Line Break Breakdown

Here is Cam’s two cents on line breaks:

“Line breaks are like in music/how slow or fast you play a song. Think
about I shall be released, a slow, slow song, but then some punk
rockers take hold of it. Think about flight of the bumblebees, that
classical song. Or fiddle playing.

Anyway, line breaks, are like tempo. You can enjamb the rhythm by
breaking a line in a weird spot, or a word in a weird spot, like
breaking a rhythm in a song. But then there has got to be reason
otherwise someone will quit listening or reading.”

Everyone I ask about line breaks seems to return to the analogy of rhythm. I think a poem has a pulse, akin to the tempo of a song. A poem’s pulse is determined by literal and symbolic meaning, by the reader’s and the writer’s and the narrator’s own biases, and by…what else? Certainly content, but that is implied by these other things. There must be more.

Beyond that, within that the pulse of each poem, every word has its own cadence that pushes against or rides with the pulse of the poem. A musical poem, a poem that sings from the pages – as is said – strikes a balance between the pulse of the poem and the cadence of the individual words. The individual words form lines, and depending on how much “musical weight” each word in the the line has, a break happens when the scales are tipped just so.


Showing 2 comments
  • Anonymous

    a line break might also be used to put emphasis to a word, giving the context an emphasized, or possibly a clarified, meaning?

  • Supervillainess

    There’s a really good essay by Denise Levertov on the free verse line (obviously, in syllabic or metric poetry, you’ve got built-in line breaks.) I think it was called “The Function of a Line” or “the Line” or something like that. Check it out! PS This is Jeannine under a different blogger account.

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