To what extent does the poetic line bear the stamp of a particular poetic personality? Is that, in any case, a desirable thing? Do individual poets have their own rules about how the line behaves – the distance it travels, to what purpose, and when and how it breaks – or is it constantly adapted for purpose? Are poets even aware of their process and, if so, honest and open about it? In this paper I consider the various (and varying) uses of the line by poets who have influenced me most profoundly, with examples from my own work to demonstrate my learning and further experiments. Specific reference is made to the influence of cinematic editing, and the role of the line in a poem’s essential memorability. Also addressed are the different effects of the stretch and breaking of the line on the page and when orally delivered.
Individual purpose and the poetic line