Poetry Tip #3, The Line: Length and Endings

Hi everyone,


Back again with another poetry tip. Please remember that these tips do not begin to fully cover the topics included. They are only meant to provide quick insights and guidance. They are more like crib notes or executive summaries. If they whet your appetite to learn more, there are plenty of good books on poetry.

Last time I talked about the importance of word placement within lines of poetry. We can emphasize what we want to convey by where we place key words and phrases. The end of the line is the strongest position, the middle is the weakest.

Today let’s look at the lines themselves. Poetry is written in lines and lines are grouped into stanzas. The length of the line influences how we read the poem aloud. In verse a traditional way to measure the line is by counting the number of stressed syllables. The kind of poetic foot (iambic, anapestic, trochaic, dactylic — Tip #1) establishes the meter. The meter and number of feet in the line are key factors in fixed forms such as a limerick or ballad stanza.

Two feet = dimeter

A flea known as Ralph
Swallowed a cow
(bugs, poems about creeping things)

Rain is pouring
(Somebody Catch My Homework)

Three feet = trimeter

Bradley always answers,
We hate it when he answers,
(Somebody Catch My Homework)

To you it’s only homework,
But I’m half wild with fright
(Somebody Catch My Homework)

Four feet = tetrameter

Since Mama bought this stupid horn
I hate the day that I was born
(A Thousand Cousins)

Bumping at the windowpane
He fought against the solid air
(The Alligator in the Closet)

Five feet = pentameter

The termite never eats the way it should,
It’s not his fault, his food all tastes like wood.
(bugs, poems about creeping things)

I’m going to pound the cover off that ball!
I’m going to blast it clear outside the park!
(The Mouse was Out at Recess)

Most modern verse is told in lines of five feet or fewer but now and then you may encounter a need for longer lines.

Six feet = hexameter
Seven feet = heptameter
Eight feet = octameter

Iambic pentameter that doesn’t rhyme, known as blank verse.

I’ve never seen old man McGrew in person.
(People call him that behind his back.)
(The Purchase of Small Secrets)

Another important duty of the line is to tell the reader when to pause and when to keep reading. Punctuation at the end of a line signals the conclusion of a thought or a convenient spot to breathe or take a millisecond timeout to relish and consider the meaning of what was just read. That kind of line is called end-stopped; not very imaginative but descriptive of its duty.

Said Mrs. Towers to Mr. Reeds,
“Why do you water those wretched weeds?”
(The Boy Who Counted Stars)

Other lines are free of signals that the reader should tarry at the end so without hesitation we continue on into the line that follows. The thought being expressed is usually incomplete at the end, which further encourages us to rush ahead.

Said Mr. Reeds, “Well, don’t you know
That blue-ribbon weeds need water to grow?”
(The Boy Who Counted Stars)

Tip for next week: punctuation, capitalization, and syllabic vs. accentual lines.

Word of the Month for July and last broadcast of POETRY PALS

Hi everyone,

My thanks to all you poets who posted the poetic results of considering the stories tucked away in our first ever combined word(s) of the month: bust/burst. I’ve loved them all and know from your comments that you enjoyed the month too.

For July let’s go with a word suggested last month by Su Hutchens: FORWARD. I bet we get some dandies. Please remember, this blog does its best to stay out of politics and religion. It’s strictly a “can’t we all just get along” sort of spot in space where we can meet, practice our craft, and share our results to an appreciative audience, so let’s have fun and keep moving forward.

I hope you’ve been listening to the KSMU Radio broadcasts of POETRY PALS each Wednesday morning at 9:45 Central Standard Time in the United States. This morning is the final reading so don’t miss it. Here again is information about how you can listen in.

If you live in the area, here are your dial locations.
91.1 FM in Springfield
90.5 FM in Point Lookout/Branson;
90.3 FM in West Plains;
88.7 FM in Mountain Grove;
98.9 FM in Joplin;
103.7 FM in Neosho

If you live anywhere else in the United States or in another country, you can hear POETRY PALS at KSMU-Ozarks Public Radio live-streaming on its website: http://www.ksmu.org. POETRY PALS has been a collaboration of KSMU, Springfield-Greene County Library District, and me. Please consider providing support by sending your positive comments about what they are doing to News Director Jennifer Moore (jennifermoore@missouristate.edu )

Updates on two books

Hi everyone,

Yesterday I finished reviewing and making final tweaks to a new collection of poems with Holiday House wonderfully illustrated by Kate Cosgrove and headed for a 2021 publication. I’m not at liberty to show pictures, provide samples of the poems, or provide the title of the book, but I’ll follow up with more information one of these days when I can. Kate illustrated AND THE BULLFROGS SING so you may remember her beautiful work on that one.

I also received promotional material for GUIDED PRACTICE FOR READING GROWTH, co-authored with Laura Robb and due out with Corwin September 8, 2020. Once I figure out how to post a pdf to my blog, I’ll share some of that material. You’ve already seen the cover but here it is again.