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Writing Poetry: Formatting, Part Two

In our last post we discussed different ways to format your poem, from using stanzas as well as the length of your lines. In that vein, this week we will be discussing white space and how to utilize it for imagery in your poetry.

White space, as its name implies, is the space on the document that is unwritten, hence, white. We can also call this negative space. Poetry has a unique relationship with white space because unlike narrative writing that types lines into paragraphs until a page is filled, poetry has freedom in its form and thus the image left from the negative space is more pronounced.

For example, when you see a short poem (say, four lines) on a page, the amount of white space is likely the first thing you will notice before the words themselves. This is a tool the poet can use to add meaning to his or her poem.

Though it may be difficult in programs like word to reconfigure spacing without messing up the rest of the poem, play around with text boxes so you can move different lines anywhere on the page. Utilize the negative space to add meaning to your poem. Perhaps a short and simple poem has a lot of white space to illustrate its simplicity. Likewise, you can also use the spacing of your words to create images to convey meaning.

For example, this is a poem I wrote while playing with spacing:

The last couple of sentences I wanted to look like fragmented words falling off the page to illustrate the meaning of the poem, that is history is just a recollection of fragmented memories. By changing the spacing, I intentionally created more emphasis around those particular words.

The possibilities are endless when it comes to spacing. You can play with the justification (left, centered, or right) on the document, or go even crazier. One thing to keep in mind is the intention behind your spacing. To avoid confusing your reader, make sure there is a purpose to your spacing and that it emphasizes the meaning of your poem, rather than just doing it for the fun of it. White space tends to stand out more than text, so keep an eye on the blank space of your document and see if it can add further structure to your poem, like the example above. Playing with spacing is a great way to get the creative juices flowing, particularly with the freedom allowed for poetry.

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