2010: The Year of the Line Break

January 8th, 2010

My lines are too short.

I’m going through a revision phase again, trying to find the five poems that will get me into this workshop, (and frankly I’m about to tape my best twenty to the wall and just start throwing darts) and it’s clear to me that in many instances my lines are too short. I’ve come back to several poems that I haven’t worked with in months and have made major changes to the line breaks in all of them, in each case producing revised poems with longer (and thus fewer) lines. Longer lines create more possibilities for interesting line breaks, breaks that carry the poem forward on its own momentum; in several instances I think the poem just looks nicer on the page as well.

I write almost all of my first drafts by hand in Moleskine notebooks, and in most cases my lines are as long as the page is wide: when transcribed into typeface that can yield a pretty short line. (It also reminds me of the oft-told story that William Carlos Williams wrote many of his poems on prescription pads. Did he write on the pads because he wrote short poems, or did he write short poems because he wrote on prescription pads? Did his tools influence his style? Did his style dictate his tools? Did the two feed off of each other?) What’s interesting to me is that it shows me that I am not in control of my material, not on the first pass-through at any rate. I’m letting the width of the paper I’m writing on determine my line breaks; and line breaks are a poet’s most powerful tool. 

About a year ago I started paying more attention to stanzas, to controlling the pace of my poems by introducing some breathing room. I think it made for some better poems; certainly thinking more closely about form, making decisions about form, made me a better poet even in those instances when I held on to the original version. Thinking critically about the way I write has to be a step forward, it has to be a sign of something. Growth, maturity, something. So I’m going to look at my lines more closely.

If 2009 was the Year of the Stanza, then 2010 shall be The Year of the Line Break.