Every Line Breaks: in Valentine's Day Workshop Jose Diaz Challenges Warrior Writers to Examine Poetic Breaks
It’s not all about breath, beats and cadence. When words combine to make a line sound perfect, altering the way a poem breaks on the page changes both the tone and meaning of a poem. Let’s talk about line breaks and prose poetry.
For Valentines Day the Boston Chapter of Warrior Writers gathered for a workshop at the Suffolk Poetry Center. Jose Diaz, an associate editor working with Consequence Magazine, brought prompts to get us thinking about the power of line breaks.
Starting with a prose-poem (or poetic essay) from Brian Turner’s new collection “The Kiss,” we wrote a freestyle responses to “The Evolution of a Kiss,” first printed in Guernica. The poem tracks with evolution from the kiss of ants (apparently a real thing) to “a step up, past the lizards,” the way birds feed their young, through foxes licking each others’ faces, to a specific kiss, a memory.
Our small group argued briefly over why any of this text matters. It’s all flowery nothings. So why write poetry at all? Why not just read Wikipedia? We’re not looking for info, but inspiration. It’s free form communication that also triggers ASMR.
For 10 minutes, we each wrote whatever came to us without putting down our pens, and read what we wrote aloud. The next step, for homework, would be to break whatever we each wrote down into lines, each line bringing a new punch, adding verve and intrigue, creating verses.
If this prompt inspires you to write something, share your rough draft for honest and encouraging comments on Reddit.com/R/WarriorWriters
Next Jose Diaz brought out two poems from Volume 9, the 2017 issue of Consequence Magazine. The 10th anniversary edition comes is out now, and available on consequencemagazine.org, alongside the 9th edition. There imprisoned behind a print paywall, you can find the real versions of these poems.
Condensing these poems into paragraphs, Diaz offered up bars of text for us to break down into new poems. Try it out. It’s mind altering to make your own thing from someone else’s text, and then to see the impact of the poet’s line breaks. Maybe someone will post a picture of the real poems from the book on Reddit, so you can see where you’re wrong and what changes.
Here are the two poems that Diaz brought without any breaks or added punctuation:
by Sokunthary Svay
Cambodian script resembles slurped noodles in Phnom Penh, immersed in orange curry peppers as red as blood and turmeric, golden as my cousin’s monastic robe. I wanted only noodle dinners for two weeks as a child. Mother sliced strips of beef like em dashes. They stiffened in the heat of her broth. Some characters look like the outline of my daughter’s pinky, sometimes inverted with a loop beneath or above, like her bangs curled upward. Every morning I detangle the knots she creates with her dreams, draw a line to part her hair. Once straightened, I braid her hair into sense. I unravel the curls of this script, trace family lines pronounced as my hip slanted as my eyes, looked like my mother’s sarong as it comes undone.
by Melissa Hem
you speak to me, in pungent air that waits, ready in the whispers living in teardrops, steady waiting to burst down from the clouds heavy you speak to me with your brown, weathered skin, and no reprieve from the day your fragile bones brittle while hands beg and pray the honesty behind shining eyes revealing a deadened gaze too many footsteps have marked the numbness of strangers that withers hope away you speak to me spinning red tracks against mud sticking between thick rubber tread speedy distance from memories that evoke the dead a foggy wake of exile and mass burial sites still, nothing is more haunting than the wind as it cries
Copy one of those chunks of text into a new document, and make your own breaks. Then go to consequencemagazine.org and buy your copy of issue 9, support the arts. The difference between your version and the poet’s might blow your mind. Because there is a right way to read a poem. Line breaks (at their best) can add purpose and meaning to text.