Rules are there for breaking… Enjambment and Caesura
In the last chapter Mr Fry taught us about the rules of writing in iambic pentameter (ti-tum, ti-tum etc). This chapter is about how to tweak and bend those rules to add life to a line of verse, in particular playing with the rules of line structure through: Enjambment and Caesura.
Enjambment – is when the sentence does not end at the end of a line of Iambic Pentameter but strides on into the next line.
Caesura – a pause or ‘cut’ within a line, such as a comma or full stop.
‘They are crucial liberators of the iambic line… allowing the rhythms and hesitations of human breath, thought and speech to enliven and enrich the verse’.
But if we can bugger around with the rhythm of the verse is it still iambic pentameter? If it is still within iambic metre then why bother restricting ourselves to that line structure anyway? Why not make the line 14 iambs long, or fifteen?
At this point Mr Fry shouts at us in CAPITAL LETTERS. I normally hate it when people write in capital letters as it is essentiality the equivalent of adding the stage direction: actor shouts. I have a work colleague who does this in e-mails, and am often tempted to ring up and respond by bellowing down the phone my answer just to get my point across (I should add that I do not do this as I am not entirely a git). I’ll forgive shouty Fry, he is a teacher after all.
By the by, the only person who can legitimately speak in capital letters is Death:
Essentially, the metre of the poem, in our case iambic pentameter, is the material in which we are working. To move completely away from the material is to move into another genre entirely, a painter moving into sculpting for example. But within that medium the rules can be tweaked and changed in order to find the most apposite way of expressing the point.
‘Metre is the primary rhythm, the organised background against which the secondary rhythms of sense and feeling are played out.’
Here I feel a little parallel coming on: Twitter. A lot of people struggle to comprehend the 140 character restriction on twitter. They say such things as; ‘you can’t say anything worthwhile in 140 characters’ or ‘why bother restricting it to 140 characters, why not more or less’. The point is that the rule is what makes Twitter interesting. It is the struggle to clarify your thoughts and then fit them into those 140 characters. Like the ‘cheats’ in poetry there are other tricks and tweaks in Twitterland that help enable you to do this within the primary rule of 140 characters, a clever abbreviation, a smart bit of punctuation or a trailing sentence…
And so it is with metre. This is why the ‘tricks’ such as enjambment and caesura come to play. They are two key ways to work creatively within the boundaries of the metric medium.
So, the task at hand is to start off writing five pairs of non-rhyming Iambic lines, under five specific topics. These first five pairs of lines (a) should have no caesuras or enjambments.
The next task is to write another five pairs of lines (b), under the same topics and with the same meaning as the first lines, but to construct them with caesuras and enjambments.
1. Precisely what you see and hear outside your window
I see outside the dark of winter time.
The sound of wind against the chimes all night.
The darken’d winter night, it lays outside
My room so cold, while chimes inflict their noise.
2. Precisely what you’d like to eat, right this minute.
A fleshy burger, red and charred for me,
Too charred I think as smoke alarms whine on.
The smoke! It chokes my lungs and yet desire
For beef and bun and cheese consumes my mind.
3. Precisely what you last remember dreaming about.
At work I wrote some text which caused a row.
A fools damn wit caused me forthwith to go.
I dream’t a stifling dream in which I came
To grief. Alas! An ill thought brief the cause.
4. Precisely what uncompleted chores are niggling at you
A sink so blocked and gross it needs to drain,
The fat and gunk inside the bend will stay.
Foul reek and stringy goo, sometime food scraps
Cling tight inside your drainy throat all day.
5. Precisely what you hate about your body
My knee it clicks and moans at strain and graft.
This moaning joint a feeble thing to see.
Achilles heel? Try knee. A click, a clunk,
A squeak, a pop. Achilles had it good.
How was that? From the writers point of view it worked, I much prefer the (b) pairs of lines. This may partly be because in adding the Caesuras and Enjambments I had to think much more carefully about the sense of each line and how the break or carry over affected or added to the meaning. I can see why Mr Fry got all capitally on me.
I should also say as a general rule for this blog, if you have an idle moment to follow the exercises as well then please feel free to join in via the comments boxes. I’d love to see other peoples examples.
Next exercise takes us to the dreaded page 30 (where previous attempts have perished before) and Weak Endings, Trochaic and Pyrhhic Substitutions. Don’t worry, it all sounds greek to me as well (Zing!).