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The Art of Line Breaks in Poems by Lynne Golodner

by Writing Workshops Staff

7 months ago

The Art of Line Breaks in Poems by Lynne Golodner

by Writing Workshops Staff

7 months ago

Our next Perfecting Line Breaks in Poetry Workshop Starts Soon!

One of the things I love most about writing poetry is the art of it. Yeah, you read that right: poetry is an art form.

But I think a lot of people don’t realize how many artistic parts there are to writing a poem! There’s the idea, the story, the details, and of course, how it appears on the page.

As a writing instructor, I don’t think we do enough teaching about the various pieces of poem-making – which really leaves writers at a disadvantage. You know something draws you to the genre. Most of us have enjoyed the rhythm of poems since we were little! But to truly understand this art form, you have to take your time with it, and understand how each piece contributes to the compelling whole.

Here's how I write my poems:

I start with the idea and the words, and I just stream them across the page without any attention to lines or phrases or anything, really. Just get the words down.

Then I look at them. What words are here? Which ones make interesting groupings when they are gathered together?

I play with line breaks. The first round may not be the final one. (It often isn’t). I look at what groupings of words would make an interesting stand-alone statement, and what words need to stream into each other. Where the pauses must go. Where to add breath and hesitation, or emphasis and exclamation.

The same goes for stanza breaks! There must be a reason why I group a certain number of lines together here and a different number there. If I am working in free form, I want to know the why behind my poem’s construction.

It’s not enough to have beautiful images or a snapshot of a moment or a groundbreaking idea.

A huge part of a poem is in its presentation. In its physical form. In the way the words hug into the page. In the way the white space dances.

I’ve heard too often from writers that they can’t access poems. Or they don’t know what to make of a poem or how to critique it or what it means. But it’s not that hard.

Poetry takes time, yes, and you have to be patient (which I’m not) and willing to sit with it for a while to let it seep inside you. Once, many years ago, a friend and I debated the meaning of a two-line poem. (Two lines!!) We had the great fortune to meet the poet at a live reading in Bethesda, Maryland, and after he finished, we excitedly rushed to the podium and asked him to settle the argument.

“Which one of us is right?” we breathlessly asked. “What did you intend this poem to mean?”

“It doesn't matter what I meant when I wrote this poem,” he said. “Once it leaves me, it’s what it means to you.”

And with that, he walked away.

Poetry only means something if you take the time to know it. It’s there for anyone who wants to engage. But you have to be a willing partner.

Throughout my writing career, I’ve straddled genres. I started in journalism, earned my MFA in Poetry from Goddard College, had two poetry collections published and then six nonfiction books, and now I’m writing fiction and memoir. Writing is writing.

But each genre has its own idiosyncracies and delights. You have to take the time to know them if you want to do it. That’s all that writing demands: time and attention. Are you up to the task?


 BIO: Lynne Golodner is the creator of our popular courses Perfecting Line Breaks in Poetry and Finding Your Voice. Lynne is the author of 8 books, a long-time writing coach and college writing instructor, and a former journalist and an award-winning marketing entrepreneur whose writing has been published in magazines and literary publications around the world. Lynne’s essays have recently appeared in Porridge Magazine, the Jewish Literary Journal, The Good Life Review, The Forward, Hadassah Magazine, Story Unlikely, Valiant Scribe, YourTango, Great Lakes Review and more. Her articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Seventeen, Forbes, Parents Magazine, Midwest Living, Saveur, the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press, Better Homes and Gardens and many more.


Our next Perfecting Line Breaks in Poetry Workshop Starts Soon!

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