Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Half a comma

I've always been intrigued by the way poets deal with line breaks when giving a reading. Many skip them entirely, often arguing that they are purely a effect to be seen on a page. However, such a view undermines the necessary marrying of content and form, of the aural and the visual. It implicitly lends weight to the school of "chopped-up prose".

Nevertheless, opposing techniques don't convince me either. One such example was a reading by the renowned Spanish poet Jorge Riechmann in Badajoz a few years ago. He placed such an emphasis on his line breaks, marking them with such deliberation, that all flow was lost. Artifice took over.

So, all of the above begs the question: how do I deal with line breaks myself? Well, I refuse to ignore them. What's more, if I want my reader to notice a slight hiatus on the page, I'd also like my audience to feel that same slight pause. My best stab at an explanation would be that I treat a line break as half a comma. That's not a rule. It's not a norm. It's simply the way I imagine my poem being read aloud while I write it, and it's a fundamental part of the music I try to convey when standing up in front of a microphone.

1 comment:

  1. My teacher Denise Levertov had the same rule of thumb: linebreak as half a comma, as a barely audibly pause.