Snowflakes and Line Breaks: The Power of Line Breaks in Poetry

Snowfall Snowscape

Swirling slow-motion sugar spritzes cascade

from the cloudy powdered sugar dusting bag


Swirling sand-blown sifted

that fell and dripping

light and heavy

off and over

a world of silky softness. Here’s to wishing

that you could glide

over and feel the squeaky crunch-poof of stepping

without stepping

and breaking

the thin skin-like layer

of continuous, punching holes

in the landscape of beauty.

One of the weirdest things about poetry that strikes you when you’re first exposed to the art is the line break. Why cut off the sentence there, especially in free-form poetry? You could instead have a full sentence to a line, and that way not split a thought. It would be better…wouldn’t it?

In metered poetry, a line break is necessity; it has to be there as part of the poem, to keep the rhythm and rhyme correct. In a sonnet, you only have ten syllables in a line, and after that you’ve got to start a new line. But in free-form poetry, line breaks are nearly as powerful as the word choice. Each break emphasizes the gap between words. Usually, I read a line break like I read a breath in sheet music; it’s a place where that breath or pause makes a difference. In sheet music, a breath is a natural break between phrases where the singer can avoid suffocating without interrupting the flow of words. In poetry, it is a less natural place to stop that creates multiple meanings or helps create a certain idea. A period denotes the end of a sentence and phrase, but the line breaks can often divide ideas,  while at the same time leaving less of a difference than unique sentences. Take “from the cloudy powdered sugar dusting bag/sky.” as an example. The first line is a description, telling you what the “powdered sugar” is falling from. The “sky” tells you that the powder sugar bag is, in fact, the sky, but it also emphasizes the word “sky”. You begin to think about that word a little more. The period also tells you that the phrase is over, (the metaphor of a powdered sugar dusting bag = the sky), although it leaves the thoughts alone. But why do that at all? It’s once sentence, isn’t it? Check out the difference:

from the cloudy powdered sugar dusting bag



from the cloudy powdered sugar dusting bag sky.

The last word, “sky”, almost escapes notice because the reader’s eye is already rushing downwards by the end of the line, looking to the next words. There isn’t as much impact from that single word. On its own, “sky” can feel long and powerful, especially with a punctuation mark like a period or comma; such a mark acts like a catch for the reader’s eye, making it linger a moment on the word.

So you see, line breaks are not boring and made for confusion. They are so much more artistic than I can really explain in words…except for words of poetry. That single pause changes the form of an idea or poem. Try playing around with it yourself. You’ll be surprised to find how even a simple idea can become poetic with a line break in the right place.



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