"Brain, shake out thy water, dog-like." -- Ron Padgett

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Class 5: Linebreaks

Heather Christle
It isn’t dark yet though it should be dark
The grass is bright you can still see it
and warm and you can smell it and
elsewhere two people hold one another close
in a darkness they have created They can feel
their insides turning to olive oil and late late
afternoon light It’s hard not to be them
to be like a fallen off piece of the mountain
to have traveled so far and still without darkness
To see the whole system the houses
pulling up from the soil and to want
the stars out now To want the stars out now
like a linen bag over the head
In this class, we discussed the linebreak, line spacing, the stanza break, and how such things as indentation can influence the reading/pacing of a poem.

We spoke of how the default position is the left margin and any variation on that is read as a pause, a moment. It is as if the entire page is a grid notating time. We generally read from top to bottom and from left to right. The space between one element and another vertically or horizontally typically represents time, something like a 'rest' in music notation.

So: word placement can notate: rhythm and pacing by grouping words or elements into lines or segment.

It can group elements by thought, image, or sound. (Sometimes this is both a rhythmic and a visual technique.)

Placing can determine how one reads or joins together one line to another (so a word which is dropped from a line down onto the line below and indented, can be read as if a colon lead to it. The word is 'placed' with particular attention.)

1. We looked at how linebreaking can create possibilities for additional, punning, or more complex meanings. Cf. The Anne Carson examples on the blog.

2.  We looked at the E.E. Cummings "Leaf" poem (on the blog) as an illustration of punning, slowing down reading, making the reader have to puzzle through the text and become part of meaning-creation.

3. The Snail by Souvankham Thammavongsa

3. We looked at bpNichol's The Martyrology: The Book of Hours, Section 13 (on the blog, scroll down through the link to find it) as an example of a text which uses many different linebreaking techniques for rhythmic control, increased drama and parsing out of the meaning (in this case, the grief-filled recollection of a stillbirth.)

4. As a class, we explored breaking the lines of the W.S. Merwin poem, Sunset after Rain.

W.S. Merwin

Old cloud passes mourning her daughter can’t hear what anyone tells her every minute is one of the doors that never opened. Little cold stream wherever I go you touch the heart night follows. The darkness is cold because the stars do not believe in each other.

We started with the words of the poem as a block of prose and then played with where we might break the lines to explore various effects. Then we looked at what Merwin did. Sunset after Rain.

5. We each did the same thing with the Ko Un poem, Diamond Cave. See the poem as a block of prose to be lineated, below.


Find a piece of prose around a paragraph in length. It can be from a newspaper, book, instruction manual, bad tattoo, transcription of an interview with a duck, or anywhere on the internet.

Break it into lines as in a poem. Consider what opportunities linebreaks might bring to the text in terms of rhythm, pacing, bringing out buried or alternative meanings, visual representation, etc.

You can alter any words in the original you want. For fun. For profit. For poetry.

7. By class 7, please bring in a handful (3-5 depending on whether you are saurian, simian, porcine, ursine, feline, or robotic) of poems for me to formally examine, grade, give feedback, steal, tattoo, etc.

8. We listened/watched to Jaap Blonk perform the Ur Sonata by Kurt Schwitters, an example of sound poetry.

9. We read a bit of Gregory Corso's "Marriage" as an example of a narrative which used poetic techniques, is funny, and uses long lines.  (It's posted on the blog.)

10. We wrote a poem based on thinking about going 'inside' something. The poem was based on Charles Simic's "Stone" (posted here on the blog.) I did one, though I didn't quite follow the rules. It's about Stephen Harper. I've posted it here. And yes, you have permission to tattoo it onto your forehead.


1.  Keumgang-Gul / Diamond Cave by Ko Un.

What a relief you cannot live everywhere all at once. Today, here in Diamond Cave, there's no longer any reason to live. Stay one or two days: this world & the Other are drained of difference. Wind blows. As a pearl is born at seabottom in agony out of oyster flesh from within the most obscure darkness here the wind blows from the depths. I want to travel far & then return. The wind blows as if I were eighty-five, maybe eighty-seven.

Link to original poem.

2. “March 12, 1992” (from Fear of the Ride) by Ronna Bloom 

The men shovel. Sound of crunch and fall. The men in suits and gray faces dig. The thin crust of March cling to trees. The earth closing one spoon at a time. My father digs with his whole body, born to this gesture. 

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