I seem to go through phases in my writing. Some months it's prose fiction, others it's poetry, and still others it's reviewing. Not that I don't mix and match occasionally, but prose and poetry do feel like natural opposites - enemies, even? - and so try not to do both at the same time, or not without experiencing a little inner tension.
This month, I've been writing some new poems, revising old ones, and also working up to a handful of reviews I've got in hand, one bunch for Iota and the other for Poetry Review. By working up to them, I don't mean girding my loins, i.e. mentally preparing myself, but reading the books in question, making a few notes, and generally allowing the poems I've read to circulate creatively in my mind.
It's an instructive exercise, reviewing. Having to formulate your thoughts on someone else's poetry can make you return to your own work with a more analytical eye. Or it can make you despondent, if the poet you're reviewing happens to be very good!
Something that has a strong effect on me at the moment is the line-break. I'm becoming a little obsessed, perhaps, with the ramifications of the line-break. It was always a defining moment for me in the poems I have written, but it now seems, more than ever, the key to a good poem. Or perhaps, deeper than that, the key to what kind of poet one is or becomes.
So when I review books of poetry, one of the most important things I'm instinctively - rather than overtly - noticing as I read through, is the line-break. Which really means, I'm listening to the rhythms of the poem even more than I'm listening to the surface meaning, because in a bad poem the line-break struggles against the meaning in a clumsy and inapposite way, and in a good poem, the line-break hands you the sense and feel of the poem both aurally and visually, without effort.
This was meant to be a post about reviewing, but perhaps it's secretly a post about the importance of the line-break. Which is indeed the very thing vexing and exciting me this morning.