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Thursday, September 4, 2014

All Broken Up & other line breaks

One advantage of traditional forms of poetry hinges on the swing of a line. Instead of having to decide where and when to break each line of a poem, the pattern of your chosen form makes that decision for you.

For example, a sonnet written in iambic pentameter will be measured (meter) as five feet with iambs predominating. At the end of those five, the line breaks, and the next line of iambic pentameter begins with the same pattern repeated for 14 rhyming lines.

If you want to know more about the sonnet form, save this page and click the link below to an earlier post on the Poetry Editor blog. If you don't care, skip through the pink stuff!

Sonnets traditionally require poets to use rhythmic rhymes and argue nicely in fourteen lines

If you’re not sure what iambs and other poetic feet consist of but want to know, visit these discussions where I aimed to make the explanations as easy as possible.

Scan A Poem. Get The Picture.

Scan a poem. Catch the beat. Change the rhythm as you revise.

Accentual syllabic or metered verse

Unlike traditional forms of poetry with their consistent patterns, free verse is free of meter and free of other requirements, such as line length.

That sounds airy-light and, yeah, freeing, but this means you have to make a decision with every line. Sometimes that’s a hard call; sometimes not. Either way, line breaks can make or break a free verse poem.

Is this something to fret about as you write? No! Worry is more confining than any poetry pattern, so let poems flow. Then go back later to revise, breaking lines here or there or wherever your eyes and ears desire.

As you read each poem and revision aloud, keep your ear attuned to its musicality.

As you read each poem by sight, see if you find any evidence of a unique pattern to emphasize and make the poem pop.

In the following poem, for example, I played with line breaks on the word “break.” Then, during the revision process, I experimented with variations of “break” and “broke” and, mainly, had fun.

Play with words. Play around with line breaks. Try something new, and have a good time with your poems and your readers.

All Broken Up!
by Mary Harwell Sayler

Hey! What’s going on tonight?
My fingernail broke.
A bird broke into flight,
and, oh! The mirror broke!
Will it be all right?
Then someone breaks
the silence.

I went to bed closing
my eyes to these sights –
hoping and praying the breaks
might not last,
then morning broke
into dawn-light,
and I happily hopped down to break-

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler. All rights reserved. The poem “All Broken Up!” originally appeared in Mary’s Kindle e-book for kids, the Poetry Dictionary For Children & For Fun and has been included, too, in her book of children’s poems, Beach Songs & Wood Chimes, to be published mid-September by Kelsay Books, who also published Outside Eden. In addition, Mary released the Kindle e-book the Christian Poet’s Guide to Writing Poetry as a revision of the poetry home study course she wrote and used for many years with other poets and poetry students. She continues to help poets, one-on-one, through her website.


  1. P.S. After posting the above article, I received a review copy of Writing Metrical Poetry, published by Writers Digest. Follow this blog, and you won't miss a thing!

  2. I appreciate the helpful hints and I loved the poem. Good chuckle for an early afternoon delight. Thanks, Mary.

    1. Thanks, Nells, for reading, responding, and encouraging. Hope other poets get the idea that writing poems - even revising poems - can be fun.