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Welcome to another installment of Write After Reading: Living the Life Poetic,a weekly online book club with poetry participation. It alternates between my blog and Laura's blog. Last week, we chatted about Chapter 24 over at Laura's blog. Today I want to talk about Chapter 33.



Before I get into my thoughts on this chapter though I have an exciting announcement to make. Sage Cohen, the author of the book Writing the Life Poetic, has volunteered to answer any questions for us when we wind up the series. I'll need to send them to her in advance so please, send in your questions now, or in the next few weeks. You can either post them as a comment in the blog (here or at Laura's) or you can email them to me at susan AT susantaylorbrown dot  com

Now, on to Chapter 33 and the discussion of line breaks. I was so glad to see this chapter because line breaks is one of the things I most struggle with in my poems. I felt a bit better when she said she thought ten poet laurerates would break a poem in ten different ways. But of course, being a rule follower, I wanted to know the RIGHT way to do it. But I think the message here is there is no right or wrong way, there is only the way of the individual poet based on what they want the reader to feel, to take away, as they read the poem. Some line breaks will be a leisurely stroll and some will feel like you're on a runaway train.

The line breaks that confuse me most of all are the ones that break mid-idea and leave me hanging. I keep studying the poem to see if I can discover the answer to why it breaks a certain way but usually I can't. This is part of what makes me feel dumb about poetry because I want to understand that which often can't be understood but only felt. I like the idea she gives that you want to end the line on the word you want the reader to linger on a bit longer.

I think line breaks will always be hard for me until I learn to trust myself as a poet.

I chose the first exercise she listed. She took the poem Lake and Maple by Jane Hirshfield and wrote it in paragraph form and then suggested that we try putting in the line breaks. I haven't read that poem before so it is all new to me. I'll go looking for a copy after I play with my own line breaks with it (in the comments.)
There are so many stories only you can tell.Tell them, please.



Comments

( 25 comments — Leave comment )
susanwrites
April 20th, 2011 06:22 am (UTC)
First, here is the excerpt of the poem, Lake and Maple by Jane Hirshfield.

I want to give myself utterly as this maple
that burned and burned for three days
without stinting and then in two more
dropped off every leaf; as this lake that,
no matter what comes to its green-blue
depths, both takes and returns it. In the
still heart that refuses nothing, the world
is twice-born -- two earths wheeling,
two heavens, two egrets reaching down into
subtraction; even the fish for an instant
doubled, before it is gone.


And here is my attempt at breaking the lines.


I want to give myself
utterly
as this maple that burned and burned
for three days without stinting
and then in two more
dropped off every leaf; as this lake that, no matter what comes
to its green-blue depths, both takes and returns it.
In the still heart
that refuses nothing,
the world
is twice-born --
two earths wheeling,
two heavens,
two egrets reaching
down into subtraction;
even the fish for an instant
doubled,
before it is gone.

Edited at 2011-04-20 06:32 am (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
susanwrites
April 21st, 2011 09:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Laura. It's really fascinating to see how many variations we can get with line breaks and how many different feelings arise as a result. (Went to bed thinking I had responded to everything here last night...obviously not.)
susanwrites
April 20th, 2011 06:37 am (UTC)
Okay, I decided to play around with some other line breaks of my own. This is from a poem I posted a few days ago for National Poetry Month.

As Posted then with different line breaks after that.


Poem a Day #16

I find it hard to take things
on faith alone.
I want proof that slowing down
being in the moment
is worth the investment of my time.

Today I follow the dog
down the garden path that ends
near the glider
where she sniffs the sage.

One ceanothus, still in bloom,
calls dozens and dozens of
bees to dance between
the blue blossoms.

Fat bumblebees
fuzzy carpenter bees
industrious honey bees
and bees that look like flies.

I stand still
let bees buzz all around me
and listen to the concert
I almost missed.


© 2011 Susan Taylor Brown. All rights reserved.



With different line breaks
Poem a Day #16

I find it hard
to take things on faith alone.
I want proof
that slowing down
being in the moment
is worth the investment
of my time.

Today
I follow the dog
down the garden path
that ends near the glider
where she sniffs the sage.

One ceanothus, still in bloom,
calls dozens and dozens
of bees to dance
between the blue blossoms.

Fat bumblebees
fuzzy carpenter bees
industrious honey bees
and bees that look like flies.

I stand still
let bees buzz
all around me
and listen
to the concert
I almost missed.


© 2011 Susan Taylor Brown. All rights reserved.

I'm not sure but I think I still like the first version best. The truth might be in a combo of them both.

(Anonymous)
April 20th, 2011 03:24 pm (UTC)
Susan, I liked the beginning in the second poem better, and the ending of the first better. The short lines at the end of the second speed me too fast to the end.

Cindyb
(Deleted comment)
susanwrites
April 21st, 2011 09:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Laura. I find that the more I mess with line breaks, the more I feel like I am breaking the poem in too many places and losing what I want to say. This is really one of my toughest areas to work on because I know the breaks rarely come out right the first time but the more I move them, the more I doubt myself.

Cindy, interesting thought about the short lines speeding too fast though it can be that it is like a "buzz buzz" of a bee. I might play with different words, longer words but still short lines. What an exercise. How to decide that a poem is ever done?
dorireads
April 24th, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC)
I agree. I keep messing and messing with lines and eventually begin to feel like it's just a random decision sometimes. Or that there are just too many possibilities. Like a Chinese restaurant menu that leaves me with no idea what I really want.
(Deleted comment)
susanwrites
April 21st, 2011 09:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks for pointing us to your great article, Laura.

I don't tend to think about shape in a poem but that's probably something I ought to consider. :)

I need to find the book that talked a lot about the weight of words, like you did in your article. Shoot. This is why we need this discussion, so we can come back and find things when our minds can't call them up anymore.
dorireads
April 24th, 2011 05:24 pm (UTC)
Excellent article, Laura. I especially like the thoughts about words having weight.
(Deleted comment)
susanwrites
April 21st, 2011 09:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Lake and Maple - Laura's Line Breaks 2
I don't think enough in couplets (again, something for me to look more into) so I am more drawn to your first set of line breaks.

A really fun exercise.
dorireads
April 24th, 2011 05:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Lake and Maple - Laura's Line Breaks 2
Interesting. I like the idea of couplets because it does seem to complement the idea of two's in the poem. But I like the first version best. The couplets at the beginning of the second version feel distracting to me, but the ones you used at the end of the first version feel perfect.
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
susanwrites
April 21st, 2011 09:36 pm (UTC)
Love this question, Melodye but not sure I have an answer. I don't think about line breaks when I am writing prose but I do find that I think more poetically.

I wonder if one could attribute line breaks to paragraphs? I do tend, with prose, to break into paragraphs specifically because of the ending I want or the beginning I want in the next one.
dorireads
April 24th, 2011 05:34 pm (UTC)
I recently revised a novel and one of the things I noticed in revision was my tendency to feel like I needed specific time place transitions. (This could have been because I set myself such a specific time period of three weeks for the action to occur.) But still I felt a stiffness in that need, if that makes sense. So often novelists move from on scene/one time segment to another without any transition. Just moving on. Then in poetry, especially adult poetry there is so often a seeming jump from one idea/image to the next without any transition and often without any seeming connection. I'm sure it's there in the poet's mind, but it's not always apparent to the reader. It's a concept I struggle with in both forms.
(Anonymous)
April 20th, 2011 03:19 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I did the exercise before I read either of yours, because I saw lines I liked better in both.


I want
to give myself utterly
as this maple that burned and burned
for three days without stinting
and then in two more
dropped every leaf;

as this lake that,
no matter what comes
to its blue-green depths,
both takes
and returns it.

In the still heart that refuses nothing,
the world is twice-born-
two earths wheeling, two heavens,
two egrets reaching down
into subtraction;
even the fish for an instant
doubled,
before it is gone.


Cindyb
susanwrites
April 21st, 2011 09:39 pm (UTC)
Cindyb - I ALWAYS see things I like better in what the other people do. It's the nature of our creative spirits, I do believe. :)

I have to agree with Laura that your opening break is beautiful and it tempted me to want to rewrite some of the poem so I could echo that.

I like

both takes
and returns it.

because it feels like an echo and I like

doubled,
before it is gone.

because I catch my breath with "doubled" and then feel it all melt away with the last line. Well done!
dorireads
April 24th, 2011 05:36 pm (UTC)
Oh, very nice, Cyndy. I really like what you did here.
(Deleted comment)
susanwrites
April 21st, 2011 09:40 pm (UTC)
I agree with line breaks being mysterious. And I confess to not being able to explain myself very well with my verse novel when I was asked why I was breaking a certain poem in a certain way. Obviously I need to look behind my own mysterious curtain once in a while. :)
(Anonymous)
April 21st, 2011 09:17 pm (UTC)
I tried creating my line breaks before reading others' comments, attempting to break on strong words and have a balanced look to the poem. Hmmm. Mine is very different than those above, and the authors.

I want to give myself utterly
as this maple that burned
and burned for three days
without stinting and then in two more
dropped off every leaf; as this lake
that, no matter what comes
to its green-blue depths,
both takes and returns it. In the still
heart that refuses nothing, the world
is twice-born -- two earths wheeling,
two heavens, two egrets
reaching down into subtraction;
even the fish for an instant
doubled, before it is gone.


It was interesting to see what everyone did with this poem, and what Susan did with her personal poem. Laura, your linked post was extremely useful.

I had hoped to find some hard and fast rules to follow, but personal preference seems to play a major role in deciding where to break lines. This does not boost my confidence, but it is useful to know.

ellie
susanwrites
April 21st, 2011 09:43 pm (UTC)
Ellie, I think Laura nailed it with your poem. I got an image of an angry person shaking her fist at the world trying to get them to understand that it was gone, everything was gone. A lot of emotion conveyed just with the line breaks. This amazes me.

I hear you on not getting much of a confidence boost. Sigh. I think though, that one thing I am getting most from this journey with this book is that I need to learn to trust myself more...to trust my ear that is telling my own story.
dorireads
April 22nd, 2011 11:43 pm (UTC)
I wrote my variations on the poem before reading any of the comments. Then, forced myself to post them before I read, too. So here are my experiments.


Version 1

I want to give
myself
utterly
as this maple that burned
and burned for three days
without stinting
and then in two more
dropped off every leaf;
as this lake
that, no matter what comes
to its green-blue depths
both takes and returns it.
In the still heart, that refuses
nothing, the world
is twice-born--
two earths wheeling,
two heavens,
two egrets reaching
down into subraction;
even the fish for an instant,
doubled,
before it is gone.

Version 2

I want to give myself utterly
as this maple that burned and burned
for three days without stinting
and then in two more dropped off every leaf;
as this lake that, no matter what comes
to its blue-green depths, both takes
and returns it. In the still heart,
that refuses nothing,
the world is twice-born--
two earths wheeling, two heavens, two egrets
reaching down into subtraction;
even the fish for an instant doubled,
before it is gone.

Okay. Now I'll go back and read posts and try to comment before the weekend is over.

And I just want to say thanks for letting me hang with you guys. I've really enjoyed this.
susanwrites
April 23rd, 2011 07:38 pm (UTC)
Dori, love having you join us on this poetic journey. I like both of your examples though I think I'm drawn more to the first one. One thing I'm learning about myself is that I tend to like lots of line breaks. :)
dorireads
April 24th, 2011 05:39 pm (UTC)
I found it interesting that I didn't even consider adding stanzas to the poem, but so many other folks did. And I think the addition of stanzas made each poem even more distinctly different.
(Anonymous)
April 23rd, 2011 06:46 pm (UTC)
It is very freeing to play around with line breaks! I love messing around with punctuation, too. I saw a quote today that I wanted to turn into a poem, which is really just an exercise in line breaks.

I have a possible question for Sage...I read somewhere that posting a poem on your site does not count as publishing it, so you can still submit it places as "unpublished." Does that match what you have run across? Does it matter if it's been posted on other sites? Just wondering "where the line is."

Thanks :-)
Tabatha
susanwrites
April 23rd, 2011 07:36 pm (UTC)
Tabatha, Glad you have fun with line breaks. I think it's a great idea/exercise to take a quote and turn it into a poem!

Thanks for the question for Sage. I'll add it to the list. IMHO, I think that line about what is published or not, when posted, varies a lot. :)
( 25 comments — Leave comment )
WHO AM I?



Who am I?I was born on the Cancer/Leo cusp and share a birthday with Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams. The similarities don't stop there as I can go from depressed to ecstatic without ever passing go. I feel scared most of the time though my friends call me brave and I find it easier to believe in my friends than to believe in my own abilities to make what I want out of my life.

Who am I? A wife, a mother, a daughter, and even, gulp, a grandmother.

Who am I? A writer who never gets tired of playing with words, even when the words are hard to find. A writer of books for children and articles for grown-ups and many things in-between.

Who am I? A motivational speaker, writing instructor, workshop leader and full-time follower of dreams.

Who am I? Read and find out.






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