Friday, October 15, 2010

Where Have All the Stanzas Gone?

Stanza breaks, people. Stanza breaks. Stanza breaks? People? What happened to stanza breaks? Why this trend of what many of us call "the blob?" Where, oh where have all the stanzas gone? And why do people think readers no longer need a break? Or a little guidance?

Over the last year, I've read more poetry than I have in my entire life. Not because I'm being a diligent reader, but because I'm being a moderately-diligent editor. Reading other people's poetry in mass quantities has given me a wider, much more clear picture of the contemporary poet population's trends. Much is good. Much is mediocre. Some is bad (dripping orange orgasms, for instance).

One trend that particularly worries is the lack of stanzas. I read a lot of submissions without a single stanza break. By the end of such submissions, I am gasping for air--I have been given no time to breathe for an entire five poems. Poets? Why oh why would you do this to either of us?

The stanza break gives your message space. It gives the reader some room to take a breath, a moment to contemplate what's going on. The stanza break gives you as a writer a way to pace your work, a way to tell the reader how to proceed, where to take that breath. It gives you more control.

Thomas Sayers Ellis, one of my advisers during my masters program, says that each stanza is a room and a poet must decide how the reader will enter that room. The most obvious way is the door, but what if you take a helicopter and come in through the roof or climb up through the window? The more rooms a poem has, the more opportunities the poet has to direct the reader through the house. And what if you never actually create your rooms? Well then, you have no control over how anyone enters or exits your work.

I'm not saying every poem needs stanza breaks. There are clearly instances where a lack of stanza breaks actually helps the poem, enforces a message of being strangled, of being squished, of emulating a giant jello mold. My argument is that there are far fewer poems that are made stronger by a lack of stanza breaks, than the opposite.

So seriously, give me a break. I want a stanza break (or two or three or ten). People! Poets! Poets and people who submit, it's time to give us all a chance, a break, a breath, some room to rest our little poet heads.


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