This assignment offers a revision exercise for a work of poetry, allowing the writer to explore possibilities for development in his or her poem. It also provides the opportunity to examine how changes in line length and line breaks create "secondary meaning" (meaning that is not dependent on grammatical constructions) in poetry. In order to achieve these ends, the writer will become familiar with the concept of enjambment and the unique lineation found in the poetry of Robert Creeley.
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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).
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
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).
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
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).
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.
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
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:
You can also find a brief biography of Robert Creeley and his poems here:
Source: poets.org from The Academy of American Poetry
Here is the complete poem of Robert Creeley's "The Language":
Source: Creeley, R. (1992). The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press
An animated poem of Robert Creeley's "The Language" read by Carl Hancock Rux:
Source: Poetry Foundation
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.
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: