Writing Exercise: One Line

Note: My MFA students are discussing “On the Line” by Kazim Ali and “Line and Syntax” by James Longenbach in today’s class. Between this discussion and their workshop of Poem 1, they will do this short exercise that gives them an opportunity to think about the line as a unit that has expressive and impressionistic powers. You can download a PDF version of this exercise, with attached scans of Sappho’s fragments, by clicking on the link above.

Writing Exercise: One Line

On pg. 36 of “On the Line” Kazim Ali writes:

The poetic line ought not be buckled to conventional syntax, it ought to demonstrate the actual powers of poetry to move the mind beyond the mundane, as in Jorie Graham’s truncated Wyatt quote that opens The Errancy— “Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.”

The poetic line ought not be buckled to conventional syntax, it ought to demonstrate the actual powers of poetry to move the mind beyond the mundane, as in Jorie Graham’s truncated Wyatt quote that opens The Errancy—”Since in a net I seek to hold the wind.”

It [the poetic line] ought to be able to do more, be more, transcend the pedantic definition of language as a carrier of discursive meaning and by its motion enable the mind to follow and have an understanding that is past intellectual and enters conceptual.

Ali later quotes a few of Anne Shaw’s one-line poems posted to Twitter:

“help to winter me a small belief”

“i (in)visible”

“you bereft believer say you will return”

“begin again in whether”

We might also be reminded of some of the fragments of Sappho, which are attached here. Let’s read them together and discuss what holds these “poems” together, how our brains react when “meaning” is more diffuse and phrasing/musicality/impression are more apparent.

In this exercise, you will write a single-line poem. 

In order to do so, you will reject traditional syntax, maybe even working only in fragments. Write the single-line poem several times, with several different syntactical orders. 

How many ways can you write this line and it still make sense? 

After you finish, share and discuss.