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Prose and Poetry and Line Breaks

Of course, effectively, uptake matters, or pleasure of the partaking, not the label but, but but.

What makes the difference between poetry and prose? One series I’m working on is peculiarly plot-driven. It hooks forward in a genre-fiction way. It has distinct voices and parts are not poetic even tho in form. It’s an odd thing for me. I feel as tho I am coaxing it back to painterly from photography, applying some acceptable digital filter to make a voice look like an oil canvas but it feels forced. What do with poems that insist on doing themselves their way?

I question what I think is poetic. Out of a hundred page long list to sift, I had 3 instances of the phrase “blues guitar”. That seems disproportional to my life or the clustering theme. Do I think blues guitars are somehow more poeterly than most things? or more worthwhile to promote? And 3 instances of dust bunnies, which is just, well, odd, although at least maps to life experience more tightly. And they’ve had enough promotions. They are SuperBunnies.

Doing is believing so what does what I have done tell me about what I believe?

This idea of poetry as needing to “feel like a poem” or have insight, or accuracy, or emotionalism, or structure deriving from observation and rational contemplation, all are one part of the blind man’s elephant.

When is it a poem? Baker’s character, looking at the poem in The New Yorker says,

Let’s have a look at this poem. Here it is, going down. You can tell it is a poem because it is swimming in a little gel pack of white space. That shows it is a poem. All the typography on all sides has drawn back. The words are making room, they’re saying, Rumble, rumble, stand back now this is going to be good.

This is from p. 21 of The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker is a novel of a man writing an introduction to his anthology of rhyme, or rather avoiding writing it. (Exact strike on my funny bone incidentally.)

When a poem has end stopped lines, I tend to have a ping in my head and my hand reaches for the inkpad and PROSE stamp.

I temper the reflex. I know its not the case but I’ve been thinking more into this dispersed debate I’ve been in for 5 or 6 years over line breaks.

I keep doggedly insisting S., should play with his line endings. He tactfully replies, in effect, different but equal. Different goals for style and effect. He’s a patient fellow.

If I think as I say, he could do more verbal play, does that mean I think the distinction between poetry and prose is in the clever factor? That would be rather damning.

If the content stays the same, why should I suggest enjambing as superior to what he’s doing? The oral content would be the same, and only page-visual different. Would that imply that I think poetry is about style not communication?

With the extra time to prepare, one can add more entertainment style and bonus easter eggs to the communication. Perhaps that’s a matter of thought habit and not about prose or poetry, written or spoken, not particular to the type of content.

Perhaps it’s worldview-based. Poems of pretty abstractions, perfectly poised self-contained views make me feel restless. Perhaps it’s a matter of class consciousness. A workingman poem where there is perfect conformity to type has the same effect as nature priestess as world is universally malevolent clatter, with no counterpoint in the terraforming of the poem. I like a nod to what the poem omits, to a wabi-sabi or else I feel talked down to by a superior posture or think the poem is not being true.

What does it mean that I think he should mess about with his line breaks? He likes lines to be end-stopped or coincide with a natural grammatical and meaning pauses. I’d rather break against meaning and add another entendre.

Do I value variety? If I value variety truly, should I be dabbling in his way more as well? A measured, considered speech, oratorial building to one reinforced conclusion. He still has the thought and literary challenge of all things meshing, unexpected parts fitting in with the sense of inevitable. And the pleasure that comes with how that comes to be implemented.

From p. 55-57 of The Anthologist,

Rhyming is the avoidance of mental pain by addicting yourself to what will happen next. It’s like chain-smoking — you light one line with the glowing embers of the last. You set up a call and you wants a response. You posit a pling and yu want a fring. You propose a plong, and you want a frong. You’re in suspense.

[…] Alcohol, coffee, rhyme, murder mysteries, gambling, Project Runway, anything with suspense. Sending out letters. Poets who have reached a certain point of depression are great letter writers, because they write a letter, and they send it out, and until they get a response they are in suspense about what the response will be […]I never never answer letters, so I keep my correspondents in a state of permanent suspense.

He is unabashedly silly by runs, yet it’s a vehicle for his subject. His intercut leaps are quirky, which I haven’t sampled there. The effect works by the long run and sudden turn that loops back pages. It’s the shifts of energy and what all. I’m not sure. But if I laugh-squeak could split atoms, we’d have a new reactor here.

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3 Responses

  1. I drive like I write and read poetry, which means I override blinker signals if what the car is actually doing is counter to them. With poetry I pause where I see the line brake whether or not there is a period there.

  2. ‘When a poem has end stopped lines, I tend to have a ping in my head and my hand reaches for the inkpad and PROSE stamp.’

    I’m just the opposite and think enjambment belongs to prose – though occasionally try it in verse of late.

    Interesting to blur the boundaries and see how far one can take it, but after all the name poetry must mean something. I don’t know how to define the distinction; I like to think I can feel it.

  3. interesting. that completely makes sense since we do read prose that line-wraps. we get used to screening out what word is start or end of line as unimportant. when lines are poem-line short and punctuated by space-pause, grammar and punctuations, we apply a different filter that the end and start points are chosen.

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