Wednesday, April 29, 2009

line breaks

National Poetry Month is closing with "Poem in Your Pocket Day" on April 30. Carry around a favorite poem or one of your own and read it to those you meet.

Last weekend at the New England Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, I attended a workshop on narrative verse. Laban Carrick Hill presented many examples that helped explain the differences between poetry and stories told in poems, or narrative verse.

I gained a lot from his discussion of the line break. I've been confused about when and how to break the line when it is not end-stopped with punctuation. Hill said that while syntax is the logical way to consider a line break, the line is actually broken for emotional impact. The lyrical moments in a poem happen when there is tension between logic and the line break. It's this lyrical moment that surprises the reader.

I think a stanza of Jane Yolen's "Crayons: A Rainbow Poem" from Color Me a Rhyme is a clear example.

Speaking of a box of crayons -

It holds my pink
and your chocolate
and her burnt sienna
and his ivory skin.

Each line breaks after a color. Yolen's choice creates a lyrical moment because the reader has to stop and register the colors. The emotional impact comes at the end when we realize that the poet is talking about diversity and harmony, not merely crayons.

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