Poetry Technique: Enjambment

file0001429396083More good news — another poem published, this one in the March 2015 issue of TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics by Chapman University. Very cool.

I was reading up on technique recently when I came across the idea of enjambment. It’s a simple, yet powerful method of running one thought from one line to another. A good example is this one from William Carlos Williams from his poem Blizzard:

…the blizzard
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh?….
Reasons why enjambment works:
It creates pacing. In fact, I’ve found it to be an incredible way to control speed. I’ve used it to create urgency (usually without punctuation).
It can introduce contradiction. I love doing this. T. S. Eliot used it in The Waste Land:
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Notice how “breeding” suggests life, but the continuation of that thought is lilacs coming out of a “dead land.” Brilliant, isn’t it?
It creates breaks. Much like pacing, enjambment can give a fractured feel to your work. In my poem Veteran’s Day at the Wall, I use enjambment to convey not just a break in the action, but to show the randomness of death during war times.

…Forty-three years
to read Thirty names on
paper    Three had
Fifteen minutes apart…

It adds visual interest. The perfect example is once again from Williams in his poem The Red Wheelbarrow:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

In fact, this poem is probably the best example of how enjambment can create mood, force pacing, introduce contradiction (who knew those chickens were coming?), and create a poem that’s as alive to the eye as to the ear.Exercise:Take one of your poems and rewrite it using enjambment. Go free-form for a while, but revise it considering what effect you want to create with the technique.

Poets, do you use enjambment? 
What other techniques do you use to create effect in your writing?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s