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Broken Homes

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indar
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Broken Homes

Post by indar » Thu Jul 11, 2019 4:16 pm

Broken Homes

Sometimes they break of their own accord--
sounds of settling foundations late at night
crack of rafters in the attic,

a sideways glance and off key
tone of voice inquiring 
about a preference for Chinese or Italian,
never decided.

Some houses, the roof blows off--
furniture flies, great piles
of clothes torn from closets, floors stomped
imaginary labels affixed: "mine" "mine".

Most often though milk sours in its container
the dog fed bread crusts, no one
thought to buy Purina kibbles,
the same sheets on the bed
for the fourth month.


Thumbing through one of the notebooks in which I jot ideas and fragments I found the 1st 3 lines of this one but have no memory of writing them. I hope they were mine---I made that mistake a few years ago. Sound familiar to anyone?
 

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Colm Roe
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Re: Broken Homes

Post by Colm Roe » Fri Jul 12, 2019 1:04 am

Lovely poem Linda.
Yes, more often than not it's simply neglect that'll do the job.
My only crit would be the last three lines in S4...they got a bit prosey? 
A quick rewrite.

More often though 
it creeps and folds, milk
and bed linen curdle
and the dog, equally silent
feeds on their crusts.

Nice writing.



    

 

Matty11
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Re: Broken Homes

Post by Matty11 » Fri Jul 12, 2019 8:11 am

Enjoyed the progressions - sometimes/some/most - the hauntings, the sudden destructiveness, the gradual neglect.

My suggestion for S2 :
 a sideways glance and an off key tone
of voice inquiring about a preference
for Chinese or Italian,
never decided.
best

Phil

indar
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Re: Broken Homes

Post by indar » Fri Jul 12, 2019 5:22 pm

Thank you for the read and comments both,

Colm, I will skin down that last stanza, I agree it is out of keeping with the rest but I stand by my prosey writing sometimes :D :D

Thank you Phil, line breaks continue to be a mystery to me. I would love to hear back from you why you suggested that alternative.

Matty11
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Re: Broken Homes

Post by Matty11 » Fri Jul 12, 2019 7:02 pm

Some course notes I found:
 First rule of the line: there are no rules.

There are, however, some strong guidelines that will generally serve you well. For example, usually you shouldn't break after an article or conjunctive word -- such as "the" or "and" -- because they're unimportant words in most cases. There are always exceptions, but those exceptions will serve the context of the poem. That's another general guideline: context governs the line.

The line is one of the most fundamental and powerful tools in poetry, yet it is often ignored and painfully abused by even well-known poets. It is regularly left to languish on the sidelines as subject matter, imagery, sonics, and metaphor play the game. Yet the line's ability to control a poem's pace, to build pauses and emphasis at crucial points in a poem, and to accentuate meaning should place its role at the centre of the game along with all the others.

One of the largest contributors to the line's decline and disuse is the tendency for readers and writers of poetry not to read aloud anymore. As a result, a poem becomes more of a visual medium for some readers and writers. This counteracts a poem's essential environment; a poem is oral and aural, and should always be read aloud.

 
As you read a sentence, you will automatically place miniscule or less than miniscule pauses into it based on context and syntax. You will also automatically punch certain "key" words. For example, let's take that last sentence and look at the natural pause breaks and punched words.

(You will also) (automatically punch) (certain "key" words.)

The parentheses indicate how the sentence will generally (there are always exceptions) be divided into smaller groups of words separated by pause breaks. The bold indicates the words that are stressed a little more than others in the sentence. Notice how the pauses are all after punched words, and notice how those punched words before a pause break are often nouns and verbs? Remember that. It's important. Of course, you can already see an exception here -- "also". It isn't a noun or verb, but it's punched, and the pause break occurs immediately after it. That doesn't mean you want to break a line after it, but if that "also" was a crucial part of the context, you might want to. Some people may also have a very slight pause between "automatically" and "punch", with a punch on the "mat" of "automatically".

There are no commas to indicate these pauses. There is only one occasion where punctuation is used to indicate stressed words -- the quotations around "key". Yet because English is the first language for most of us, we know automatically to break the sentence up with these pause breaks and stressed words, because it accentuates meaning.

The line adds a new dimension to these natural pauses and stresses in the English language. A line break will generally put much stronger emphasis on the last word of a line, as well as a secondary emphasis on the first word of a line. A line also indicates pace. A break in a line puts a tiny pause after the last word of a line. A break across strophes, where there is a space between the preceding and following line, puts an even longer pause after the end-of-line word.

Using the same sentence, I would like you to read the two examples of linebreaks aloud, taking into consideration what I just told you about the end-of-line pause and emphasis, as well as a possible secondary emphasis on a beginning word of a line (but only if it's a strong word already, such as a noun or a verb).

You will also
automatically punch
certain "key" words.

and

You will also automatically punch
certain "key" words.

In both cases, the word "punch" is further emphasised by being at the end of a line. What's more, the sound of that word and its meaning are further supported by that extra emphasis.

In the first case, however, you should notice that the pace is considerably slower than the second example. You should also notice that in the second example, you didn't stress "also" nearly as much as the first. In the second, you may well have stressed "certain" more than in the first example, simply because there was one less line break and therefore less words were emphasised, making the ones which were emphasised even more noticeable. You likely also discovered that the first line in the second example moved at a faster clip than the other lines in both examples.

Here's a third example. Again, read it aloud:

You
will
also automatically
punch
certain
"key" words.

Now the line has slowed to a crawl, with one weird speed bump of "also automatically". The sentence starts to lose meaning and sound odd because you begin to emphasise every word, and strange ones at that. It's a common mistake among beginning writers: chop the damn thing up into itsy bitsy pieces because it looks more "poetic". In fact, visuals should play only a small role, generally, in poetry. Why? Because poetry is oral and aural, and because you always read aloud.

Hopefully what this has started to indicate to you is that the longer the line, generally the faster it moves. The shorter a line, the slower the poem moves, because more pauses are added into the sentence besides what may already have been there.

This "long line=fast"/"short line=slow" rule can be counteracted or accentuated with the use of punctuation. A list of short words, especially words with drawn out sounds, separated with commas, can make a long line read quite slowly. For example --

In my room, I watched my door, the bed, my dog, the moon, and a man.

The line reads slowly, even though it's long, because of all the in-line punctuation and the sounds in that line.

Because of the pause at the end of a line, if a sentence is broken at a key word like a strong verb, it can create a sense of anticipation, a tension, in that the reader is drawn down to the next line to read the next word. For example --

I whip out my pistol and blast
the big toe right off my left foot.

By breaking at "blast", the reader both emphasises "blast" and also feels a certain anticipation to find out what was blasted, thereby being drawn down to the next line to discover the shooter shot his own foot.

Often a beginning writer will play it generally safe or break all over the place. I'd prefer they play it safe and build an ear for the natural pauses and rhythm in the human voice. Safe breaks are the sort where you break on an end-stopped pause already. An "end-stopped pause" is one created by punctuation of some sort: a comma, em-dash, semi-colon, colon, or period, for example. This further accentuates the pause already built into the sentence. This can serve you well by further emphasising the word at the end of the line or slow the pace to one that's long and drawn out. The other safe break is just before a conjunctive phrase or dependant clause. A break before "but", "and", and "or" is a safe break because we automatically pause between two thoughts divided by these conjunctions. A break before "because", "although" or "whereas" would do the same thing. These sorts of lines sound more stable to a reader and don't create a huge amount of tension, which can be a good thing if it supports the context of the poem.

Because of these pauses a linebreak builds, you generally want to accentuate the strongest words in your poem. The strongest words will invariably be the nouns and verbs. If they're not the strongest words, you've got something else to work on besides linebreaks. A general rule, one of those ones with occasional exceptions, is that you should never separate a noun from its preceding adjective. It's a boring, predictable sort of tension:

I dragged my wheelless red
wagon down the sidewalk.

We all know that something follows "red", and we all know it's going to be a noun. What's more, the pause break now sounds odd, because we normally wouldn't put such a considerable one between "red" and "wagon".

An exception to this rule, which should be used sparingly rather than in every single line, is when a break between a modified noun or a double adjective creates a double meaning. When a noun is modified with another noun to form a compound noun -- "monkey bars", for instance -- or when a noun is modified with another noun functioning as an adjective -- "river path", for instance -- or when the modifier is also a verb -- "bruised elbow", for example -- you can create a double meaning by breaking between them, which may be able to accentuate meaning. You can do this also without breaking up an adjective-noun pair, by breaking after a verb which can also function as a noun. When the first line is read the word appears to be used in one form, but when you continue reading, the word is discovered to be used in the other form. Here are a few examples from my own poetry. That doesn't mean that they're good examples, but it's the easiest way for me to show you:

Take space: you train the eye and size
the dark, the dome cracks and splits, pivots
shift the mass, the body breaches and points
bloom, become nebulae, galaxies...


In this example, the first three breaks, at "size", "pivots" and "points" all take advantage of the fact that each of these words functions both as a noun and a verb.

My mother hid her name within worn velvet
creases, in the hollows of warm redwood
deep-carved, polished and placed dead
centre on her bedroom dresser.


In this example, the first line breaks at "velvet" which can act both as a noun and an adjective. The third line breaks between "dead" and "centre", which takes advantage of a common saying, "dead centre", and changes its meaning by accentuating "dead" using a linebreak.

The most common line length is the length of breath. That is, a line is often not longer than what it would take for the average reader to read in one breath. This does not mean you don't and shouldn't experiment with longer lines. Walt Whitman did. It worked for him because it worked for each poem. Never feel as if you can't have a very short line next to a very long one. If it accentuates the content of the poem, then it's working in favour of the poem, and not against it. It comes down to the mistake of paying attention to visuals again, and having all the lines line up relatively neatly. This may well happen, and often does, because it establishes a rhythm to the whole poem that can work to its advantage, be it a long, loping rhythm or short huffs of breath. However, this does not nor should not mean you cannot have both in the same poem, or even one line after the other. If such variance works in favour of the poem and its content, then that kind of variance is a good idea. If you have a character run madly down the street, then come up short, you can support that aurally not only with word choice and sound, but with the line itself.

 
It basically boils down to listening. Listen to your voice as you read aloud, listen to the rhythm the lines create and the emphasis linebreaks and strophe breaks create, listen to pause breaks, pace and stress. This is why getting into the habit of reading aloud is crucial to your skill at writing poetry. It strengthens your sense of rhythm and your ability to hear differences in each line and a whole poem simply by changing line breaks.


 Also, I'd like to add that separating two subsequent alliterated words can help smoothen as well as enhance the sound of the words:
the papers were folded
flat, so as to decorate

Note how the first line can be read individually without dependence on the second line, but when read fully, the second line adds to the imagery as well as the sound.

 

indar
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Re: Broken Homes

Post by indar » Fri Jul 12, 2019 8:53 pm

Wow Phil,
Thank you so much. I have the Poet's Companion and Oliver' book on writing poetry---looked over online articles but this seems to make really clear sense of it. I will be reading and rereading these notes.

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Mark
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Re: Broken Homes

Post by Mark » Fri Jul 12, 2019 11:20 pm

Thanks for that clear and informative article, Matty.

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Tracy Mitchell
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Re: Broken Homes

Post by Tracy Mitchell » Sat Jul 13, 2019 3:27 am

Hi,  

I loved reading your exchange with Matty.  the whole thread is great stuff, and not the least of which the poem.

A compelling opening line to this poem – a subtle and eloquent lead-in to what follows.  The narrative provides great and telling details about the houses, and the powerful undercurrent of the homes follow in quick order.  It is a largely unpopulated poem, yet we know these people, these dysfunctional home-dwellers, home-breakers, or perhaps more accurately in most cases – victims.  Those whose frustrations and wounds and predelictions override routines of daily life – changing the sheets, buying dog food, even answering a food-choice inquiry.  The poem by the end echos of absence – perhaps the most insidious breaker of homes. Very powerful.

S.1 L.3 – timbers > rafters?  Rafters would generally be the more accurate term, and I think plays better with cracks.  

S.2 L.1 – glance and off key > . . . glance, an off key. . . Just a thought.

Lovely poem, Indar, beautifully written.

Cheers.

T

Matty11
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Re: Broken Homes

Post by Matty11 » Sat Jul 13, 2019 5:56 am

I've just found where that advice came from...

http://www.everypoet.org/pffa/showthrea ... ebreaks&s=

I do agree with the comment:
 
A general rule, one of those ones with occasional exceptions, is that you should never separate a noun from its preceding adjective. It's a boring, predictable sort of tension:
And therefore I don't like breaking lines on and/or  and definitely not on the the/a because it is a false/predictable tension:
A break before "but", "and", and "or" is a safe break because we automatically pause between two thoughts divided by these conjunctions. A break before "because", "although" or "whereas" would do the same thing. These sorts of lines sound more stable to a reader and don't create a huge amount of tension,

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Mark
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Re: Broken Homes

Post by Mark » Sat Jul 13, 2019 7:01 pm

Even better on the re-read. Melancholic and evocative. Quad for you.


Bleached

I listen for nostalgia in his footsteps
down a lane from the railway station,
past a red roof house slammed shut
on the blue collar side of the tracks.

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