White space, line breaks, love hate

I'm obssessed right now with white space
and line breaks. I took a deliberate break from using both
features while writing Tinderbox Lawn, choosing to focus
on small blocks of prose, sans titles. It was fascinating to try
to capture / retain the sound of line breaks and white space
without using either one. Right now I'm trying to decide
whether to re-engage with them, or continue on with
my tidy little poetry bricks.

Deliberately not using them (like deliberately
not using a particular letter or deliberately choosing
alphabetic sequences) has made me think
more deeply about their uses and misuses.
I feel bored with conventional line breaks, bored
with lopping off lines to tidy up the seams of a poem
or because it feels easier than a comma.

It isn't that I want rules; it's that I want to know,
for myself, in my work, what sound a line break
makes; what sound white space makes. To use
the page more expertly, with more musicality.

Thoughts on this? How do you know when to
break a line and/or how do you know when to
isolate a line or stanza within white space?

(I should add that my investment in poetic
structure clashes wildly with my inability
to figure out how the hell to get my blog posts
to stop slicing sentences in half. I have to write
each post in a tidy little block lest it sliver itself
in its final published post version. I intend to
seek technical, if not spiritual, guidance in this matter
because it impacts my writing, although of course
this is, in itself, an interesting exercise.)


Amanda said…
Doesn't the line break have something to do with the breath or the way a poem is read? It seems like a line break can either give a pause where it would be natural to take a breath, or a line break can work against that and force a pause where it wouldn't normally go.

I think of line breaks as being about the tension between the line and the grammar/punctuation of the sentence. I typically write in grammatically complete/correct sentences, so line breaks disrupt the sentences in ways that I choose not to do grammatically.
Brent Goodman said…
I first and foremost think of each line as a poem within a poem; that each line should be able to stand on it's own - even the smallest shard of a broken mirror still reflects the whole world.

I also learned a lot from Creeley on how to use line as the music of conversation, the pauses and stammers of one mind pouring startlingly into another.
Anonymous said…
I like what Goodman said. But I think more poets use line breaks like Amanda is saying.

Usually, I see the line breaks in my head as I go, and what I am trying to do (often unsuccessfully)is to propel the reader down the length the poem. Not to speed up the reading, but to give a sense of the urgency I feel as I write it. Or the grace, as the case may be.

If I don't see the line breaks clearly, I write in paragraph form, like a prose poem. Sometimes they remain that way, for I am lazy by nature, and sometimes the breaks come to me at a later editing. I let things cool before I edit much.

But that 'poem within a poem' thought. I'll have to chew on that awhile! Like Bly's ghazals.

By the way, the link to my blog isn't quite right; there's no 'WWW.' It's just:

Carol Guess said…
Three different answers -- breath; poem-within-a-poem; movement. All make sense to me.

Very useful responses; thanks for the thoughtful replies!

(And James, I've fixed the link --
you were right, I'd added www
where it should not be. Wonder what
that www stands for, floating around lost now -- what would Whitman do?)
MEDEA poetica said…
Greetings from a coffeehaus near Yellowstone, where it is cold and white and windy and beautiful.

I love the intentionality of/concept of your poetry bricks, but also appreciate poems that successfully use white space and line breaks to convey additional meaning.

I think of them as syntactical synapses, little pauses that provide a break in the circuit/the message. This breather allows neurons/the writer/the reader to integrate or convey additional information.

Poems don't always benefit from this pause, but it's one more way that a poet can offer more conceptual insight/communicate meaning.