Thursday, October 2, 2008
Guest Post: Playwright Heather Jones
The Poetic is Dramatic: Poetry Punctuation Strategies in Dramatic Dialogue
Note: You should read the poetry and play selections aloud.
Part 1: line breaks
A really brief discussion of lines and the things poets and playwrights can do with them.
In his poetry dictionary, John Drury says that a line is “like a melodic phrase, lasting a certain length before the piece “turns” to the next line or ends” (159). The difference between the turn of the line in prose and poetry is basically that a prose line always turns when it reaches the margin of the page. In poetry, the poet chooses where to turn the line—or make a line break. Drury quotes Denise Levertov as saying that the line break is “roughly a half-comma in duration….a crucial precision tool [that] can record the slight (but meaningful) hesitations between word and word…”(Drury 160)
One thing we can do with line breaks is enjamb them. The poetry dictionary tells us that enjambment is “The use of a line whose sense and rhythmic movement continues to the next line.” It goes on to say, “Enjambment is like musical syncopation; instead of pausing, the musical phrase pushes ahead. Enjambment speeds up the movement and quickens the pace.” It can also call attention to the last word of one line and the first word of the next. The poetry dictionary says that “Enjambment may quicken the pace over end-stopping—but not always. Robert Creeleys’s poems often have lines broken after an article, which imposes at least a slight pause, a musical effect that slows down the movement.” (116) , as in this poem, “A Reason”:
is a common one, a
black dog, crying, a
A playwright can also experiment with where they turn lines and with enjambment, and have, at least as far back as Shakespeare.
Here, from Macbeth:
I pull in resolution, and begin
To doubt th’ equivocation of the fiend
that likes like truth[…]
Dramatic verse went out of fashion with the advent of playwrights like Ibsen who introduced a more realistic and conversational style to dramatic dialogue. Recently, though, playwrights have begun to introduce poetic moments into their plays, moments that are meant to stand out from the naturalistic and realistic and show us the interior or the metaphysical—what is not readily apparent in real life.
Here is an example of enjambment from Erik Ehn’s Polio comes from the Moon (Bernadette), part of his series of Saint Plays
Lianne Maille: Polio comes from the moon
On gray-green bee wings
Settling on red petals
An ash unseen
Here Ehn makes images the emphasis of the first part of the dialogue, with the more abstract ash unseen at the bottom. In this case, the two voices might function like a chorus, witnessing and interpreting the action. The enjambed dialogue forces us to pause on the images, to see what might not be on the stage.
Heather Jones is a playwright, writing mentor and creativity coach based in Asheville, NC. A link to her blog, Brainstorm!!, can be found in the featured links list to the left.
(photo Robert Creeley in Providence, Jan. 2004; by Joel Kuszai)