet Press, 1987) contains some of my favourite non-metrical poems – was reading from his then latest book. The poems were all new to me; I had no copy in which to follow. Many were written in a loose, associative style in sentences which lacked strong structures. Matters were made worse by Ash’s reading manner, which was languid and off-hand. The overall effect of his performance was shapeless and unsatisfying. When I subsequently read some of these poems on the page, they came across much more strongly (though they were still not up to the standard of his more interesting earlier work). The printed line-breaks, by supplying my reading mind with a key element of structure, restored a degree of shapeliness to the writing. (If I have time, I may post one or two of my favourite poems by John Ash at Musing on Mastery.)

Given my contention that in non-metrical verse lines are determined on rhetorical grounds, the fundamental issue, then, is not how the lines are organized but how well written the poem is. The issues of sentence-construction, rhetorical patterning and the force and coherence of poetic argument and imagery are critical in a way that writing in lines is not. This is true as well for metrical verse. It is easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that the well-turned metre of our latest poem indicates its effectiveness. Inquiry must surely pass beyond metrical adroitness to these – and other - more fundamental qualities.

Let me turn now to the nature of the pointing which, in non-metrical verse, writing in lines offers the reading mind. Writing in lines breaks the run of language into artificial units. For me what matters in this is the relationship between such units and the overall dynamic of the utterance. In the kind of verse which predominates at Eratosphere, the most important dynamic (both in metrical and non-metrical verse) is the dynamic of the sentence. Line-ends interrupt or confirm the rhythms inherent in the syntax of the sentences or sentence-fragments in which the poem exists. (This is why I gave such prominence to sentence-construction in my previous piece.) In general, line-breaks at the boundary of a unit of syntax have the effect of underlining our sense of the integrity of that syntactical unit. Line-breaks which interrupt units of syntax vary in their effects depending on the degree to which the syntax seems to want to drive the reading voice forward across the line-break.

Given the expressive range of English syntax, the skilful management of line-breaks. offers a wide range of expressive effects. It would be impossible to illustrate all the possibilities here, let alone, in my view, to formulate a set of “rules” governing these things. It is at this point that the poet’s own judgement must surely come into play. As with any other aspect of the writer’s craft, knowing what has been the practice of other writers, knowing what has been achieved by them and what might be borrowed or built on, is the beginning of wisdom. This requires, of course, attentive reading of the “how” of other poems, which I take it is one of the purposes of Eratosphere.

In my discussion of R A Lorens’s “Still Life” I offered four different ways of setting out one passage (slightly edited by myself). Let me work the passage again. In the following version, the line-ends mark the major units of syntax, the two sentences of which this is composed:

I turn his wrist till a tendon pops, then drop it.
He lies there loose, like unfinished business.

The next version inserts further breaks, these coinciding with minor syntactical boundaries:

I turn his wrist
till a tendon pops,
then drop it.
He lies there loose,
like unfinished business.

In the next, some breaks fall at even more tenuous syntactical boundaries:

I turn his wrist
till a tendon
pops,
then drop it.
He lies there
loose
like unfinished business.

It is interesting to consider the difference in “weight” here between the break at “wrist / till” and that at “tendon / pops”. In the first case, the break occurs at the boundary between a main clause and a subordinate clause (“till a tendon pops”). In the second case, the break is between the noun-subject (“tendon”) and its verb (“pops”). To my ear, the second break is more emphatic than the first: that is, it encourages the reading voice to land with greater force on “pops” than was the case in the previous lineation, where subject and verb were not separated by the line-end. This is, I think, because separating subjects and verbs in this way runs counter to the normal rhythms of speech.

In the last four lines another interesting effect occurs, which can be approached through a question. In the ordinary run of the words, is “loose” attracted more strongly backwards to “He lies there” or forwards to “like unfinished business”? Different ways of breaking this would imply different patterns of attraction. Compare, for instance, these two versions:

He lies there loose
like unfinished business.

He lies there
loose like unfinished business.

By contrast, the version above –

He lies there
loose
like unfinished business.

- allows “loose” to face both ways, which might be felt to be a thematically appropriate effect.

A further, more radical arrangement might be this:

I turn his
wrist till a
tendon pops,
then drop
it. He
lies
there loose
like unfinished
business.

To my (mental) ear, this does not work. It cuts so strongly across the run of the language as to cause it to break down. Of course, this is not an illegitimate effect; it is just not one that with these words works for me. This example allows me to make a further point: that if in a piece of writing one device – as here, the radical line-break – becomes too frequent, it can undermine its own effectiveness. Another common trick is to try to make the word which ends each line a “telling word”. This can come to seem mechanical. Foregrounds need backgrounds. For non-metrical verse written in sentences or sentence-fragments, the background in the matter of line-breaks – the default state – is the break which coincides with a natural syntactical boundary.

This passage from R A Lorens’s poem hints at another dimension of the line-break. There are a number of more or less echoing sounds in these two sentences – for instance, “his” and “wrist”, “pops” and “drop”, and - more distantly “lies” and “loose” and “unfinished” and “business”. These constitute a pattern of their own which line-breaks can either underline or cut across. Arguably, one of the reasons why the second of the two arrangements given above might attract a reviser is that it highlights the echoing of “pops” in “drop”. Here they are again for comparison:

I turn his wrist till a tendon pops, then drop it.
He lies there loose, like unfinished business.

I turn his wrist
till a tendon pops,
then drop it.

With just these two factors in play – the dynamics of the syntax and the patterns of sound - it is clear how complex can be decisions about line-breaks.

Al Ferber’s poem, “The Butcher’s Wife”, illustrates another interesting issue about line-lengths and line-breaks. “The Butcher’s Wife” consists of two stanzas of six lines each, the lines being visually on the page of approximately the same length, the apparent symmetry being reinforced by the italicizing of the last line of each stanza.. (In fact the lines have the following syllable-count: 10, 6, 6, 8, 8, 9 and 8, 7, 7, 10, 11, 9.) There are no obvious regularities of beat. This is a true non-metrical poem. I discussed in my piece about this interesting poem some of the expressive implications of these formal patterns. A further point is simply that the pattern looks pleasing on the page. This is not a negligible consideration. Nor is it one confined to poets writing non-metrical verse. A poem such as Kipling’s “Tomlinson”, which begins like this –

Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost at his house in Berkeley Square,
And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair –
A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away,
Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way:
Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone an cease,
And they came to the Gate within the wall where Peter holds the keys…

– and continues in this pattern for a further 114 lines, would not only feel different in its metre, it would also present a quite different reading experience if it were set like this:

Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost
At his house in Berkeley Square,
And a Spirit came to his bedside
And gripped him by the hair –

A Spirit gripped him by the hair
And carried him far away,
Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford
The roar of the Milky Way:

Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way
Die down and drone and cease,
And they came to the Gate within the wall
Where Peter holds the keys….

It might be argued that the difference between these two versions is trivial, that readers ought not to allow themselves to be daunted by the dense appearance of these long lines across several pages; but to argue in this way is to concede that appearance on the page does indeed have a bearing on the experience of reading. One rejoinder to this might be that the experience of reading the poem is not the same as the poem itself; but to argue that the poem exists apart from the experience of reading it seems a shaky kind of idealism; even a memory of the poem is surely in some measure a memory of the experience of reading the poem, including a sense of the effect of the disposition of its lines (if not of the actual disposition itself).

This may seem abstruse and irrelevant, but it points in yet another way to the importance of the appearance of the poem on the page. If this is important for a metrical poem, it is even more important for one that is non-metrical.

Poets writing non-metrical verse will, therefore, often set out their lines in patterns which allow more blank space to enter the text – for example, by setting lines in pairs. In other circumstances, longer lines and a fuller page seem more fitting. Expressive choices of this kind are very much part of the designing of a non-metrical poem.

In what I have said so far, I have assumed that non-metrical poems are set out in lines which may in some respects, as in Al Ferber’s poem, be a simulacrum of a poem in metre; but of course non-metrical poets have taken greater liberties with the disposition of text on the page. One has only to think of Pound’s graphic inventiveness in some of the later Cantos. Charles Olson comes to mind, but I think, too, of Larry Eigner and Susan Howe (for instance, in her “Scattering As Behavior Toward Risk” in Singularities, Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1990) and in this country of Chris Torrance. Space and my lack of skill with typography within the Eratosphere screen-codes prevent my discussing this kind of writing further.

Shekhar’s poem, “Moths”, illustrates another phenomenon, the “ghost-presence” in an otherwise non-metrical poem of passages of metrical writing. As I suggested in my piece about Shekhar’s poem, this is much more common than is sometimes imagined. I referred there to several clearly non-metrical poems in which this subdued metrical pattern occurs, to clinching effect, at the poem’s climax. For convenience of reference, I repeat the list here: William Carlos Williams, “The Locust Tree in Flower” (in An Early Martyr); “The Loving Dexterity” and “The Parable of the Blind” (in Pictures from Brueghel), Elizabeth Bishop, “Giant Snail” (a prose poem); John Ashbery, “Foreboding” and “Märchenbilder” (in Self-Portrait with a Convex Mirror); James Wright, “Autumn Begins in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio” (in The Branch Will Not Break); Robert Hass, “The Beginning of September” (in Praise); Gary Snyder, “Above Pate Valley” (in Riprap).

It may be that this phenomenon is to be explained by the fact which Derek Attridge and others have observed that the patterns of English metre are derived from features inherent in the language itself (Attridge, Poetic Rhythm: An Introduction, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995). (By the way, Attridge does not argue, as Chris Childers remarked on another thread not long ago, for the pre-eminence of natural stress patterns in scansion.) It may also be the case that that the long history of traditional metres has come to influence the way our brains process language. However it came about, the phenomenon is real. Many poems dwell in the marches between strict metre and non-metrical writing.

Here is a further example of ghost-metre, a passage from the first paragraph of Eleanor Wilner’s poem “Being As I Was, How Could I Help” (in Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems, Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 1998). The poem reworks the myth of Romulus and Remus suckled by a wolf:

Two small hairless cubs were in it, pink
as summer oleander, waving
the little worm-like things they had
instead of paws. Naked like that, they
made my blood go slow, my dugs
began to drip. I tipped the pod, the slid
into the ferns, I nuzzled the howling
pair, they found my side, they suckled
there and drank their fill. That night
the red star in the sky was bright,
a vulture’s eye that waits
with a patience that I hardly understand.

Re-lineated to suggest the metrical fragments from which this is constructed, the passage might look like this:

Two small hairless cubs were in it, pink
as summer oleander,
waving the little worm-like things
they had instead of paws.
Naked like that, they made my blood go slow,
my dugs began to drip.
I tipped the pod, they slid into the ferns,
I nuzzled the howling pair, they found my side,
they suckled there and drank their fill.
That night the red star in the sky was bright,
a vulture’s eye that waits
with a patience that I hardly understand.

Obviously, other arrangements are possible which would make the same point: that the underlying pulse of this passage is – let us say – quasi-iambic. Some might argue that Wilner would have done better to have revised the piece into formal metre. While that would have been possible, it would have resulted in a different poem, a point that is true, as well, of Shekhar’s “Moths”. (T S Eliot is often cited as a “free-verse” poet whose verse inhabits this borderland. In fact, large tracts of Eliot’s verse, early and late, are demonstrably metrical, and often to great effect. In my view, it is helpful in the case of Eliot to bear in mind the sense which the phrase “free verse” has in French. In “vers libre”, as La Fontaine wrote it, the poet is free at any moment to alter for expressive reasons the length of the line or the pattern of the rhymes.)

And then there is Whitman, who has divided opinion from the outset. For me, some of his poems and parts of poems remain among the most moving and original written in the nineteenth century - “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking”, for instance, and some sections of “Song of Myself” ( “The spotted hawk swoops by…” would be one). Unfortunately, he also wrote some of the worst and most bombastic poems of that century; and he wrote too much. (Is he to be blamed for his posterity?) In the context of this present piece, however, what is of note in his strongest poems is the characteristic dynamic of his sentences and the way units of language grow out of each other, two-fold and three-fold – and sometimes in more numerous multiples. The model is, of course, biblical. Though the following modest passage –

The butcher-boy puts off his killing-clothes, or sharpens his knife at the stall in the market,
I loiter enjoying his repartee and his shuffle and breakdown.

Blacksmiths with grimed and hairy chests environ the anvil,
Each has his main-sledge . . . . they are all out . . . . there is a great heat in the fire.

From the cinder-strewed threshold I follow their movements,
The lithe sheer of their waists plays even with their massive arms,
Overhand the hammers roll - overhand so slow - overhand so sure,
They do not hasten, each man hits in his place.

- might have been lineated like this -

The butcher-boy puts off his killing-clothes,
or sharpens his knife at the stall in the market,
I loiter enjoying his repartee
and his shuffle and breakdown.
Blacksmiths with grimed and hairy chests
environ the anvil,
Each has his main-sledge,
they are all out,
there is a great heat in the fire.
From the cinder-strewed threshold
I follow their movements,
The lithe sheer of their waists
plays even with their massive arms,
Overhand the hammers roll –
overhand so slow, overhand so sure,
They do not hasten,
each man hits in his place.

- the effect would have been poorer because the additional rhetorical pointing provided by the more numerous line-breaks would have interrupted the roll of the language.

Here are the famous final lies of “Song of Myself”:

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you.

Rhythmically, one of the things I find appealing about this passage is the way Whitman moves from two two-part lines to a line which in itself might be taken as a further two-part line (“You will hardly know who I am / or what I mean”) but which proves to be (and can be seen on the page to be) the first of a triplet of lines, lines which in another context might have been set as one long line. The effect is part of a climactic process of reduction, of the shortening of the rhythmic units towards the conclusion. This reduction, which serves to underline the loving dogmatism of the words, continues in the last triplet, where, however, each line returns, in its more clipped rhetoric, to the characteristic two-fold pattern.

At the start of this piece I remarked that from some points of view the least interesting thing about a piece of verse is that it is written in lines. What I meant by this apparent heresy is that organizing language into lines – even into metrical lines - is not perhaps such a difficult or rare accomplishment. One of my grandfathers, Walter Yandell, who was born in 1886 and had no schooling after the age of eleven and went deaf at the age of seventeen, was a very ready inventor of rhyming verses. At the drop of a hat, or so it seemed to me as a boy, he would make up quatrains or couplets on events in the news or amusing things that had happened in his life. One of his two daughters, my Aunt Vidanea, who is still alive, has the same knack. She had the benefit of a longer and more advanced education, leaving school at eighteen to become a nurse. Throughout her professional life she contributed verses to hospital newsletters and journals on a host of occasions, celebratory or comical, and still today turns a neat stanza. Walter certainly did not regard himself as a poet; neither does his daughter; but somehow both had caught the trick of composing in metre. I am quite sure this little piece of family history is not unique. A visit to the stacks of any good academic library reveals just how much metrical verse of all kinds our forebears composed. Of that vast quantity of material the verse we still read today is but a small portion. So, while it is no doubt true that able and practised writers handle the instrument of verse more adroitly than most, the ability to compose metrical verse was, once upon a time, not at all an uncommon skill. No doubt the reason for this lies in part in the prevalence of metrical verse in the vernacular culture in the past, including hymns. (I recall that my Grandfather was very fond of music-hall songs and comic monologues in verse.) Mutatis mutandis, similar points apply with regard to non-metrical verse.

Dick Davis’s remark has been quoted several times on this board: what the virtuous poets will be found discussing in the after-life is prosody. Perhaps. But the fact that a piece of language is organized in lines does not in itself guarantee its expressive quality. Other factors, of the kind I have referred to above and elsewhere, are in my view more important in the pursuit of expressive truth – and in my view far more difficult to secure.

Clive Watkins


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Old 03-18-2004, 08:26 AM
Margaret Moore Margaret Moore is offline
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Clive,
Many thanks for posting this. Haven't had time to read throroughly, but I know line breaking is a topic which causes anxiety to many free-versers. (Maybe there are a few who give it less attention than they might!) Oddly enough, I'd been thinking of posting a poem of Judith Wright's on Musing which seems to me to begin as prose (not f.v) before settling into three stanzas with a clear accentual pattern (4,5,5,5) plus line 2/4 rhymes, followed by a couplet. Would much prefer the first eight lines to be set out as the prose I think they are. Might just post it now! Will meanwhile pop up your interesting essay.
Margaret.
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Old 03-18-2004, 09:52 AM
Carol Taylor Carol Taylor is offline
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Clive, I have devoured this piece and the previous one with great interest. Your examples of the varied effects created by breaking lines in different places is one I think most free-verse writers can profit from. There is a world of difference between effective free verse and non-effective free verse, and whether the "rules" and structure of free verse are as easily identified as they are in metrical verse, they do have predictable and controllable impact.

In talking about the ghost of meter you quoted Eleanor Wilner's poem, Being As I Was, How Could I Help, which I think is an example of a conscious attempt to bury the meter, but perhaps at the expense of logic. I think it also illustrates the inanity of certain line break choices in free verse. Relineated as you did it, it became an entirely better poem to me. In fact, as I read the author's version I was mentally relineating it myself and feeling frustrated by what I felt were artificial barriers which hindered meaning. So I'm hoping to be educated here. Why did she break the fourth line on "they"? Or the seventh on "howling"? Is it supposed to resemble wolf-speak?

Two small hairless cubs were in it, pink
as summer oleander, waving
the little worm-like things they had
instead of paws. Naked like that, they
made my blood go slow, my dugs
began to drip. I tipped the pod, they slid
into the ferns, I nuzzled the howling
pair, they found my side, they suckled
there and drank their fill. That night
the red star in the sky was bright,
a vulture’s eye that waits
with a patience that I hardly understand.

I'm afraid I see many line-break choices in free verse almost as a condescention on the part of the writer, like underlining every important word in case the reader is too obtuse to get its significance from the context alone or from the writer's choice of that particular word instead of a different word.

Clive, if you had more time, I would like to see examples of what you feel are truly inept line breaks; in other words, those chosen for less than valid reasons. Is there an inherent validity in stopping a line simply to "wake the reader up" or throw a monkey wrench into the his brain and keep him from following the narrative too easily? To make him stop in mid-sentence and go to the dictionary to see whether there is perhaps some significance he may be missing? I'm not kidding. I've heard "short-circuiting the reader's brain" expressed as a defense of odd line breaks often enough, although mostly, I think, by would-be poets who take their work more seriously than it would seem to warrant.

Thank you for a most interesting Lariatship, Clive. I've enjoyed it and learned much from your analyses and examples of the mechanics of effective writing, things we either don't know or don't take into conscious consideration when we write a poem. While I doubt we have to know the "rules" themselves to write effectively, I think we do need to know that different choices present different results.

Carol




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Old 03-18-2004, 10:30 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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The codex in which the Beowulf is written is through-written. That is, it is unlineated. Was this a desire on the part of the scribe to conserve precious sheep-skin? Probably. Joe Terry gave me volume B of Longman's new World Lit Anthology in Beaumont two weeks ago. Dick Davis' brilliant heroic couplets, his translation of al Attar's Conference of the Birds, are there printed as prose! Dick is outraged, as you would expect. Nonetheless, whether I am looking at Longman's typographical outrage or the Beowulf codex, my trained ear lineates the literature. With the overwhelming majority of free verse, and Whitman is no exception, I cannot do that.

Clive, when did lineation first occur, about 300 BC? I am put in mind of an interview with Wilbur which I read years ago. He expressed his befuddlement that poets would not utilize every arrow in the ancient quiver, meter, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, etc. OK, I'm just a hopeless throwback for whom poetry exists in the mind and ear, and not on the page. But so are most of the poets of the last century whose work inspires me.

What I should like to see, Clive, is your analysis of effective and ineffectual lineation in the poetry which matters to me: metered verse.
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Old 03-18-2004, 12:56 PM
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Tim Love Tim Love is offline
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Thanks, especially for the examples.
I was at a workshop on Tuesday. One experienced poet said that if he has a long poem that he wants to enter in a competition, he just removes alternate line-breaks. Another experienced poet said that he'd never considered that possibility, but might do so from now on.

Like Carol, I suspect some line-breaks. It seems to me that some people try to add as many line-breaks as possible to emphasise as many words as possible, and offer greater chances for extra meanings. Currently adding line-breaks seems to offer more potential gains than losses.

Re Tim M's Was this a desire on the part of the scribe to conserve precious sheep-skin? Probably - yes. From "The Written Poem", Rosemary Huisman, Cassell, 1998 -

* p.108 - "Conventions associated with lineation appears to have emerged originally from the economic needs of the book-trade in Alexandria ... First the size of the rolls was standardised so that they were easier to transport. Later the lines contained in the columns of prose writing in any one roll were made almost equal in length. ... By this standard length, payment of the scribe and the price of the book were fixed."
* p.1 - "Old English text is written continuously across the page, filling the valuable vellum from left to right margin"
* p.20 - "colour ... in early Middle English texts is sometimes used to mark the beginning of a metrical unit in texts without lineation"
* p.101 - "the practise [of lineation in English poetry] is clearly not established for late Old English poetry in the mid-eleventh century and that it is well established, especially for socially valued reproductions of texts, by the end of the fourteenth century."
* p.114 - "The practice of bracketing lines in various ways to indicate rhyme schemes is also frequently encountered in manuscripts with the dominant one verse per line layout"
* p.25 - "The interrelating of sound pattern and visual line is so well established that modern poetry, even when without traditional metrical regularity or rhyme scheme, may encourage us to read in a certain way according to the line breaks."


And the power of line-breaks probably wasn't unknown to grave-stone etchers or billboarders/advertisers even centuries ago.
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Old 03-18-2004, 01:44 PM
nyctom nyctom is offline
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You mean, you know, like literature evolves???!!! Wow, dude. Radical.

[This message has been edited by nyctom (edited March 18, 2004).]
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Old 03-18-2004, 02:17 PM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Or devolves, Tom. When we were doing the Wulf, one of the decisions we made was to avoid words derived from the newer Romance half of our language. We use the word hauberk, though it is demonstrably and audibly Norman French, but we were amused to learn it devolves from OHG haldeborg. Hold the fort, which I propose to do.
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Old 03-18-2004, 03:43 PM
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eaf eaf is offline
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More neat Clive stuff. It is cool to see the combining of metrical and non-met discussions.

I disagree with Carol - using line breaks to help emphasize a point seems similar to using substitutions to draw attention to a particular point in the poem.

I think line breaks can be very effective in pacing a poem, and I am currently playing around with using them to add multiple meanings (or give a greater depth) to a single line. It is especially hard in non-met to make every break "mean something" and all too often the place where I want to break the line looks unnatural on the page, so I'm forced to use a lesser break.

I would be interested in a deeper discussion on cadencing, specifically the construction of the line and use of caesura, punctuation, etc to control the flow of a poem. Seems like we don't pay enough attention to what our line breaks do (or do not) accomplish, and how pacing & white space can be used effectively. It's been hashed over a million times, but I feel that revisiting it would be interesting, especially from Clive's perspective.

-eaf
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Old 03-20-2004, 09:14 AM
nyctom nyctom is offline
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I don't necessarily agree with everything you say here Clive--some poems by William Carlos Williams, to take just one example, point out some very different effects you can achieve with line breaks--but I have copied both essays and your analyses of the poems to reread in the future. I had some real reservations about this particular project and the timing of it, but never about your participation. Thank you for such a considerable expenditure of time and thought and effort.

The real test will be if this project occurs again in the future, or is, as I suspect, a one-off meant to quell the discontent. Time will tell.
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Old 03-21-2004, 03:45 AM
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Tim Love Tim Love is offline
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eaf - I disagree with Carol - using line breaks to help emphasize a point seems similar to using substitutions to draw attention to a particular point in the poem. - I think that typography FX (underlining, italics, colored texts, line breaks) are commonly considered as somehow lesser (or even more gimmicky) than sound FX and word choice. Being in quote mode I'll throw in "William Carlos Williams and the Meanings of Measure", Stephen Cushman, Yale Univ Press, 1985, p.72 - A purely graphic theory of prosodic measurement has inevitable limitations. Because the ear dominates prosodic theory, auditory phenomena will continue to take precedence in the writing and analysing of verse.
Where auditory patterns are strong, typography will be considered secondary. Where auditory patterns are weak, poetry will be accused of being prose. Many readers feel that strong visual patterns do not compensate for the loss of rhyme schemes and scansions.
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