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This section of Poetry Kit is here to answer questions about poetry and to invite your
responses to the answers given. Please send your questions or responses to
All answers given are published here in good faith and Poetry Kit cannot be held responsible for any errors or differences of opinion.
1. Use of verbs with "ing" endings
2. Punctuation in poetry
3. Copyright and poetry
4. Use of rhyme in modern poetry
5. Brackets and dashes in Poetry
6. Endstopping - enjambment - caesura.
1. Use of verbs with "ing" endings
From John Crogan, Chicago
I have been going to a writer’s class and I have been told I use too many gerunds, words with “ing” at the end. I must admit that I like the sound they make when I read my poems I don’t see what the problem is. Could you advise please?
Well just to clear up a point, words with a suffix of “ing” are not all gerunds. A gerund is a verb that has the properties of a noun, for example, “cycling”. All verbs with an “ing” ending like, “bringing” for example are a present participle that can take on the property of an adjective. The advice given by a lot of advisers is to as far as possible to use the infinitive, or base, version of the poem.
Why then should this be the preferred case? Really it comes down to active and passive usage. Using a present participle in the role of an adjective can produce passive language. Also when using rhyme “ing” rhyming sounds can be monotonous and fails to show any real novelty.
Gerunds are useful and I wonder why they have fallen our of favour. And not all 'ing' words are gerunds. Imagine reading 'The Highwayman rode, rode, rode up to the old inn door.' Participles have their place, but I think they are a bit like pepper, they need to be sprinkled carefully.
Waiata Dawn Davies (NZ)
I suspect this is one of those cases where people elevate guidance into a rule. I notice that the questioner said 'too many' gerunds, not gerunds full stop. How many is too many? As Jim and Waiata have already pointed out, there's a difference between a participle and a gerund. I think verbal nouns in 'ing' can sometimes sound a bit abstract when used for an action, whereas in poems the specific is often stronger than the abstract, but when it comes to the continuous form of the verb I'm all for 'ing'. He is walking carries different baggage than he walks. He was walking is *definitely* different from he walked. I do think Jim makes a good point about pseudo-rhyme though, as annoying as jangling change in your pocket.
Paul Blake (UK)
In themselves there's nothing much the matter with them. They aren't always gerunds of course, since present participles and gerundives also end in -ing. There are times when you can't avoid them, so no rule of thumb is possible.
But in there are the seeds of the problem. There are so many of them that it can begin to be a tad monotonous. There are three objections to them, it seems to me.
1. The sound. Repeated -ing -ing -ing begins to sound like a bell ringing (oops!) or a mobile phone going off and in many poems that insistent repeated sound is inappropriate. It's an onomatopoeic thing.
2. Rhythm. 'The highwayman came riding, riding, riding' works because the rhythm echoes the horse's hooves on the road. But generally the -ing part of the word is unstressed and this means that the word seems to fade - swimming, running, jumping - when the rhythm we really like in a lot of English verse works the other way - because, although, deny. The standard pentameter has the rhythm dedum, dedum, dedum, dedum, dedum - but gerunds go dumdee, which we're less comfortable with.
3. Grammar. Where the -ing word is a present participle of a verb, you have to have an auxiliary as well - I was swimming, they were kissing. In poetry, it's a good idea to aim for lexical density - where every word adds meaning. And auxiliary verbs dilute this. Compare 'they were kissing' and 'they kissed': four syllables as opposed to two, and 66% lexical rather than 100%.
Additionally, this form of the verb is progressive - that is, it deals with an action which is ongoing - whereas it is poetically more satisfying to deal in perfective actions - ones that are complete. A massive generalisation of course, but I think it holds up most of the time.
Stuart Nunn (UK)
I see the problem as purely about the sound in the poem. "ing" words are a natural part of our language but just as you wouldn't use a single word too often in a poem (without good reason) I've come to agree with the anti-ingers to the extent that I would not banish them, but rather reduce them in a poem to the more necessary ones. They can make a nice bumbling sound but that's rarely wanted. The actual sound is also affected by which part of the country you come from. For example, a Birmingham "ing" sounds much harsher than a Devonshire one or a Tyneside one.
As a grammar option they are entirely valid and I do not foresee them in any way becoming less acceptable or dropping out of use.
Sally Evans (Scotland)
Although using the Present Progressive tense is tempting because it has a nice flow and it's easier to rhyme, the Present Simple has a purer quality. It's less loaded and it carries a sense of being timeless, a fact of life, something very basic. But all said, in the end it's a matter of taste. In poetry, as in love and war, there are no rules…
Tammara Or Slilat (Israel)
Really it comes down to active and passive usage. Using a present participle in the role of an adjective can produce passive language.
for me – passive or active voice. The same with It is and other forms of the to be – passive and as someone said, too many words…
Gary Blankenship (USA)
Obviously you are gearing your discussions to newbie poets and students. Mature poets have put "ing" words to new literary purposes.
Helen Vendler has praised Jorie Graham's abundant use of "ing" endings, especially in her early poems, for adding a dynamism to the poems they would otherwise lack, a sense of the ongoingness of events. You may know that pat endings, such as those provided by the "perfective actions" to which Nunn refers, run contrary to Postmodern poetics, in which indeterminism takes the place of old certainties.
Gertrude Stein, a prescient practicioner of many literary Postmodern literary trends, used "ing" endings plentifully to present the actions of
her texts in "the perpetual present." Much literature exists on this aspect of Stein's writing.
Actually, this part of my response comes after saying that intrinsically there was nothing wrong with using -ing endings. It also refers only to present participles rather than gerunds or gerundives.
'Perfective' doesn't indicate past tense, as Manister's point seems to imply. For example,
"I sing the body electric" is perfective, as opposed to 'I am singing the body electric" with is progressive. So one could perfectly easily write in the 'perpetual present' without using -ing endings.
However, the nice thing about the present tense in English is that it doesn't just tell you when something happened, it tells you the attitude of the speaker/poet.
"I am singing the body electric" can mean two things:
a) I am currently in the act of singing the body electric
b) I'm going to sing the body electric at a time that you already know about.- - e.g. in a concert of electric body singing.
On the other hand, "I sing the body electric" is capable of multiple meanings
a) I'm currently singing the body electric. (Like in a running comentary - "I open my mouth, take a deep breath...")
b) I habitually sing the b.e.
c) I regularly sing the b.e.
d) I'm going to sing the b.e. (as in Whitman's use of it)
e) It's in my nature to s. the b.e. and so on.
So if poetry deals with indeterminism (as indeed it often does) the simple present tense is possibly the one to use.
That said, of course there are ways of using the progressive present that are interesting, suggestive, allusive, erotic ("She is licking....") etc etc.
So I don't think Manister's point invalidates mine at all. And I agree with her - mostly.
Stuart Nunn (UK)
2. Use of punctuation in poetry
I never really understand what people mean when they say they 'don't like' punctuation. It always sounds to me a bit like saying 'I don't
like spelling' or 'I don't like the letter t'.
I'm not getting at you, because I know other writers have said something similar. I just find it genuinely puzzling
that people would choose to make a hard thing, writing poetry, unnecessarily harder for themselves, like going into battle with one
hand tied behind their back. Punctuation is like musical notation, and another tool (along with form and line endings) in conveying what you hear in your head, surely?
Paul Blake (UK)
I'm with you on this, Paul. I've never really understood what is *added* to a poem by omitting punctuation. I can see that it might be redundant when a poem is only to be experienced aurally, but if someone has to read it, that's a different matter.
Stuart Nunn -(UK)
I'm willing to forgo punctuation at times, end line punctuation if meaning not loss, caps less often letting them serve as the punctuation. I see the lack of punctuation as no different than when beginning caps were dropped - part of the evolution of poetry.
Gary Blankenship (USA)
It always exasperates me to hear people say that a poem is not punctuated when they really should say that is does not use standard punctuation. For me the line is the principle way to punctuate a poem, the next is with an indent or in-line space to create a caesura. Obviously there are some words that endstop lines and others that encourage an enjambment, some even force an enjambment. The use of stanza and linebreaks, isolated lines and unbroken text are all means to lay out the poem and make it obvious the way it should be read and stressed. Though I will be the first to say that I think of this sort of punctuation as a sort of verbal choreography (thanks to Lawrence Upton) and if done right is almost unnoticed when you read the poem, but when done poorly can create unintended ambiguity in reading, causing lines to be read over in order to squeeze meaning from them. Inmany respects I think it is more difficult to create a poem that works well for a broad readership with non standard punctuation than the style which would more usually be anticipated.
I find that there are poems in all styles that I admire and equelly poems in all styles that I do not find particularly enervating. For me each free verse poem must create its own internal structure and all its features add to this. There is no right or wrong but there are conventions and some of those, like punctuation add a familiaratity to the structure which make it more acceptable, but it is more a choice made by the writer in respect of the poem he or she is making.
Jim Bennett (Poetry Kit UK)
I blame e.e.cummings. Now there was a poet who used punctuation in a truly creative way...
And previously there was Shakespeare who punctuated to show the way he wanted the verse read. That is, a full stop = a longer pause than a semi-colon. Or maybe that was the editor of the First Folio who had to make some sort of sense of the whole thing.
Historically, punctuation is a relatively modern construct and considerably more variable according to fashion than, say, spelling. Victorians tended to over-punctuate: modern Americans to under-punctuate. In poetry, practice has varied even more. There was a trend in 19th century to end nearly every line with a mark of some sort. Now, Bob has got it right when he says that line/stanza breaks often stand in for or add to punctuation.
And of course, poets now don't start each line with a capital. Except those who do.
If a poet makes the conscious decision to do without punctuation I can only say good luck to them, provided it doesn't lead to unintended ambiguity. What does get on my English teacher's tits is when someone partly punctuates - or randomly scatters marks through the lines - and then claims that this is intentional. No - it isn't - it's incompetent.
Very occasionally, there's a naive genius whose poetry is great with or without punctuation. For example, John Clare. The rest of us should try to make full use of the language's resources. Once we can punctuate, then - and not before - we can choose whether or not to use it.
Stuart Nunn (UK)
Over the past few years, I've come to drop punctuation (and recently capitals) from my poems, giving clues to the musicality through each poem's structure. It wasn't an intended scheme with a long-term goal, but has just happened over time, with rarely (if any) reading E. E. Cummings, who by the way did not choose to lower-case his name but which was a decision made by his publisher.
I too don't go for the punk spattering of punctuation in poetry, but believe you must learn the rules before you can break them, whether it be rhyme, meter, or form. Then with the commandments firmly in place, each breaking or defiling carries significance and meaning, denotes a truer freedom, and a sharper relief of style.
If as a result of a lack of commas & full-stops, a poem requires more than one reading and signifies more than one meaning, then so be it--that's what reading is all about, that pursuance of meaning. That is also the wonderful fluidity of language, never being able to be hammered down, continually changing when next you look.
I'd rather read a poem that gives me pause, hooks me the first time yet requires a second reading in order to fully understand what's going on, than read one that delivers everything on the plate and gives you nothing else, what you see is what you get.
Charles Lauder, Jr (UK)
"I am totally confused over copyright and what it means. Some people tell me to post work to myself others to make sure I put the copyright symbol on the bottom of everything I write. I was also told that anything on the internet is in the public domain and could be copied by anyone. Also people say they can copy whatever they want for critical or educational purposes. What is the truth about it all." Sam Whitehouse, Salthouses, UK
The whole subject of copyright if full of misunderstandings so it is worth getting some points straight. First though let me say that I am writing about the rules as they exist in the United Kingdom. Elsewhere the rules are different and although very similar should be checked.
The most important issue to remember and this applies in all countries that signed up to be bound by the Berne Convention in 1886. Copyright automatically exists in any original piece of writing, song, picture or photograph or piece of art as soon as it comes into being. That is it it is your copyright and no one has any right to reproduce it and claim it as their own. You have the right to be identified as the creator of the work and to a great extent control over where the substantial creation can be published, receiving a payment for it if you want one. Even a piece of writing , a poem say, that is given without payment to be published on an internet site should be identified as your work and remains your copyright. it is important to know two things, the first is that the copyright in respect of a written piece is only in respect of the form of words used and not over the idea or information it contains. This is a borderline issue and so for example a character that is successful in a novel if taken and used by someone else could be a breach of copyright but generally copyright is only on the specific form of words.
It is not necessary to do anything to claim copyright it is automatic. Obviously this might be mitigated by other factors, for example if you write in the course of your employment the copyright will usually be held by your employer. You do not need to do anything, you don't need to post it or mark it in any way BUT if there is ever a challenge to your copyright it is useful to be able to show evidence as to when it was written by you. This is were the idea of posting it to someone comes from. However most of the very few cases that have ever been brought have not relied on proving the date of the origin of a piece of writing but on other aspects.
The copyright symbol is a statement as to who owns the copyright on a piece. This would appear as © followed by the copyright owners name and the year date, as in © Jim Bennett 2008. Again this is not essential but some people use it especially if a piece of writing appears in a journal or newspaper which has syndication agreements with other periodicals which are able to lift suitable material from each other.
The rules of copyright apply on the internet just as much as they do in print so just because a poem, for example, appears online this does not mean that it can be copied or used on other websites without the permission of the copyright holder. To say that something is "in the public domain" means that the copyright has expired or has been given up. The copyright in a piece of writing exists for the life of the writer plus seventy years. After that period has elapsed the piece is then in the public domain and can be copied, reproduced or published without having to seek permission or make payment to the writer or their estate.
There is a "fair use" exception in relation to quotes being used for criticism or as quotes in other written material. Any reasonable quotes can be used providing they are attributed to the original author. What is reasonable would have to be determined by a court if the copyright holder did not agree that the use constituted "fair use".
Some libraries and educational establishments have purchased licences which allow them to copy sections of texts for teaching purposes. The use and extent of these copies are regulated by the terms of the licence,
Rhyme in Poetry
Q; I have always liked traditional poetry and started to write it a few years ago. Encouraged by friends and families response to it, I joined a local
writers group but have been told that my use of rhyme marks me out as a rank amateur. I wonder what your opinion is of rhyming poetry, and if it is alright to write that way today?
To say that poetry is amateurish simply because it contains rhyme is nonsense. Some very good contemporary poets use rhyme, imbedded rhyme or half rhyme, and there are many other poetic devices in use which were popular before rhyme became a defining factor. Equally it is true that a lot of contemporary poetry is published without these features but there is as much bad poetry written without rhyme as there is with it. I should also say that poems sometimes sound archaic because the syntax or natural word order in a line has been altered in order to create a rhyme at the line end. It is sometimes this which is being identified as an error because it sounds incorrect.
When used well rhyme should blend into the poem to such an extent that it creates points of emphasises and not become so obvious that it is the most important feature of the poem. There is also an issue here related to rhythm. When rhyme is used it must fit with the poem but for some it can sometimes create an effect which is too regular and sound like the rhythm of a nursery rhyme. The major problem is that when poorly written rhyme can sound simplistic and obvious. The problem with rhyming on simple, and in the main single syllable words is that the next rhyme often reveals itself to the reader and they read on looking for it rather than taking notice of what the poem is saying. In order to maintain the rhyme the poet will often invert the syntax. When the syntax is changed it illuminates the rhyme and makes it obvious, and distracting. For rhyme to be effective you need to almost hide the fact that it is there, it should just sit in the poem as an aid to the flow and rhythm, drawing the reader along. Variation in rhyme is also important and an unusual rhyme can make an outstanding contribution to a poems success.
I think that when writing a poem you need to explore the possibilities available to you, there are many poetic devices available that create sound effects in a poem as well as rhyme there is alliteration, assonance and consonance, caesura, and many other figures of speech and rhetoric which when understood can add a great deal to a poem if you are aware of it and can use it correctly.
Jim Bennett– Poetry Kit
I think many people who join poetry writing groups are quite taken aback when they find their rhyme is not taken too seriously. That is what they thought poetry was. Some local writing groups have quite a few of these rhymers, old stagers perhaps, and if that's where they're coming from, and what they expected, they might be happier in that sort of group, doing short stories and memoirs and rhymy verses - a kind you often see sent by their authors to local newspapers, the real vanity press. Also, I have a sneaking feeling that bad rhymed verse is never quite as bad as bad unrhymed verse.
But to develop as a writer of poetry you really have to go down the free verse road, and then when you have mastered that more or less, you can go back to rhyme with the new flexibility gained from understanding free verse.
Sally Evans - UK – editor Poetry Scotlandhttp://www.poetryscotland.co.uk
I think problems arise when people think rhyme is the only factor that matters - that something is poetry if it rhymes.
However, I think working carefully with rhyme can be very helpful in several ways. For example:
* to provide structure
* to explore language you wouldn't have thought of otherwise
* emphasise an image
* to make links between concepts/images
Lesley Burt - UK
I'd almost agree with what Sally is saying (btw I think Jim's answer is a very good one) but I've managed rather well by sticking with rhyme as a main device. Of course I also love some of the other devices and use them extensively. But, yeah, I don't know that it is always necessary to move across to free verse first. Being on the list for so long has helped me in the other direction - to move away from strict form into freer patterns and to use sudden changes or breaks for emphasis.
So in sum, for me, while not strictly necessary to write free verse, it has broadened the palette.
On a further note, I've noticed, with children's poetry in particular, that overuse of rhyme isn't the problem, it's repetition. They think that if they repeat certain words - often the title - that makes it a poem. Uh uh.
Grant vW– Australia
Rhyme does need to be handled with care. An absolute no is to let the rhyme lead the thought of the poem. With that in mind, the first rhyming word that springs to mind is almost certainly not the one you need. I would recommend the Penguin Rhyming Dictionary. Using that you can come up with hundreds of rhymes that you wouldn't have thought of for yourself.
Additionally, because of the way it's arranged you can move to the sections around the one that lists strict rhymes and start playing with half-rhyme, assonance and so on. These are much more satisfying than full rhyme (I believe) because they don't jangle and insist on themselves.
Another trick is to bury the rhyme in the middle of the line. I think this is what is called slant rhyme, and it frees you up no end. Of course, if you want to write humorous verse rhyme is almost obligatory.
Then the bolder, more complex the rhyme is the better. One of my favourites is in Byron - intellectual/hen-pecked you all.. (Which neatly demonstrates that it's not the last syllable that matters - it's the last stressed syllable). And of course it's nonsense to say that rhyme marks you as a rank amateur. Wave your copy of Tony Harrison at them. Or Paul Muldoon. Or George Szirtes.
Stuart Nunn – UK
As I have said poetry is a Big Tent. But all too many rhymers seem to wish to exclude modern poetry – to keep us out of the tent and restrict area the walls encompass.
In addition, and this is limited to those I run across in the forums, too many think because they can rhyme moon and June, their poetic journey is over – that they do not need to continue practice of the craft to improve their art.
As if Emily, Robert, William, Percy and countless others did not struggle to improve before they reached the height of their glory.
I admit rhyme comes difficult to me, so I look for other ways to find lyrics in my work. However I still try, but I don’t believe I’m any more than an amateur simply because I can throw together a lame limerick or a spare couplet.
Rhyme is important, and so is meter, alliteration, metaphor, form, and the other major aspects of poetry. Just as important, are poets who reach, knowing they may fail and that they stand on the shoulders of giants no matter how successful they are.
Gary Blankenship - USA
That's true. But it's become a bit of a range war in both directions the Rhymers vs all the other Poets.
I have no trouble using straight rhyme but it is difficult for the beginner to get it right, for the 'dog log cog' ignition that sparks each piece. I've learned to privilege meaning over language myself but then I drag language in to embellish what I'm saying. It's all ludic play using different sandpits in the long run. I don't want to believe that the rappers have completely taken over our turf.
How much rhyme to use? It can hammer the reader into submission so they miss what is being discussed or canvassed as some PKers have remarked. It's the mark of the professional to know how much to use of any device. And how well they hide it. You do very well with your verse style so I can see you have less use for it. I use it because it drives the coverage over rocky ground where I wouldn't have otherwise gone. I find it valuable for that. I haven't completely accepted all styles of poetry so I can't grizzle if rhymers cop it a bit.
Grant vW - Australia
I have to say that I haven't noticed the 'range wars'. All the groups I belong to - including this one, obviously - are accepting of rhyme/free verse/whatever. And that's true even of the group where members are inclined to argue that "It's not poetry." They certainly wouldn't assert any kind of necessity for rhyme, regardless of what they themselves produce.
Are we perhaps in danger of allowing the medium to be the message, and talking up antagonism where it doesn't really exist?
Stuart Nunn - UK
I think you're saying something important here. I think "most" poetry groups in the UK will work with who's there at poems of many types and styles. But I sense the issue the groups have is often one of establishing, or upsetting, a pecking order. The unheard questions, "who's the best poet?" or "who's writing the best poems?" control how groups behave.
When I've worked in education I could talk with the staff about how a poet might well praise people they themselves couldn't because a poet's notion of "best" isn't always an educationalists notion of "best" - and a poetry group's appreciation of best might work to standards that education or poets might be surprised by!
A sensitivity to group work, an awareness of what's not known about the whole progression of poetry forms and styles, honed reading skills, adaptable writing skills... and probably a poem that needs work as well are all drifting to and fro as the groups do their work! No wonder some people feel they're not too happy with what happens some of the time... And sometimes you do get three who sit in a line like Magistrates!
Bob Cooper - UK
Brackets and dashes in Poetry
Q; I have seen a lot of poems with brackets and dashes how are these used in poetry?
The use of brackets which are a form of parenthesis in poetry is the same as
in prose and can be marked with brackets or a dash --. It is used to separate out an idea or comment which although related (and important to the overall sense of the argument) is none-the-less not included in the main argument, so an aside or sub clause, or additional comment. (like in that sentence)
it makes sense to write
all you points clearly
(where you can)
but sometimes you need
it makes sense to write
all you points clearly
— where you can —
but sometimes you need
I prefer the dash but that is because I do not use conventional punctuation. You don't need brackets but some poet’s use them as it fits their style. It is a matter of personal choice and to do with the look of the poem, like using “&” for "and" or "luv" for "love".
But it is important not to confuse a dash “—“ with a hyphen “-“
On the keyboard the dash and the hyphen are the same sign, though in published books the former is slightly longer than the latter (some writers use a double hyphen “ – “ to stand in for a dash “—“: in order, therefore, to differentiate, spaces are used for the dash:
Dash: It happened -- you must take my word for it -- exactly as I told you.
(If you want to use a dash and use two hyphens, if you put quotation marks before and after them without spaces “—“ Word changes them to a dash automatically unless you turn off automatic correct. You can then take out the quotation marks. Alternatively if you have used a lot of dashes and you could copy the dash from the “character map” which shows all of the characters available for each of the fonts you are using and use the find and replace function to change them all.)
When used as ellipsis at the end of dialogue, (usually ellipsis is marked with three periods “…” following without a space from the last word…) the spaces must also be observed to ensure that the reader understands how to read this punctuation, especially if a single dash is used to stand for a dash:
not 'You just pull the trigger and-'
but 'You just pull the trigger and -'
or You just pull the trigger and - '
The signs have different functions - the dash to separate or create a pause, the hyphen to join together (the dash can be used to stand in for parentheses – as can a comma).
As for the hyphen, it is used to show a fusing of words. Compare Take-off was at 1400 with Planes seldom take off with many empty seats: you can even hear the difference, the hyphenated one being stressed on the first syllable, the unhyphenated one on the second. Say them out loud, and you'll hear.
Common errors: omitting the hyphen in compound numbers like twenty-one. Note the difference between He's thirty-eight years old and He's a thirty-eight-year-old. The latter is a compound noun and may be replaced by any other, such as fisherman. Common uses: to join adjective and past or present participle, e.g. long-eared, high-flying; when complex phrases are used as adjectives as in the balance-of-payments crisis; when a phrasal verb such as knock out is used as a noun, as in a knock-out. Of course there are other uses.
Jim Bennett - Poetry Kit
A couple of things I would offer here building on Jim's useful contemplation of the hyphen, dash, ellipses issue.
From my experience as an editor and proofreader, the double hyphen is actually a long dash, representing what we would call in the publishing/printing a "one-em dash" leading on to the next thought in your writing.
A shorter dash is termed a one-en dash, most usually used for example in a range of dates such as 1959-2009.
I don't know why typographically we cannot achieve the long dash in typing our poems to put them on the internet.Still, the double hyphen will serve to show what you mean.
Ellipses should be avoided because, as has been pointed out to me, they don't quite perform the same function of the dash, a pause in thinking leading on to the next idea, but can be interpreted as that there is something missing. That is, for example, "What was I saying exactly. . . ." (Fill in the dots.) If you see what I mean!
Christopher T. George (USA)
Another use of the hyphen ,it occurs to me, is in examples like: ‘Bum-banging satchel…’, ‘…coal-gulping maw…’ and in Hopkins’ ‘…dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon…’ where the hyphen is used to so link certain words that a more dynamic adjective is created and the linked words make more coherent sense than the unlinked version would have done.
Arthur Seeley (UK)
What Arthur describes here is close to the nordic kenning in which something is described in a roundabout way.
Sea = widow-maker
ship = wave-cleaver
sun = earth-warmer
sword = breast-piercer
It can be very effective - or deeply irritating.
Stuart Nunn (UK)
Endstopping, enjambment and caesura.
Q I don’t understand about endstopping, enjambment or caesura what they are and where they should be used. Can you offer any advice on them please.
An enjambment is useful where a break has been used in the centre of a line. An enjambment basically means that the sense of the line continues onto the next line. An endstopped line means that the line can make sense and stand alone. Take this line:
the winter snows settle on the hills while the wind drives it in a blizzard along the road
It makes some sense when read in a single line, but what would you do if you wanted it to go over several lines?
the winter snows settle on the hills
while the wind drives it
in a blizzard along the road
the winter snows
settle on the hills
while the wind
drives it in a blizzard
along the road
As you can see some of these lines stand alone and make sense, but others you need to read onto the next line to make sense of them. When the line can stop at the end then it is endstopped, if you must read on to make sense of the line, then it is enjambed. Enjambment can carry on across a stanza break.
A caesura is a pause in a line of poetry. If you read a line and you feel that you want to pause, then there is probably a caesura there. Quite often it is more obvious and marked with a punctuation mark of some kind, a comma for example. Occasionally they occur as a simple result of the language used, at other times you may decide to use the effect because you want to put an enjambment on the line end to run on to the next line or next stanza if a line break follows. Running on into the next line or across into the next stanza is an effect which can drive the pace on in a poem and can make if flow very easily.
Keats' ENDYMION is a poem written in iambic pentameter using rhyming couplets which also makes good use of the effects achieved by enjambment:
A thing of beauty is a joy forever: (endstopped; the line is complete)
Its loveliness increases; (caesura) it will never (enjambment; the sense of this line carries on into the next.)
Pass into nothingness (caesura) but still will keep (enjambment)
A bower quiet for us, (caesura) and asleep (enjambment)
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing. (endstopped)
As to their use then, and this is a terrible answer but it is a matter of what works best in the circumstances. I tend to write using enjambments and endstopping, (I usually let caesura develop as a process of language and to emphasise voice, but it all depends on the effect you are trying to achieve with the line. For me they are used primarily to develop theatre in the poem, a bit of drama with an endstop here, a breathless few lines with enjambment there. A breathy pause in the centre of a line for emphasis, Basically it should be something that you think of in relation to the aural effect you are trying to achieve but they are also a way of manipulating the reader
and how they read the poem. They are part of a range of tools that enable us to develop background tone and mood in a poem without readers being aware of it.
Jim has just about dealt with it. Personally, I tend to think more in terms of sentences and where they interract with the line lengths determines whether the lines end up being end-stopped or run on.
Enjambment looks and reads more informally than continual end-stopped lines and can also disguise the fact that you're using rhymes..
Also worth saying that in Old English poetry a caesura in the middle of the line was compulsory, as here at the start of Beowulf:
Ða wæs on burgum Beowulf Scyldinga,
leof leodcyning, longe þrage
folcum gefræge (fæder ellor hwearf,
aldor of earde), oþþæt him eft onwoc
heah Healfdene; heold þenden lifde,
gamol ond guðreouw, glæde Scyldingas.
And the alliterating words had to spread across the two half lines. Obviously we don't know how this was actually recited, but the punctuation (and they didn't actually use any - so how useful is this point?) suggests that there would have been some kind of pause.
This kind of formal alliteration/caesura arrangement carried on into the time of Chaucer, though he was daringly modern and used rhyme instead.
Stuart Nunn - UK
You begin, "An enjambment is useful where a break has been used in the centre of a line." and I'd like to add that sometimes good games can be played within poems when what's read as an endstopped line turns out to run on into the following line. For instance it might be possible to read a line that says:
"and Bob was the kind of guy who wouldn't speak"
which sounds like a line that feels complete in itself, that reads like it's end-stopped, until we continue reading:
"without shouting and staring straight in your face."
I guess, thinking about endstopping, enjambments and cersuras, I recognise that most poems establish the line lengths, and rhythms, people can expect they'll keep reading in the first couple of lines. But it's then possible, as the poem goes on, with how the enjambements work, and with a cesura or two, to add variation and interest.
Bob Cooper - UK
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