this series we will look at the fundamental elements of poetry, from individual
units of sound to grand uses of metaphor and imagery. By examining the
different ways skilled writers implement these elements we can gain a greater
understanding of the ways poetry works and improve both our practice of writing
poetry and our appreciation of reading it.
In the first article of this series we began at the
end, by examining line-breaks and how the different choices made when ending a
line can influence the readers’ perception of a poem. By examining a poetic
element that we almost take for granted when reading, I hoped to show that
every tool in the poet’s arsenal can be used to great effect.
But today we are going to take a step back and
examine the line as a whole, to explore this most fundamental element of
poetry. The ‘line’ is the most basic way a poem can be organised. It forces us
to be aware of sections of speech we run through quickly in prose, and/or
internalise the speech patterns of the poem’s speaker.
Different movements—and writers—in poetry have
various emphasised these two functions of poetry. For some people a line should
mirror the lengths of breaths in speech; for others it should contain and focus
on singular images or thoughts.
By the end of this article I hope to have discussed
both philosophies. I also hope to show that far from an unconscious, arbitrary choice,
line-lengths in free verse poetry are full of meaning and importance which
skilled writers can use to fully embellish their writing.