Making Lines

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.

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?

See also


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Updated in March 2000
tpl@eng.cam.ac.uk