The Art of Craft: Some notes on thoughts on the line

Wednesday night, in the final Art of Craft fall session, we’ll be exploring the line, considering what functions lines serve in poems, and ways poets use the line. A few ideas we’ll be considering:

line is a function of rhyme

line is a function of formal structure

line in blank verse is function of meter

the function of the line is sonic; line is a sonic rather than visual element of poetry (except in concrete poetry and a few other forms/trends)

the line exists because it has a relationship to syntax

line in free verse is the companion and disruptor of syntax, working together to create the poem; line and syntax cannot exist without each other (except in some poems, where line and syntax are always and only companions, and reading the poem feels exactly like reading prose)

the aural pleasure we take in the poem is due to the way lines marshal the language into patterns of assonance and alliteration

line endings can perform the work of punctuation

each line ending is a place where a poem can bend; in poems using rhyme the necessity of getting to a rhyming word by the end of the next line can steer the poem into another direction or another point of view, and in unrhymed poems the end of each line is a potential jumping off place where the poem can continue forward or, as your eyes sweep to the left, reverse, turn, spin.

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Deciding where the line should end in a free-verse poem might seem mysterious, but in fact it is not

Deciding where the line should end in a free-verse poem might initially seem more mysterious than in a metered or syllabic poem, but in fact it is not: whether or not the line ending is determined by an arbitrary constraint, the line ending won’t have a powerful function unless we hear it playing off the syntax in relationship to other line endings.
James Longenbach, The Art of the Poetic Line