The news with Death in Common is thus: the book is practically done, it’s just a certain number of minor things, layout wise, need to be finalized.  Then, it should be uploaded to the printer.  Still, I don’t know when that is.  In the meantime, I’ve been slowly putting together a new volume, with the notion that Daverana will release the final product sometime next year.   A few weeks ago, however, I got into a detailed exchange with a trusted contributor (and friend) over one of her poems.  I really liked the poem, but I thought the form could use a little more work.  Basically, I was going to suggest that she institute what some would call “step-down lines.”

Basically, not a full linebreak in the scheme of things.  She wasn’t opposed, but since she was less experienced with poetry, she was curious about how this practice, and other fragmentation practices exactly worked.  The following paragraph is taken from my email to her:

In poetry, white space is a huge factor to consider, and it has just as much impact as punctuation.  Basically, every time you have to skip over white space, there’s a fractional pause that comes with it.  It’s from your eyeballs literally skipping over it.  This is why linebreaks themselves are important.  If you endstop a line, it makes that pause longer.  If you enjamb, you make it shorter.  Step down lines are also called “half a line break.”  Partly because the pause, of all usuages of white space, is the smallest pause.  Its skipping down one line, as opposed to coming to the end of a line, and moving your eyes down and two the left, like you would with a traditional line break.   If you scatter or fragment your lines, then you have the reader’s eyes moving all over the page, which suggests chaos and incoherence and explosiveness.  Of course, not every linebreaking stratgey works.  Stepdown lines work in some poems, and not in others.  It’s like in fiction, when you change the POV to see what the effect is on the story — some stories have to be in 1st, and some have to be 3rd.  Some poems need the more experimental line breaks than others.

Now, it’s not that I woke this morning with a burning desire to write about poetic lineation in my pre-WalMart hour and a half.  A few months ago, I managed to get a poem into a genre based poetry anthology.  I didn’t think much of it until a few days ago, when the volume’s editor contacted me adn other contributors with suggested edits.  My poem was largely untouched, with one exception.  The first letter of every line was capitalized, and this irritated me to no end, and despite my better judgement, I fired off a fiery email about the subject. For the sake of ease, I’m just going to refer to o this practice as “front-capping” from here on out.

So, somebody reading this might go, big deal!  I see front-caps used all the time in poetry! True, but since poetry is also a millenia-old art form, you also see a lot of other things that are not contemporary practice anymore, like contracting words like “over” to “o’er” to meet metrical requirements.s.  Front-caps are largely no longer used for two reasons that come presently to mind:

1) Technically, they violate the mechanical rules of the English language.  That is, in just about every other form of writing, you won’t find a capital letter in the middle of a sentence.  You’ll find capital letters only where they rules say they should be, namely at the beginning of sentences and for proper nouns.

2) Reread the paragraph lifted from that email to a friend.  It basically comes down to the physical mechanics of reading and how the eye moves across the page.  Front-caps can be jarring, grating on the eyes, especially since the linguistic impulses — beaten into all of us since grade school.  Even further, they can suggest a new thought or idea, when in fact the line is meant to be enjambed or carried over from what’s preceding it.

I can’t speak as to why the editor wanted me to use them.   He hasn’t gotten back to me.  However, I can say this.  Most of the writers using front-caps in this day and age largely don’t use them on purpose.  Word processors often use auto-formatting, which naturally assumes that everytime a writer hits return/enter, a capital letter is required.  Instead of editting that out, they leave it in the poem in question, and zip it off to whatever market they’re writing for.

Okay, with that said, spleen has been vented.  Off to WalMart I must go….

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