Line ends, and beginnings?

How many poets does it take to change a light bulb?
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Deryn
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Line ends, and beginnings?

Post by Deryn » Mon Sep 17, 2012 6:23 pm

Hi all, this is from a poem by RS Thomas that I like very much. Is there a name for this form of poetry? It raises a question that I have been wondering about. Just how do you (Thomas) decide where the lines end? And a new one begins?

It seems wrong that out of this bird,
Black, bold, a suggestion of dark
Places about it, there yet should come
Such rich music, as though the notes'
Ore were changed to a rare metal
At one touch of that bright bill.


Without the line endings it would still say the same thing.
It seems wrong that out of this bird, black, bold, a suggestion of dark places about it, there yet should come such rich music, as though the note's ore were changed to a rare metal at one touch of that bright bill.

Just how do you decide where to end the lines?

Deryn

BenJohnson
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Re: Line ends, and beginnings?

Post by BenJohnson » Tue Sep 18, 2012 8:16 pm

The are no hard and fast rules for deciding where to end lines, but looking at your example provides some guidelines.

R.S here breaks his lines on concrete terms bird,dark,etc generally these work better than weaker points like of, the, etc.

He also breaks his lines so that they are visually the same approximate length.

It seems wrong that out of this bird,
Black, bold, a suggestion of dark places about it, there yet should come
Such rich music, as though the notes'

Breaking the lines as above would draw greater attention to the second line, unless there was good reason for it the extra attention might not be a good thing.

Breaking the line causes a small pause by the reader, if this happens on a keyword it will cause it to be highlighted and raise its prominence.

Breaking at a set point can be used to cause indirection, the reader expects to begin the next line with a certain word or phrase, but the writer produces something different.

Obviously a metered and/or rhyming poem will break at set points to keep the scheme going. A looser meter may require the writer to break the lines after a certain number of beats.

There are many other reason, but it is start :)

k-j
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Re: Line ends, and beginnings?

Post by k-j » Tue Sep 18, 2012 10:47 pm

Everything Ben says is true, but for me the question remains: why break the sentence into lines at all? The line-breaks here certainly seem more reasonable than various other possibilities, but how do they enhance the expression? Do these words written as verse amount to a better piece of writing than the same words written as prose?

This is a genuine question, I'm not trying to knock the poem (or the countless others like it).

Perhaps when we have an especially dense piece of writing, it's more easily digestible (or simply more enjoyable to read) with line-breaks? "Prose poetry" isn't really my thing for this reason, it's too heavy, too bogged down with expression. Perhaps simply breaking it up on the page is enough to make a heavy dose of thought or description more easily swallowable? Perhaps the likes of Proust and Kant should have written in verse?
fine words butter no parsnips

Tim Love
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Re: Line ends, and beginnings?

Post by Tim Love » Wed Sep 19, 2012 5:47 am

I think I agree with the others. Yes, there are places where line-breaks are more likely to be placed ("The Art of the Poetic Line", (James Longenbach, Graywolf) is the best book I've seen on that aspect), and all sorts of reasons are given to explain the positioning of line-breaks, but much of the time the layout's either in regular boxes or as if for an auto-queue. I play safe nowadays, chopping my stuff into regular blocks - nobody criticises/notices the line-breaks then, and people can concentrate on the content. Some quotes -

"Many poetry tutors don't like to discuss [line endings] at all; there is such a taboo on discussing this most personal aspect of poetry", Katy Evans-Bush

"the free verse, now dominant not only in the US but around the world, has become, with notable exceptions, little more than linear prose, arbitrarily divided into line-lengths", Marjorie Perloff

"The poetic line seems highly problematic nowadays and it sometimes seems better to avoid it altogether", Frances Presley, "Poetry Review",

"Not only hapless adolescents, but many gifted and justly esteemed poets writing in contemporary nonmetrical forms, have only the vaguest concept, and the most haphazard use, of the line", Denise Levertov


p.s. Maybe Kant didn't write in stanzas, but Spinoza and Wittgenstein got close.

Deryn
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Re: Line ends, and beginnings?

Post by Deryn » Wed Sep 19, 2012 6:44 am

Hi and many thanks.

Surprisingly, that all makes perfect sense to me. And the answer to my question, is both simple, yet it can be open to a certain amount of interpretation. It has certainly given me something to think about next time I'm sitting, working on a piece of writing.

Surprisingly,
that all makes
perfect sense to me.

And the answer
to my question,
is both simple
yet it can be open
to a certain amount
of interpretation.

Deryn :D

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Re: Line ends, and beginnings?

Post by David » Wed Sep 19, 2012 9:47 am

I agree with all that's been said about non-metrical verse, but isn't this RST poem metrical? To me it's a relaxed iambic quadrameter (very relaxed in the last line, which contains no iambs whatsoever) - four beats to a line - with the break on the last stress word (or word containing the last stress, e.g. "metal") in each line.

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