In my hometown, there is a stop sign near a brick-clad elementary school that I pass every time I’m driving into town. The sign looks pretty standard until I approach the corroded base of it; underneath the bright white letters, barely noticeable, the word “war” is effortlessly scratched into the reflective red background. It strikes me every time, the stop sign overlooking a menacing chainlink fence that wraps around a quaint playground full of laughing young children. When I put my foot on the pedal to keep cruising down the bustling main road, I’m left with knots in my stomach and a quiet longing for peace.
To me, the old stop sign is reminiscent of what poetry can do. Poetry can both punch me in the gut and whisper sweetly and quietly, planting a small seed of emotion that burrows itself within the very lining of my mind, changing the chemistry of the ground it’s rooted in. The fact of the emotion lives on, wanted or not.
Good poetry does stuff to a person, and it does it without an over-eager tour guide or flashing arrows. I’ve read poetry oozing and dripping with intense musings in which I felt nothing, and I’ve read poetry that breaks my heart and stitches it to the paper after just three words.
When I write poetry, I try to think of how to craft the momentum of emotion in the reader, which I think comes down to the very frame of the poem, the line. I want to scratch (war) effortlessly under STOP so that in the three seconds one slackens their grip on the wheel, they are confronted with a quiet and potent image or message that will linger.
I want the emotion of my pieces to become less obvious and more genuine, which I think starts with the careful structuring of it all.
How do you evoke emotion in your poetry, specifically by use of the line and/or line breaks? How does structure inform the emotion of a piece? How do you avoid holding a reader’s hand and telling them how to feel?