Thursday, December 04, 2003

Greg Cook (no relation) on line breaks in his comics:

"I had always read through lines of poetry until I heard you folks reading in your halting manner.
What struck me is how this might be used to accent or change the meaning of lines. How you break the lines, I find, can also be used to emphasize multiple meanings in words. I've since adopted something of this in my comics, much to the consternation of many of my readers (including my publisher). I think the breaks tend to be more emphatic (perhaps jarring is a better word) in comics -- or my comics at least -- because the physical space (and often drawings) between lines makes it much more difficult to "read through."

I may be using line breaks in a clumsy way, but I think if you look at part of my comic "The Weight" ( -- which I should note that I didn't actually write -- the break between "Years/Afterwards while on a fishing voyage..." as well as the physical space and the change in setting, greatly emphasizes the passing of time. And I think the transition between the final two panels of the comic is also quite effective. The words are "a millstone to his neck and jumped/overboard." In that line break, though the actual jump is not depicted, the man (if it works as I hope) seems to hang there in the air with his final, fatal choice.

For a different example, maybe look at my "All the Goodbyes" piece ( and The line break between the man's dialogue at the end of the first page "Look, you're" and continuing on the next "You're doing the best you can" I think emphasizes the hesitant way in which he speaks (or at least I intend him to speak) in this awkward situation.

This brings up what might be called the "turning the page" phenomenon that I think can be used in comics to great effect, though I'm not sure it's much use in poetry. The turning of the page can be used as a sort of grand line break to help accent transitions or unveil surprizes, etc, because each time you turn the page something new is instantly revealed by the art.

Warmest regards,


Monday, December 01, 2003

S. A. T. U. R. D. A. Y Night

Today Ron Silliman & Dale Smith weigh in on the problem of the line. Some poets from the Northampton-metroBoston-Gloucester triangle had a related chat at the Commander in Cambridge, MA after terrific readings by David Perry, Mike County, and Nick Piombino at Wordsworth Saturday night.

At the Commander, I recounted a discussion a friend & I had some years back about the linebreak pause made by Creeley (& many other Boston area poets, perhaps elsewhere too).* My friend & I were in agreement that it is usually dreadful--sing-song sickly--to hear regular, metrical verse read this way.** However, he feels this is true of irregular metrical verse ("free" verse, projective verse, etc.) as well. He offered Olson's reading as a defense. Olson, despite the rhethoric about breath, did not pause (or breathe) at the end of his lines. (I also knew--during our discussion--that WCW also did not pause at his linebreaks when reading.)

Now what? O.K.
I think bebop jazz--important to Creeley & Bill Corbett but not to WCW or Olson--has something to do w/ the linebreak pause. It creates syncopation--often causing a normally unstressed syllable/word to be stressed. This sycopation can affect the rhythm & the meaning (or possible meanings) of the syntactical units, which is why I feel it is important to read poets like Creeley & Corbett with linebreak pauses. {I'm not the first to say this.}

Such an approach is important {or at least useful}, that is, if one, as a reader, wants to have the experience of a poem that the poet *intends* {uh oh}, that is if one wants to hear it as the poet hears it/reads it. {Of course the poet may hear & read quite differently, no?} If I stand by the assertion that it is at least useful to hear linebreak pauses if the poet intends them, how then can we know if the poet intends them?

The poem can be scored by dots a la Duncan or WCW's _Paterson_ {if I remember correctly}. But what if the poem is not scored? Must one hear the poet read? How does one read a line?

& then, as a poet, why does one break the line where one does?

Noah sd that he does not naturally write in lines, that his poetry begins unlineated & so any shaping of lines wld be an imposition of a sort, especially given that no theory of linebreaks seems satisfying at the momen (Conversely, Silliman sez this *apparent* lack of a viable, convincing argument for why these lines & why not those is fuel for New Formalism.)

Mick/Michael & Yuri sd the ends of their lines often contain the beginnings of the next thought (or, dare I link it to Olson by writing, the next perception?). This then is related more to thought than to sound (though these are interwoven in poetry: "the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE/the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE".

I have never sufficiently understood the specifics of these lines from "Projective Verse" though I've grasped the importance of the body-in-the-world to writing poetry. But I've been tempted to argue that Olson's lines are shaped more by a BREATH perhaps of the HEART (is the heart intuition?) than by a BREATH of the body (i.e. physical breath, actual breathing). His readings might be evidence of this.

{I hope this is sufficiently tentative to elicit responses instead of denouncements.})

Where do you break a line & why?
& do you sound linebreaks when you read your own work? the work of others? who? why?
*Full disclosure: In 1995, I read "Projective Verse" quite literally & quite enthusiastically. I immediately began to write what I thought were projective poems & I read them as I thought such poems should be read. Each line was a breath & so I would pause as if for a breath at the end of each line. Through Ralph Ellison, Sam Cornish (& his reading style), & a desire to impress my future wife, I was also listening to lots of jazz & trying to use it musically in my poems. Linebreak pauses were a way of approximating syncopation. (See {again}: Ellison (esp. Preface to Invisible Man) & the poetry of Sam Cornish.) Many of you will recognize much of the preceding as a common post-Beat, post-New American Poetry rite of passage.

**(As most of you know, I'm a high school English teacher. Too many of my students insist--even after discussing the issue--that a linebreak pause (which emphasizes the rhyme--if there is one--in a sing song manner) is proper. I suppose after 11 or 12 years of hearing teachers read regular, metrical poetry w/ a linebreak pause the students are to be forgiven.)