Breaking the Line

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What makes a poem a poem? So many things that books have been written in answer to to the question! What is interesting me at the moment is the use of white space on the page. As Glyn Maxwell famously wrote in On Poetry ‘Poets work with two materials, one’s black, one’s white’ and it’s the interaction of the two that not only frames a poem but allows it to breathe. Even more than that, the white space has been likened to a musical score, giving instructions to the eye on how to read and the ear on how to receive.
Line breaks are an integral part of these instructions, the emphasis they bring to the word at the end of the line or the word at the beginning of the next is central to the construction and interpretation of a poem.
Holly Pester used a great example in her article in Poetry News Vol 109:2 Looking at ‘The other plum poem’ by William Carlos Williams

To a Poor Old Woman

They taste good to her
They taste good
to her. They taste
good to her

In four short lines, moving the line breaks has created a pattern of different meanings and emphasis and intensified the sensation within the poem. Wow, powerful things these line breaks!
Here’s one of mine, the title poem from the pamphlet and one where line breaks play a significant part in the reading and meaning of the poem.

The dogs that chase bicycle wheels

stare out of windows,
checking the boundaries

checking the boundaries.

They have territories to protect,

circling

from the backs of sofas

to front doors,

to kitchens,
whole worlds held in their flat eyes.

Postmen breach defences,
dropping offerings
to be bitten, ripped and pissed on.

Straining to a point always
just in front of their noses,
the click

clicking of bicycle wheels

tricking them into the frenzy of a chase
for the white scut of a rabbit.

Unceasingly they scout crowded horizons
for what is not there,

will never be there.

Easter Wish

I’m not really one for prayer but it strikes me that in these times when it seems like the whole world has been put on pause, people are still reaching out to each other with words of care or comfort and support is being given in surprising and inventive ways. One phenomenon I’ve noticed is the way that people are signing off emails and messages has changed. It got me thinking and so here is my wish for you.

Valediction in the Time of Covid.

I am no longer yours in faith or sincerity,
I cannot be the granter of wishes
or kisses
in these interrupted days,
I can however issue instructions
in the hope they fall as talismen
Keep well
Stay safe.

Seren Poetry Festival

Programme

I’m really looking forward to reading at the Seren Poetry Festival in February. What a fantastic series of readings and lectures. I’ll be reading at the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet prizewinners lunch on Sunday 10th and am excited to meet the prizewinners from other years. You can book tickets from the above website.