Issue Ten: The Poetic Line

August 26, 2022

Cataloging the Line

After discussing an interview in which Jos Charles addresses the poetic line in a Year & other poems, the editors at Mentor and Muse asked other poets to share how they think about the line. Here are their informal responses to this simple and open-ended question. As you contemplate their ideas, please feel free to share your insights on and visions of the poetic line.

Marianne Chan, Line Breaks, Ambivalence, Simultaneity: A Close Reading of Robert Creeley’s “The Language”
“I’ve always thought of line breaks as the poem’s body language. Words might come out of the poem’s mouth, but the positioning and the arrangement of those words express their own truths. Sometimes poems tell you exactly what they mean with little ambiguity, but other times, a poem is saying “I love you” with her arms crossed, shoulders turned away. And this body language creates an ambivalence that begs for reader interpretation.”

“Interview with Kathy Fagan”
“When I encounter a poem, it’s almost always the line of it that strikes me first. Even if the poem isn’t lineated, line feels to me embedded there, just under its clothes or skin, a skeleton or, more likely, speaking of thin places, the spirit of the poem, its essential self.”


Dorianne Laux, “The Discrete Line: T.S. Eliot, Robert Herrick, Sappho, Lynn Emanuel”
“The will of the line, the carefulness of it, the pleasure, the choices and options, the decision. The separate-ness of it, the distinctness, the isolation and detachedness of it. The finite line. Unconnected from all other lines, it has a life of its own, can move backwards or forwards in time. Up or down. It is itself a cell which is complete in itself, but can repeat itself to make another completeness.”

Molly Spencer, “Wayfaring: On the Poetic Line as a Generative Space”
“What appeals to me about the methods of wayfaring for building lines and poems is that these methods distance us from the semantics of words and open us to the semantics of sound, rhythm, language, and consciousness itself. They distance us from our usual gestures, our default and conscious tendencies, and plumb for something deeper. This is not to say, however, that wayfaring pulls the poet away from his/her/their sources: their lived experiences and interior lives.”

A Few Resources on the Poetic Line

Books, chapters, essays, interviews, audio, and video resources