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On the Line


In contrast to prose — which, being continuous, pretends to a form of wholeness — poetry, because it is divided into lines, is equipped in its structure to reflect and deal with the brokenness of the world. This it holds in tension with a more intense and therefore more whole scrutiny of language.

How can someone accept the monostich and not the single-line stanza? The latter’s acceptability is surely a logical extension of the former’s or of the assertion that the line is the basic unit of verse. The two amount to the same thing at the end of the day.

The line has this equivalence to harmonic progression and cadence in music: it is the place where tension is created and resolved. Good line breaks create and resolve (or not, as necessary) tension in the poem’s sense, rhythm or meter and consonantal/vocalic music.

Each poem — each line — must find its own balance of tension and release. If the poem — if the line — is unsuccessful, are the tension and release out of kilter?

I said “Good line breaks create and resolve … tension”, but tension and resolution can take place within a line. Otherwise, how could the monostich be anything other than tedious?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 23/04/2012 22:09

    That’s really helpful Andy, even although I don’t know what a monostich is! What do you think about WN Herbert’s view that a line should hold something, even if it is something as unmysterious as alliteration. He didn’t say the unmysterious bit. THat’s me. Cathy x

    • Andrew Philip permalink*
      24/04/2012 12:29

      A monostich is a one-line poem. There are several spread through The Ambulance Box.

      Yes, I agree that a line should hold something — some (part of a) thought, formal feature or sonic effect; some tension somehow.

      • 24/04/2012 14:30

        Interesting definition of tension. How do you define it – soz no probs if you don’t have time for this. Cathy x

  2. 23/04/2012 22:09

    I think punctuation is even more of a bedevilment for me at the moment. There is nothing out there of any credibility on it. Cathy x

  3. Andrew Philip permalink*
    22/05/2012 11:59

    Cathy, I’ve come across a book that might interest you. Haven’t got hold of it yet, but it looks interesting: The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach.

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