I was reading a friend’s poem posted on her blog. A free verse poem, and there it was. She ended a line with the word “to.”
I read the stanza again and omitted the “to,” the poem read as well. The line break gave the pause. So omitting the word made for a tighter poem, sure. But as often happens, this did get me thinking.
I remember being in a workshop led by Dana Wildsmith where we submitted poems to all critique. When it came time to look at my poem, I had ended a line on a preposition. By this time, I did know the first and last rule. The first word and the last are the ones a reader should remember. Some poets even adhere to this rule for their contest entries. I can remember Melissa Morphew claiming her first winning chapbook entry was mailed on the last possible day, since she wasn’t able to be first; she wanted to be last so her poetry would adhere to the judge’s memory.
So, Dana Wildsmith looked at my preposition ending a line and pointed out this was a fairly risky thing to do–to end the line on a preposition. Was the word really that important to me and to the meaning of my poem? I was giving a lot of real estate in the poem to a word that may have just been a throw away, a little preposition. It took me a long time to understand the importance of this little rule. I now look closely at the first and the last words of each line. I try very hard to end each line in an action, or more likely, with an image.
Just for fun, find a random poem and check the first word of each line and the last word or each line. What do you find? Then can you use these words to write your own poem? Can you find stronger images or actions? (I just did this with a Mary Oliver poem and wow can she pack in the concrete images and great verbs.)
Have fun writing.