How interesting would a popular song be without the words? What if a singer did not turn up at a recording session? Yet the backing band laid down the tracks anyway. Indie, Rock, Folk, Country, Rap: all with no singer to sing the lyrics?
What you would have left? Mostly an accompaniment or a riff over an insistent beat. A track useful for a karaoke but not much else. Let us imagine how a song without words would have to evolve to become interesting in its own right. Not as a background sound but something you would pay attention to.
A start would be to add a captivating melody that would turn the track into an instrumental, like some ambient dance tracks. Interesting harmony would add spice and colour to the music, perhaps evoking a mood just through sound.
Now imagine the band having put out their second album of instrumentals, the lead singer still hasn’t appeared, and they need to respond to reviews on social media claiming some of their tracks were dull. So, the band try something else. Two melodies playing against each other simultaneously, like a vocal duet. For example, transform a walking bass line into a more complex line, more than just a riff, even incorporating elements of the main melody. This technique is called counterpoint.
In poetry, we have the reverse situation, we have the words without the music. But there are parallels or analogues with the world of music. Diction, described in my previous blog, could be seen as fulfilling the purpose of harmony, creating mood and meaning. Metrics work in a similar way as beat. And line endings are important in creating another layer of interest in a poem.
The way a line of poetry breaks mid-sentence creates tensions and expectations, defeated or otherwise in apposition to the immediate meaning of the sentence. This could be thought of as the counterpart to counterpoint in music.
Line endings are often notated in continuous text with a “/” , for example: Line endings / start new ideas.
A sentence is a unit of sense, which in poems may be broken up by a line end. This technique is most common in free verse. A line break can subtly change meaning in the following ways, by:
- Emphasis: by creating a minute pause, to highlight a word with special import. It could even be a double-stressed foot like a spondee: e.g. “to walk alone in a hard rain/”
- Defeating Expectation: the poet may defeat the expectations of the reader with something unexpected in the continuation of the sentence on the next line, such as a change in direction of thought: “He would walk alone/ like all men at the end”
- Implied meaning: Bringing words from the latter part of the sentence onto the next line where they sit adjacent to words in the following sentence. This can create implied meaning: “to walk/ alone. Leaving his father at home”
- False negative: by emphasizing an object that is not present paradoxically makes it feel more present. It is a rhetorical trick: “not to walk alone/”.
This technique creates a counterpoint within the potential meanings of a sentence.
Note that in general, pivotal nouns or verbs are better at line endings, not prepositions. Try placing more evocative words at the line ends.
But as ever in poetry, rules are there to be broken well. These are some techniques you can experiment with to bring more depth to your work.