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The Art of the Poetic Line

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  557 ratings  ·  61 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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Apr 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am (slowly) reading my way through "The Art of ..." series and finding it extremely rewarding. This entry is a very interesting study of, as you might guess, the use of lineation in poetry, and how it can work either with or against syntax.

I loved James Longenbach's The Resistance to Poetry which I found evocative and exciting. The Art of the Poetic Line is more straightforward and accessible. He uses excerpts from poets ranging from Shakespeare to Ashbery to Louise Gluck (among others) and te
Jun 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Oliver Ho
Feb 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Neil Grayson
Jan 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Ffffffffucking excellent. I've never once had lines explained to me so cogently. This is everything I was hoping this book would be--a breeze to read, and choc-full of things I've always sort of *felt* about poetry without ever really knowing why. Loved loved loved it. ...more
Apr 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jonathan Tennis
Mar 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
The “Art Of” series is a new line of books from Graywolf Press dealing with craft and criticism. I read this for school and was impressed with Longenbach’s knowledge and the way he easily conveyed his points about poetry. Craft books are often boring as hell, especially craft books about poetry. But Longenbach’s is a breeze. If you like poetry, the craft of writing it, or are a grad student like me – this book is great.
Oct 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.

Jul 06, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: textbooks, poetry
Useful terminology -- endstopped, parsing, and annotating lines -- and clear thinking, as always with Longenbach. A little ponderous at times.
Mar 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
Short, sweet. Finally criticism that is useful to the act of writing poetry.
Katie Farris
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was such a wonderful book on craft; Longenbach is such a talented poet in his own right, and he brings that sensibility into his close readings of other poets' work. His examination of line-break broke down the typical end-stopped vs. enjambed dichotomy further-- lines could be "parsing" (i.e. syntactically complete; those lines that feel end-stopped even if they aren't), or, to borrow an idea from John Hollander, could be "annotating"-- i.e. could cut against syntax, creating interesting a ...more
Jul 13, 2017 rated it liked it
This is essentially an extended essay on what determines a line of poetry and how poets use line to create meaning within their poems. Longenbach uses many great examples from a set of well-respected poets (Shakespeare, Williams, Yeats, etc.). I would recommend this for writers of poetry as opposed to those who only read poetry, as I found this to be more of a reflective read than a purely educational one. As a writer, this book may help you to realize why you "feel" a line change should occur a ...more
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you've ever been confounded by a poem with weird line breaks or stanza breaks or, hell, even if you've been confounded by Joyce's Ulysses (which, the very act of opening that book and beginning to read it is what it is to be confounded by a work of literature), this book will give you tools you can use to dig into poetry, ride its waves, sound its depths, walk its path--choose your own metaphor, but you will learn how to read poetry more carefully and draw more pleasure from it if you read th ...more
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I may have learn more in this short read than in my 3 years of studying English at uni. Not sure how accurate that statement is, but definitely not hyperbolic. You should read this and reread it as I will to really absorb it. I love how he deconstructs the way a poem works, he does it quite lyrically actually. Criticism is an art in itself I guess. Anyway, I'm gonna recommend this to my English lecturer as I think it should be on all English students' reading lists. ...more
Feb 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Longenbach presents an insightful examination of the unit of the line. At times I wished that he was clearer with definitions--his take on syntax, for example, differs from mine, and I wanted to understand it. Overall, though, poets and students of literature should find this book, much like a fine poem, worth their while.
Kim Arvin Faner
Apr 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
This is one of the books I dare say should be a required reading for anyone who creates poetry. It is short and precise, talking about lineation, which what makes poems works of poetry. Longenbach writes in a language anyone can understand. He provides sample poems and dissects them with knowledge and confidence in the topic.
Sarai Davila
Sep 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
Although Longenbach brings up many great examples and points, he presents them in a way that assumes a similar poetic experience between himself and the reader. And, I disagree with a great deal of what he says.
Sieara DeLone
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very intriguing and educational. As a poet, I learned a lot that I want to implement, however it is not a page turner. I put it down for way too long at a time. Though it is great, it is dense. And for this time of my life I just couldn’t complete it as quickly. None the less, great book.
Marianne Mersereau
Dec 16, 2020 rated it liked it
This book seems best suited as a text to accompany a class. I was able to glean some useful information about lineation from reading it however. The author does a good job of supporting his thesis that poetry is the "sound of language organized in lines." ...more
May 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very enlightening. I've always wondered how poets decide where to end their lines. I'm a poet now, so I will start paying more attention to my lines! ...more
Mohammad H
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. It made me appreciate poetry and broadened my understanding of it, and in turn prose. It’s an important read for anyone interested in reading or writing poetry.
Keelie Breanna
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very good break-down of poetic line. I believe it would be worthwhile to read the other books in this series and I look forward to reading more from James Longenbach.
Tandava Graham
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing, poetics
This book is very good in particular for writing and appreciating free verse. With the more obvious rhythm and meter unavailable, it really helps to become aware of what's going on at a subtler level and why. Many of the example poems weren't the sort that I typically care for much, but still, I felt like I got some very useful poetic tools (for both reading and writing) out of examining them. Some more formally structured examples were included too, of course, as well as even some prose poetry, ...more
Apr 21, 2013 rated it liked it
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,
C.G. Fewston
Mar 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
I've heard many definitions of poetry, but one of the simplest, most complete, and most memorable I heard many years ago, is simply that poetry is "a line art." It's probably my favorite definition of poetry. So, of course, I was attracted to a book with this title. It's a small, short book with long chapters and it reminds the reader that writing poetry is a precise craft. Longenbach, who teaches at the University of Rochester, writes, "Poetry is the sound of language organized in lines." This ...more
Feb 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Brent Pinkall
Mar 27, 2016 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. While I came away with a better understanding of the various effects of line endings, I feel like Longenbach's explanations and examples are not always clear. Additionally, I feel like he spent too much time on free verse (almost the entire book) and too quickly approves of any poetry that claims to be poetry. I get the impression that someone could copy a dictionary entry and, if the man was a self-proclaimed "poet," Longenbach would go on to explain how e ...more
Apr 22, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
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
Sep 21, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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.

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
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