The University of Iowa

To Break or Not to Break: Working the Poetic Line

Weeklong July 19 to July 24 2020

The line break is the poet’s most powerful, and problematic, tool: powerful because it does so much work; problematic because its function and structure change from poem to poem and it often seems arbitrary. In reality, poets are constantly assessing and reassessing their line breaks and end words as they work. This workshop is a combination of discussion, generating new work, and sharing of your own poems; it will deepen your understanding and mastery of the poetic line. We will explore the relationship between the sentence and the poetic line, because it is this that drives a poem’s unfolding, creating tensions between sense and syntax, affecting the poem’s music, momentum, and the degree to which it withholds/accrues/takes risks with its material as the poet works the line to enable content. We will discuss a variety of poems as we explore how the line break comes into being; and look at how diction, punctuation, rhythm/meter, and grammar/syntax are consciously manipulated to create a well-lineated “vessel” that contains, controls, and reveals the poem’s content. Through daily writing prompts you will generate new material for poems and be encouraged to experiment with some of the techniques that we discuss. We will devote time each day to the sharing of new work generated during the workshop, or work you bring from home that you might revise or regard as complete. Suitable for poets at all levels of experience.


In this workshop, we will generate new writing through exercises and assignments; critique writing you bring from home; provide feedback on writing you produce in our week.