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Breaking the line: An exercise for revision in poetry

Breaking the line: An exercise for revision in poetry

Author: Matthew Otremba
Objective:
  1. Define key poetic terms: the line, lineation and enjambment.
  2. Become familiar with Robert Creeley’s use of line and enjambment.
  3. Revise a poem by way of changing its lineation.
  4. Explore how variations in line length can affect meaning in poetry.
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Tutorial

The Poetic Line

What is a poetic line?

A line is a unit of words in a poem, and it can vary in length. According to Oliver (1994), "The first obvious difference between prose and poetry is that prose is printed (or written) within the confines of margin, while poetry is written in lines that do not necessarily pay any attention to the margins, especially the right margin" (35).

An example

Here are three lines from Robert Creeley's poem "The Language":

Locate I
love you some-
where in

Source: Oliver, M. (1994). A poetry handbook. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Creeley, R. (1992). The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press

Lineation

What is lineation?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, lineation is "an arrangement of lines." Coulson and Temes (2002) elaborate on this definition: "[T]here is an interplay between the grammar of the line, the breath of the line, and the way lines are broken out in the poem--this is called lineation" (para. 12).

An example

Here is an example of "an arrangement of lines," spanning two stanzas, from Robert Creeley's poem "The Language":

Locate I
love you some-
where in

teeth and
eyes, bite
it but

Source: Coulson, J & Temes, P. (2002) How to read a poem. Retrieved from http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19882 & Creeley, R. (1992). The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press

Enjambment

What is enjambment?

Estess and McCann (2003) tell us: "Enjambment means breaking a line but not ending the sentence, that is carrying over a sentence from one line to the other" (p 140).

An example

There are multiple examples of enjambment in these lines from Robert Creeley's poem "The Language." Notice how this single sentence is carried over from one line to the next and over multiple stanzas, and all the lines break abruptly.

Locate I
love you some-
where in

teeth and
eyes, bite
it but

take care not
to hurt, you
want so

much so
little.

Source: Estess, S. & McCann, J. (2003). In a field of words: a creative writing text. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall & Creeley, R. (1992). The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press

Robert Creeley and The Line

One of the masters of enjambment and the line is the poet Robert Creeley. As you can see above, Creeley's line breaks are often startling and unexpected. To find out more about Creeley's unique use of the line (or breaking the line), read the section on "The Line" in How to Read A Poem, which you can find here:

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/19882

You can also find a brief biography of Robert Creeley and his poems here:

http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/184

Source: poets.org from The Academy of American Poetry

Robert Creeley's "The Language"

Here is the complete poem of Robert Creeley's "The Language":

The Language

Locate I
love you some-
where in

teeth and
eyes, bite
it but

take care not
to hurt, you
want so

much so
little. Words
say everything.

I
love you
again,

then what
is emptiness
for. To

fill, fill.
I heard words
and words full

of holes
aching. Speech
is a mouth.

Source: Creeley, R. (1992). The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press

Robert Creeley's "The Language": An Animated Version

An animated poem of Robert Creeley's "The Language" read by Carl Hancock Rux:

Source: Poetry Foundation

"Creeleyizing" A Poem

Assignment Task:

Select a poem that you have written. For the purposes of this assignment, it is best if the poem consists of lines at least ten syllables in length and/or heavily end-stopped lines (meaning that punctuation appears at the end of the line).

After you have selected a poem, "Creeleyize" your poem. In other words, rewrite your poem by breaking your lines at unexpected moments (like Creeley does in a number of his poems), creating frequent enjambment and short lines.

Assignment Purpose:

The purpose of this assignment is to revise the lineation of your poem, exploring ways in which your changes in line breaks and line length open up new meanings and points of emphasis in the poem. It might also suggest possibilities for further revision to imagery and sound.

Some Questions to Consider After Your Revision:

  • Does the change in lineation help reinforce the rhythm of the poem? Or does it seem distracting?
  • Is the change in lineation appropriate for the meaning of the poem? In other words, does this new form enhance the content of the poem?
  • What words and phrases stand out to you in this revision that did not stand out before? How does this change the poem?
  • What additional ways might you revise the poem to explore other possibilities for making meaning, sound or word play?
Questions and Answers

  • Answers 0
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    l.teefah s 9 months ago

    Helicopter O Helicopter
    You've been flying around the country often
    Why do you do so
    Are you looking for a suspect
    Helicopter o helicopter
    What could you possibly want from us
    What kind of adversity will you bring to my family and me

    Report
  • Answer 1
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    l.teefah s 9 months ago

    Windy Day
    Bunning in the wind with your dog
    Only thing that is on your mind is the glorious wind
    Standing on the countryside with your arms spread out
    And you think " Gosh this wind is so breezily peaceful"

    Report
    •  
      l.teefah s answered 9 months ago

      Helicopter O Helicopter
      You've been flying around the country often
      Why do you do so
      Are you looking for a suspect
      Helicopter o helicopter
      What could you possibly want from us
      What kind of adversity will you bring to my family and me

      Report
  • Answers 0
    Expand
    l.teefah s 9 months ago

    I have some poems i would like to share

    Report
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