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The Art of the Poetic Line

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  315 ratings  ·  41 reviews
The Art Of series is a new line of books reinvigorating the practice of craft and criticism. Each book will be a brief, witty, and useful exploration of fiction, nonfiction, or poetry by a writer impassioned by a singular craft issue. The Art Of volumes will provide a series of sustained examinations of key but sometimes neglected aspects of creative writing by some of con ...more
Paperback, 120 pages
Published December 26th 2007 by Graywolf Press
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Sep 13, 2009 Julene rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: poets who write poetry
This whole series is excellent. I heard James Longenbach speak from this book at AWP in NYC and I was transfixed wanting to get it all down. At the end I asked if everything he said was in the book and he said yes. This book is very helpful for my own poetry, he explains in a way I've not heard before, about what it means to annotate and to parse lines:

to Annotate lines is to cut against a grammatical unit—to annotating the syntax with emphasis the syntex itself would not provide. The negative a
Apr 26, 2011 Tiffany rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all poets
Recommended to Tiffany by: Gerry LaFemina
Shelves: craft-books
I found Longenbach's explanation of line endings as opposed to line breaks helpful. One of the first points he makes is that the term line break is an inaccurate metaphor because when a line ends, the syntax may not also break, and that it is the relationship between line and syntax that forms the music of poems. I also found the discussion of various types of enjambement (annotating line and parsing line) to be really interesting, particularly as I am reading Chronic by D.A. Powell. I also fina ...more
Excellent instructional text. If you've ever wondered why lines end the way they do or how to vary our own poetics, this is the book for you. Clearly written for a writer who is already versed in contemporary American poetics that is seeking to delve into another layer of their craft; read-not for the workshop faint-hearted.

Useful terminology -- endstopped, parsing, and annotating lines -- and clear thinking, as always with Longenbach. A little ponderous at times.
This is an amazingly balanced book on poetry, and will likely take your understanding and appreciation of the poetic line to a higher level. As poetry is subjective, I often find myself annoyed when I notice the flavor of an author's own preferences seeping into the text when analyzing poetry, or even worse, the author's own poems in lieu of a more classic example, but not here. Longenbach also doesn't err in the other direction and use the same old tired examples we've seen analyzed ad-nauseum ...more
Short, sweet. Finally criticism that is useful to the act of writing poetry.
CG Fewston
The fifth book I have read in the series “The Art of…” (edited by Charles Baxter) has continued with my overall pleasure of these short, but extremely useful books on writing. The Art of the Poetic Line focuses on the line in poems, and in some cases, prose, and how the poet creates a sonic pleasure through line endings (otherwise known as “line breaks”). Whether you are a poet or novelist, this book should prove useful on how to consider sounds of syllables, words, and line endings to increase ...more
This is a helpful book if you want to learn about enjambment, prose vs poetry, end lines, etc.
At one point Longenbach considers Marian Moore's "When I buy pictures" and ticks the box for both her first and final versions. One is "anotated" the other is "parsed." I found the latter easier to read, the first version irritating although interesting too. Longenback holds up both as examples of how you can layout your poetry but there is no definitive answer as to what works best.
Word play is great,
Quote from Poem and Prose:

"This kind of movement--the establishment of a formal decorum in which even the smallest variation from it feels thrilling--is what makes the act of reading a poem feel like the act of writing a poem. It is what makes a poem an experience we need to have more than once, an act of discovery that is contingent not simply upon what we learn but on the temporal process of discovering how it feels to learn again what we've always known."

-James Logenbach
Oliver Ho
Having just read Dean Young's "Art of Recklessness," this book was a bit of a comedown simply because it's more straightforward and less of a mind-explosion. Nevertheless, it's interesting and ultimately useful and rewarding. I'm glad to have learned and thought about Longenbach's concepts here involving parsing lines, annotating lines and end-stopping lines, and about the impact of variation involving all three styles. I can see returning to this book often.
In this succinct guide to lineation, we learn about power of the line to convey energy and amplify meaning in a poem, particularly in relationship to syntax. "The drama of lineation lies in the simultaneous making and breaking of our expectation for pattern," states Longenbach (p. 70), who uses numerous and evocative examples from the masters, past and present, to illustrate his point.

The third section on prose poetry drives home what he says in the first two. I have gained a whole new apprecia
A very good and lucid discussion of how lineation works in poetry. Lots of examples and very clear explanations.
This book helped me to better understand line endings and how to play with them more effectively in my own work. Also, I am now completely distracted by the line endings in the books I read for school.

My criticism of this book really boils down to the fact that it is much easier to look at a "finished" poem by someone else and then discuss how their line endings do or do not work. It is much harder to do this when in the midst of writing my own poems. But I am playing around with line endings an
Longenbach defines three types of line breaks: end-stopped; parsing (breaks on syntactic borders); and annotated (breaks which suspend and transform meaning between two lines.)

He applies the words "thrilling" and "exciting" to examples of poetry that I find to be neither. I was also irked by his grouping of Shakespeare and Milton with the "thrilling" and
"exciting" Glück and Bidart.

I agree with what Longenbach says in theory, but I personally found some of his examples to be underwhelming, if no
Jim Longenbach has written one of the most informative and understandable books on the use of "line" as a poetic device.
Lavishly supported by poems from all periods, Jim manages to be clear, concise, yet completely nonjudgmental about the way in which lines can work in poetry. A must read for anyone writing poetry.
Going to have to read this a couple of times over, taking notes. I have never understood lineation better, I must say. Longenbach writes clearly despite the difficult material (especially for the uninitiated), and gives plenty of examples. I highly recommend it to anyone who writes/teaches/reads poetry seriously.
Really interesting (if not a bit repetitive at times). Anyone versed in poetry (ZING!) knows what lines do, but reading this book-length essay has gotten me to rethink what I know at a time when I really need to. I want to go through all of my poems now and rework the lines, just to play around.
Barbara Gabriel
If you've been out of college awhile, you'll notice the difference between this an other poetry craft books: this one is a lecture. Not that there's anything wrong with that. :) That being said, I enjoyed it and learned something, which was the point.
A bit pointlessly long, but overall instructive. For some reason (I suspect it's the general oddity of American English) the author uses "sonic" instead of "auditory" (e.g. sonic imagery). Reminded me of Doctor Who which caused much distraction.
Longenbach is passionate about his subject. He uses examples from both classic and modern poetry to demonstrate his main point: "Poetry is the sound of language organized in lines." He discusses syntax and line endings in detail.
Juliana Gray
This is a really smart, readable book on prosody. I don't know if I would recommend it as a textbook for undergraduates, but I plan on using parts of it in my classes. I recommend this to any poet, or anyone interested in poetry.
Jeff Streeby
I'm about half-way through and there is nothing in it yet that I didn't learn from Michael Waters. It is thoughtful book and well-written and insightful and for me has so far constituted a good review of essential principles.
Scholarly but never glib or inassessible. This is an interesting treatise on the poetic line. I'd recommend this for any serious reader or writer of poetry, and definitely would make it required reading for MFA students.
Colleen S.
Mar 25, 2012 Colleen S. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: poetry readers, poets
Recommended to Colleen by: Jeanie Thompson
Shelves: on-writing
A fantastic treatise on the line, noting its importance in relation to syntax and grammar. Highly recommended for all poetry readers and writers, and anyone interested in the rhythm of language.
Super useful and not overly technical. Longenbach intelligently and accessibly describes various possibilities of the poetic line in English verse.
Worth reading, but I am not fawning over it the way so many people seem to be. It has some great thought.
Poetry reference book on line endings. This book has great value although it feels a bit obscure at times.
Very helpful. Much to think about as regards lineation. High suggested--and suggestive--reading.
Wes Zickau
Would be better if more aptly titled "The Art of the Poetic Line Ending."
Longenbach finally explains why I find arbitrary enjambments irritating.
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  • The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song
  • The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction
  • The Art of Description: World into Word
  • The Life of Poetry
  • Poetic Meter and Poetic Form
  • The Poem's Heartbeat: A Manual of Prosody, Revised Edition (Story Line Press Writer's Guides)
  • Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft
  • Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry
  • Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within
  • Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry
  • The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms
  • The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach
  • On Poetry and Craft: Selected Prose
  • Rules for the Dance: A Handbook for Writing and Reading Metrical Verse
  • The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide
  • Proofs and Theories
  • Cooling Time: An American Poetry Vigil
  • In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop
James Longenbach is a poet and critic whose work is often featured in publications such as The New Yorker, Paris Review, and Slate. He lives in Rochester, New York.
More about James Longenbach...
The Virtues of Poetry The Resistance to Poetry Draft of a Letter Stone Cottage: Pound, Yeats, and Modernism The Iron Key: Poems

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