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Jan Wood Poet Laureate15 Minute Adjustment:
Revising Poetry

Copyright ©2009 by Jan Wood

This is the fourth in a series of short articles in which Poet Laureate Jan Wood shares valuable tips for poets.

Line Breaks

Line breaks place pauses in a poem; they are what speed the poem up or slow it down and they draw attention to sound, rhythm and meter. They can be a substitute for punctuation marks.

Quick Check:
Choose three poems you are currently revising. Try to revise a section of one of your poems by utilizing one of the methods described. Line breaks are commonly indicated by the following three methods:

a) Enjambment: continuation of sentences or phrases over a line break.

Oft in my waking dreams do I
Live o’er again that happy hour.
         From "Love" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

b) End-stops: a stop at the end of a phrase or a complete thought or what in prose would be a sentence.

It is apparent there is no death.
But what does that signify?

         From "Spring" by Edna St. Vincent Millay

c) One or Two words: making a point sharpen itself into one word or two words by setting it on a line by itself.

that this time perhaps
God willing

         From "Faith Healer" by Al Pittman

d) One or all three of these techniques may be used in a single poem. The purpose is to keep the rhythmic flow of the piece and draw attention to paradoxes within the poem where phrases and lines can have double meanings. The double meanings become more accessible when the lines and phrases are separated in a controlled manner.

…listening to the
roar of emptiness in the
wild snow, scanning the lake
for the music of the rainbow—
skinned fishes…

         From "Transformations" by Miriam Waddington

The line, “wild snow, scanning the lake,” stands on its own as an image and then is drawn into something more by “for the music of…”

“the music of the rainbow,” “the emptiness in wild snow,” “scanning the lake for the music,” “the roar of emptiness,” and “the rainbow-skinned fishes” are all images made possible by the arrangement of line breaks and punctuation. They add a layer to the poem that might not be accessible otherwise.

The bonus with checking line breaks is they are audible and often reading your poem aloud can give you a good indicator of where they should be placed.


…ended his birthday party
by riding his new bicycle
over a guest
in the basement. Children gathered
cake and gift bags, and mothers
knelt to wipe tears…

         Jan Wood

The images, “in the basement children gathered,” “and mothers knelt to dry tears” and “gathered/ cake gift bags and mothers,” are combinations that form because of the line breaks. They give the reader more information about the birthday party than would be possible with a simple prose style report . For example compare the lines above to these lines:

…ended his birthday party
by riding his new bicycle
over a guest in the basement.
Children gathered cake and gift bags
And mothers knelt to wipe tears…

Barbara Klar : Canadian Poet 1966–

• Klar’s first book of poems, The Night You Called Me a Shadow, was a co-winner of the Gerald Lampert Award. and was printed by Coteau Books.

• Her second book of poetry, The Blue Field, was nominated for the Saskatchewan Book Award for Poetry and was published by Coteau Books.

• Her third book of poetry, Cyprus, was short listed for the Saskatchewan Book Awards 2008 and was published by Brick Books.

• A number of her poems have been broadcast by CBC Radio.

• Klar utilizes all three styles of line break in her poetry with skill. In her book, Cyprus, there are many examples of how line breaks can be used to give a fuller body to a poem and there is a sense of a ghostly third presence created.

West, the ice answers. East.
In between, a crossing.

         From "Name" by Barbara Klar

Further study :    

The Glossary of Poetic Terms has good for descriptions of "meter" and "line," with examples that are easy to follow.

An interview with Barbara Klar.