I can't help it. It's fall and this time of year I am especially in the mood to write and read poetry. I have to have it. I've also been editing more of it lately, for others (check out my services if you need help: Editing, Proofreading, Critique) and so my latest article for JMWW is about an issue I see cropping up lately--not making good use of line breaks.
Give these ideas a try and I bet you'll find line breaks become a bit of an addiction, so my title seemed very appropos:
Stop Breaking Bad
Harness the Power of the Line BreakMore and more I'm editing poetry manuscripts that are not taking the line break into consideration. Either lines are very, very long, broken only by the margin in some cases, coupled with shorter lines (a random move, really, or their purpose isn't clear), or they are broken in random places that don't contribute anything to the meaning of the line, the stanza, or the poem as a whole.
If you want to write prose poetry, by all means, go right ahead, but if not, then learn the power of the line break. (And yes, in prose poetry common techniques are used, like compression, repetition, fragmentation, but these will be used in service of the line break for the purpose of this article.) Part of the problem is that there is an overtly narrative quality to the writing. Often there is a very fiction-like or memoir-esque tone to the poems that stems from complete sentences that are simply broken into lines. You could copy down the poem as prose and it would work as a story.
Another problem is the use of rambling, wandering stanzas (or sections, if you prefer). There is no such thing as free verse, in case no one has broken this to you. Poets are always imposing some order on a poem that creates its own internal structure. Often, though, there doesn't seem to be any reason for why one stanza/section ends after 16 lines and another appears for 3 before a new one that's 11, etc. It has a sort of "I felt like it" quality that satisfies no one and, at least to me, feels like a wasted opportunity.
To keep reading: JMWW-Stop Breaking Bad