Teaching line breaks

Picture a busy basement-level bar with slightly sticky tables in [city redacted].

“I had to teach her how to use line breaks. None of the students I work with understand line breaks. What are they teaching these kids?”

“I know, it’s like not knowing how to shape their vowels in singing.”

[brief interlude where Friend explains to Indy that if the whole choir is singing, ¬†especially in English, and two people sing hideously broad e’s, and no one else does, the entire choir sounds muddy. Indy thought, not for the first time, how much Sarah W. and Friend would have to talk about.]

“I had to stop and think how you do line breaks anyway,” Indy pauses to drink some beer in the middle of her tirade. “I had to explain that the first and last word has to be interesting, and maybe mean something separate from the meaning of the sentence.”

“And it’s also about pacing. Short line breaks make the poem go faster, and the poet has to think if she wants that.”

“I know! I think I learned that from [poet redacted]. He’s the one who told us that every time we have a metrical variation in our sonnets that it had to be in an important place.”

Waitress comes by and sees that Friend and Indy are clearly in need of another round.

“Why doesn’t everyone know this shit?”



8 responses to “Teaching line breaks

  1. i misread you again, Indy. Line breaks. I am not a poet. But I still need to teach line breaks. I need to teach masters level students (not all, thank goddess, but some every year) that when you use a word processor to type a document, you don’t need to hit enter at the end of the line. Really. Consider yourself lucky.

  2. This makes me wish I could go to school for writing. I don’t have the slightest idea of how line breaks affect the reading of a poem. I just put them in where they feel sort of right to me. Now that I’ve put a book of them ‘out there’, I’m clinging to my mantra: “It’s okay, just keep working. There will always be more to learn.”

  3. I think line breaks are, as you’ve just demonstrated beautifully, as important in prose as they are in poetry.

    Got anything on the proper placement of subclauses (no puns intended)?

    (now I’m wondering if my e’s are broad, hideous, or both . . . )

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