cover image The Art of the Poetic Line

The Art of the Poetic Line

James Longenbach, . . Graywolf, $12 (128pp) ISBN 978-1-55597-488-6

A much-admired academic critic and poet, Longenbach (Draft of a Letter ) contributes to this useful new series of pocket-sized writing guides with clear, swift prose that explains how poets have thought about kinds of lines; how the line, or the idea of the line, distinguishes poetry (even prose poetry) from ordinary prose; how reference to dramatic verse (especially Shakespeare’s) can help us think about verse lines on the page; and how the kinds of line he identifies—the end-stopped (punctuated) line, the “parsing” line (which follows a phrase’s syntax), and the “annotating” line (which works against it)—combine to make memorable modern poems. A set of examples from William Carlos Williams demonstrate how Williams’s freewheeling prose let him evolve from less interesting to more powerful versions of free verse. Passages from Marianne Moore, C.D. Wright, Emily Dickinson, Ezra Pound and Frank Bidart also receive incisive comment. “No particular line,” Longenbach writes, “needs to be championed at the expense of other kinds.” He tries hard—some may think too hard—not to lose any beginners: the result is a short book that could be useful in college and high school courses, while also appealing to general poetry readers. (Jan.)