"Exercise 1: Dive into this exercise, called “Six S’s,” from Catherine Wagner in Poets on Teaching: A Sourcebook. It’s just as useful to a solitary writer as it is in the classroom—all it requires is taking a poem out of its lineated form and writing it out in prose. For an example, here is William Stafford’s poem “Traveling through the Dark” with all its line breaks removed.
Traveling through the dark I found a deer dead on the edge of the Wilson River road. It is usually best to roll them into the canyon: that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead. By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing; she had stiffened already, almost cold. I dragged her off; she was large in the belly. My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting, alive, still, never to be born. Beside that mountain road I hesitated. The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights; under the hood purred the steady engine. I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red; around our group I could hear the wilderness listen. I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—, then pushed her over the edge into the river.
Now your task is to break the poem up into lines in six different ways—one for each of Wagner’s six S’s: speed, sound, syntax, surprise, sense, and space. This won’t take as much time as you think, especially if you print the above text six times and just use slashes (/) where you want the lines to break. You’ll get very different results depending on how you interpret those six S’s. For instance, if I choose to break lines in regard to the text’s “syntax,” I have to decide whether I am breaking lines to encourage regular syntax or to upset it. There’s a big difference between
Traveling through thedark I founda deer dead onthe edge of theWilson River road.
Traveling through the darkI found a deerdead on the edgeof the Wilson River road.
Traveling through the dark I found a deerdead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
Exercise 2: Choose a traditional sonnet and relineate it to de-emphasize its rhymes. You might try Casey Thayer’s “The Hurt Sonnet,” Dan Beachy Quick’s “Poem (Internal Scene),” or Adam Kirsch’s “Professional Middle-class Couple, 1922.” What’s the effect of the new lineation compared to the original published version? Does it alter the meaning or tone of the poem? Does it retain the feeling of a sonnet, despite the change?
Now that you’ve spent some time playing with line breaks in other people's poetry, turn to your own.
Exercise 3: I’ve already mentioned the value of reading another writer’s poem aloud and pausing at its line breaks; I suggest you try this with your own work as well. You might feel a little silly and sound portentous (and pretentious too!), but the exercise will encourage you to consider why you are breaking a line where you are. If you can’t find a reason, consider those six S’s: speed, sound, syntax, surprise, sense, and space. Is there one or more of those you could emphasize or play with by changing your breaks?
Exercise 4: Try writing to the extremes. If you are normally a short-lined poet, try writing long. Read the poems of Walt Whitman and C.K. Williams to get into the mood. If you are normally a long-lined poet, get short. Does your subject matter differ for a long-lined poem versus a short-lined one? Your tone? Is this a “fast” poem or a “slow” poem in terms of pacing? Do you find yourself breaking lines for different reasons?
Exercise 5: Now re-break your “extreme” poem as its opposite. Think about how changing the line length does or does not affect the poem’s character. Do you find yourself revising as you change the line lengths?"
The whole article by Rebecca Hazelton is here: