End of the line
February 7, 2013 § 6 Comments
Sharon Olds’ success in winning the TS Eliot Prize and the expanded readership for her work which will follow will no doubt reinvigorate debates about poetic form – in particular, the line ending. Many commentators have found Olds’ preference for putting articles and prepositions at the ends of lines difficult; others find the prosiness this confers on her poetry liberating. Olds herself has talked about the living quality of poems, likening their structure to a tree (or in fact half a tree), with the beginning of lines forming a trunk. As such, this is where she stacks up verbs and nouns, rooting meaning – so that lines can stretch away, more naturally in keeping with thought and speech.
It’s an interesting approach: and one which seems to contrast with Glyn Maxwell’s demands, in On Poetry, that line breaks have a weight borne of their intermediary nature – their emphasising of both utterance / existence and silence / void – which renders them of primary significance: they are at the core of a poem’s sound and meaning.
We might throw in some gender politics here, too, positioning Maxwell’s masculine, even monotheistic cry (In the Beginning was the Word…) against Olds’ feminine, organic poetry.
Personally, I still feel my way forward, only dimly aware of what’s at play – which is something between breathing and mechanics and impulse, knowing how all of these have to contend – in some way taking an idea, or glimpse, or motivation, dragging it out of the cave and into a real, imperfect (yet hopefully suggestive and resonant) place.