Pick a poem by a well known poet and write it as prose (I used
"Departures" by Lawrence Sail from his "Out of Land" book. It begins
"Set in a floral arcade,
these are the dreams of departures, in which
the ancient climbing roses are always
in bloom beneath the shivering glass
of the station's forcing-house. Although
figures must dwindle and twined fingers
have to unclasp, the backward look
stays for ever. On cheeks high-toned
with grief, a single frozen tear.")
Then give it
to a group of poets (preferably by e-mail so they can edit it) and
ask them to break the poem into lines and stanzas
There is a standard way to break prose into poetry: line are broken at
the end of sentences or clauses; a change of subject requires a change
of stanza, lines are all roughly the same length, etc. It's quite
likely that people if forced to add linebreaks will follow these rules of
thumb to produce similar layouts.
- do the better poets' efforts have more in common with each other
than with lesser poet's efforts?
- What reasons to people give for their choices?
- is there more agreement on stanza-breaks than line-breaks?
Question: Prose is text where the line-breaks don't matter. If there's little
agreement (even amongst the best poets) on where to place the line-breaks,
should the text be formatted as a poem?
- "Reading Poetry: An Empirical Investigation of Formalist, Stylistic,
and Conventionalist Claims", D. Hanauer, Poetics Today (V19:4)
- "the typographic arrangement [of a poem] produces a different
kind of attention .... We are dealing less with a property of language
than with a strategy of reading", ???, Culler. 1975, p.163
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Updated in March 2000