A poem is nothing more than a juxtaposition of words arranged just right… A sentence broken down to be something it didn’t intend at birth. Look at:
The Red Robin sat softly on the tree branch.
Broken down into lines, I can have many combinations and permutations:
The Red Robin sat softly on the tree branch. The Red Robin sat softly on the tree branch. The Red Robin sat softly on the tree branch.
See the subtle difference? Just playing with a simple sentence, I can form many ideas. That is the power of Line Breaks. Each break makes a line… A unit of poetry that builds up to a Stanza. There are two dominant classes of line break, the end-stop and the enjambment. The end-stopped line is where punctuation, mainly a period, ends the line, and the enjambment makes up the rest as I have broken the sentence up into several lines.
Lines left intentionally uneven control the emphasis on what the poet wants the reader to know. This creates context within the Stanza, where the last word on the line gets the most emphasis and secondary emphasis falls on the first word. Line breaks should slow the reader, but not detract from the message.
Look at the example above and the emphasis placed on each line. In the first and best example, “The Red Robin” sits all alone showing he has no mate. In the second example, “The Red” sits all alone on a line, but the red what? The reader must pause slightly to examine this and then when they get to the second line can safely conclude it’s still a Robin. Maybe the Robin is now hiding a nest? I don’t know, and I don’t think from the simple example you can either.
Think like you are in a room, in fact the word Stanza literally means ‘the room’ where each line is an object in that room, or realm, or world even. The next line is the armchair, the following the fireplace, the third the lamp, the fourth the book being read. Each line stands alone, although it is a part of the world you are building. The last line in a poem will have more emphasis placed on it than any other, as it will linger the longest in the reader’s mind. It is your conclusion… The steeple to the church.
In my first example, “The Red Robin” is the armchair… “Sat softly” is the fireplace… “On the tree branch” is the lamp. You are to carefully and craftily build your room to have meaning, all with words formed into lines. Lines distinguish poetry from all other artworks and are the brush stroke of a painter, the hammer and chisel blows of a sculptor, the layering of meats, veggies, and cheese as a Subway artist.
Lineation is almost ‘the’ exclusive way to communicate and intensify meaning in a poem. The line – the moment – is not subordinate to anything else in the poem. Again, words build lines and line-breaks build Stanzas. Stanzas build a complete house out of several rooms that tell a tale, a story worth reading. Each line in each stanza should build upon the others and determine how long you take to say something. It can be harsh like a waterfall or it can be soft and gentle like a brook.
There should be a reason for every line-break, intentional, felt as if they should be, and not necessarily intellectually understood. Lineation tells the reader how to see, hear and understand your poem. Line-breaks establish auditory and semantic patterns of the poem where every line ending represents the most powerful and expressive element. Each of the end words should generate energy for the poem.