{National Poetry Month} On Form/Space

On Form/Space by Natalya Lawren {guest writer}

Line Breaks are a godsend.


I propose the reason why poets seem so lazy with proper punctuation is that line breaks are a punctuation of themselves. They immediately express that the writing is a poem, and that sliver of blank space breaks thoughts apart like paragraphs in an essay do– makes the reader breathe.

Some poets make line breaks subconsciously. I try my best to consider and do it intentionally. They can be subtle or just as obvious to the reader.


What about an even more aggressive approach to poetry. That visual challenge– that visual punch to the gut, where you gasp as if amazed by the beauty of it. Concrete poetry.

For me, this entails an enthusiastic relationship with e. e. cummings, master of the form. It also led me into the fantastic world of using Adobe Indesign to mess with my writing (moving text boxes around Microsoft Word gets tedious and terribly annoying). Just as one line changed can change the entire poem, you can use the very placement of the exact same words to create different meaning. This can be as simple as choosing to break apart an idea into two stanzas, or as avant-garde as e. e. cummings by smashing them together with no spaces at all like claustrophobias best friend.


Shape can be as simple as writing a poem about a shark, and shaping the poem into a literal

shark. It can capture the energy of the subject of a poem, just like e. e. cummings’ “Grasshopper

or give the reader a choice in how to read it. It can be clever and give messages within messages via (parentheses) all sorts of (glorious) contraptions prompting (interruptions) side-tracking and even interruptin (thewordallsmashedto) g(ether).

It can float, or sink, or startlingly center–









but the meaning becomes all too clear.

Hard to read perhaps, but clear nonetheless. This is both an elegant solution to the subtext of poetry, and also the poet having way too much fun.

It can go overboard, but it can also be wildly successful. Many a poem I’ve written have become so much less boring and flat when I messed with the layout. It also gives the reader either a puzzle to entertain themselves with, or something nice to hang on the wall (now I’m really wanting that shark poem).


I also absolutely adore Designer and Poet, Sara Michas-Martin, who recently published Gray Matter, and just as beautiful as her dissection of the human body in human spaces is the design of the book. Her BFA really stands out, as apparently she designed the whole thing herself.

What comes across as simply a pattern of indenting gives a whole new breath to her poems, or whether they are single spaced or broken up into gaping two-line stanzas. For sheer aesthetic quality, they are amazing even before you read them, which you are then touched by to be flabbergasted further. To quote a line from her poem “Vision,”

The street vendor craves often

an aerial view.


This line summarizes some of what I am attempting to describe. We crave an aerial view. We are startled, challenged, and invigorated by the difference each poet chooses to interweave with their work, and although the drastic concrete poems may not be your preference, each poem has a careful choice that leads you when to breathe, when to leave you moving to the next idea and/or stanza, and what is grouped together. Maybe I prefer this type of form more than the form determined by syllables and rhyme scheme.


Seek out the echoes of meaning to the way it looks on a page. The next poem you read, pay more attention to what choices the poet made, and maybe how the meaning or impression you got would have changed if the stanza or line break had been in a different place instead. Be intentionally observant in your interpretation of the poem. It is not every day (nor month) that people are willing to sit down and get to know a piece of poetry, and it is days (and months) like this that call for us not just to read, or write, but to explore all parts of this world.


So, yes, spacing may be the last thing on your mind on every given day. But it is there. For example, I could have easily clumped this entire piece into one paragraph. Or separated it into a million different lines. I am calling you to this detail.  This could be a poem

in and

of itself.

So see space. structure space. space is what surrounds the earth and fills the world, what allows you to stand so far away from the highway. It is no less important in writing.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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