A Twist of Enjambment

I love poetry. But when I learned poetry appreciation in elementary and secondary school, emphasis was placed on meter, and literary devices, and figures of speech.

It wasn’t until my first year of university that I formally learned to read poetry for meaning and emotion.

I think this exploration of poetry should be reversed or at least mixed, so as to maximize the learning of both the content or heart of poems and the tools poets use to create them. Poetry and poetry education would be so much more fun if we did this.

The Joy of Word Play

The ultimate writer’s and poet’s dream is to write a description or phrase so vivid that the writing ceases to exist and the reader or listener either falls into the description or phrase or jumps out of it, then utters, if even in his or her mind, an awed “wow”.

I have been trying to identify one such turn of words for close to 40 years.

It is a beautiful enjambment, with a bit of something else, found in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Sea Bell, a poem worthy of both mechanical and cognitive appreciation for its elegance, emotional impact and message.

“Spiders were weaving, in the mould heaving /
puffballs loomed about my knees”

Tolkien, The Sea Bell

What is That? — A Mystery

Poetry as you know typically contains verses or lines. Each line contains a thought — a creature of meaning, or portion of a thought.

When a verse and a thought finish in the same place, we say they end stop. The thought stops or completes at the end of the line. But, often, the thought continues or strides over into the next verse. The first verse is then a leg or jambe of the thought and the continuation of the thought is called enjambment (striding over).

That is what happens in the couplet quoted above from The Sea Bell. “Spiders were weaving, in the mould heaving puffballs” is one thought enjambed across two verses.

But, “puffballs” is also the start of another thought: “puffballs loomed about my knees“. It serves double duty. This is a neat literary device — one of those “wow” devices, and there is no name for it.

Another Example

Recently, I found another example, while continuing to research the example from The Sea Bell.

“cuckoos are here with joyous /
shades of dark green arise!”

LiteraryDevices Editors, Short Examples of Enjambment, #5

“Shades” tethers “cuckoos are here with joyous shades” and “shades of dark green arise!” together.

Additional Devices

As English Tutor points out, “puffballs” is also a metaphor for mould or balls of spider web, and “shades is a personification as they have been shown as human beings arising to enjoy the voice of cuckoos”.

These added figures of speech colour the double duty “puffballs” and “shades” play in their respected poems. But they also confound the double duty.

Enjambment and Something Else

Enjambment is the continuation (literally, the striding over) of a thought over the end of a poetic line. It’s flip is the end stop, in which the thought ends with the line. Carrying a thought over two or more lines is common practice, perhaps more so than the end stop. But then there is the phrase that simultaneously ends one thought and begins another, often as part of an enjambment. The phrase knots the two thoughts together, creating a surprising and gratifying word play.

As nearly 40 years of wondering, research, experts, forums and just plain lurking have failed to name the device of “puffballs” and “shades”, I’ve come to the realization that any name may be so rare or non-existent that people just don’t know what it is.

So, I figured, in the spirit of writing what you want to read, that I should generate a name for this device myself.

I propose to call this special form of enjambment “within two thoughts” (intra duas cogitationes) or “knot of two thoughts” (nodum duo cogitationes).

Which do you like? Or do you have another name for this flecto enjambment (“twist of enjambment”)? Are there other unrecognized literary devices or figures of speech that you think deserve affirmation?

Inspiring the Next Generation

I have some interesting news to share.

The Grade 10s in one of the schools where I sub began their poetry unit in English this week. I subbed for them yesterday.

One of their tasks yesterday was to write a poem in one of the forms they had already learned, then share these with the class. There were some very reluctant students; they had a low opinion about this sharing business, particularly their contributive involvement in it.



I decided to break the ice by sharing one of my poems. And I had access to two: those I published in this blog.

The poem I chose to share was Van Gogh and the Moon. It was a hit, particularly when I explained to the kids that the poem was an in promptu (five minute) response to a writing prompt in the local writing club.

So, yes, I got a chance to plug the Write Group as well; I told the kids that students from the school were part of the group, which peeked more interest.

But more importantly, it got each of the students to open up and share some of their poems, not just those they wrote in class yesterday, but those they had access to through their iPhones and other devices.

It was a perfect marriage of teacher and student sharing, technology (I used the Smart board; the students used their devices), and encouragement and modelling by example.

It never ceases to amaze me how well these teachable moments go when the teacher releases control and opens up to her or his students. (Of course, it also never ceases to amaze me how badly such moments go as well at times. There is a definite case for timing and thoughtful and responsive judgement here.)

These students have everything to be proud of. They have incredible imaginations, and a deep and active appreciation for written communication.

Moments like these remind me how much I love teaching, and learning with, these students.

This article is cross-posted in Digital Substitute and Stefras’ Bridge.

Van Gogh and the Moon

One of the many things I love about writing clubs, such as the Write Group, is the surprise writing exercises we do in them. Today, two of my students — not already members — joined the Write Group and I prepared tic-tac-write prompts to inspire our creative juices.

This was the perfect exercise to entice my students and draw them in. They enjoyed themselves, which really is the point, and one even overcame his shyness and read his response plus a few other works aloud.

Prompt: Tic-Tac-Write

The tic-tac-write board is a 3×3 grid with nine prompts in it. These prompts have setting, character, plot, event, perspective, atmosphere, starters, object and random slants to them. They are arranged so that prompts along a single line — either row, column or main diagonal — could form a story with some creative thought.

These combinations are not so obvious that a story can be written without some thinking, and the writer need only pick any three prompts on the board, rather than only those in a line. This arrangement ensures that the writer has plenty of story prompt options to choose from.

In today’s meeting, I handed out four unique prompts (given below), which increased the variety of story writing that the group shared afterward. The group loved them and the stories they produced.

Board 1

Humour Write a letter to yourself. Was it my fault the doorbell rang?
House in the middle of the block This morning, in my garden, I had a conversation with a little bird. He told me everything! About time I got out of that cookie.
Someone dies. Give your favourite item baggage using anthropomorphism. Solve a mystery using clues left behind.

Board 2

Rewrite a nursery rhyme from a character’s point of view. You got laid off today. Caramels
Smelly as a skunk Van Gogh Shut up and deal!
Procrastination Raisin pie Let us go then, you and I.

Board 3

Easter without eggs Write a palindromic piece. Sisters
I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was I meant to be. Baby blankets Minor character takes over scene, then leaves.
Beer, book, bed Promises made Bumblebees

Board 4

Your car shutters. Straight, crooked Drawing straws
The train whistle blew. Stop scratching! A banana, marbles and a bag
Orange The wind picks up. What’s that?

Van Gogh and the Moon

I picked Nursery rhyme — Character POV; Van Gogh; and Let us go then, you and I from Board 2, and worked in Procrastination and Caramels from the same board. Here is my response.

Van Gogh and the Moon
© Shawn Urban

Let us go then, you and I,
over the moon and across the sky.
No there is no time to paint.
The sun comes up,
then it will be too late.

Yes, the stars are beautiful tonight.
And the sickle of the moon is great.
But look there now,
the moon nigh fades.
Let us go then, you and I.

Van Gogh, Van Gogh,
why do you procrastinate,
admiring the dish and the spoon?

The cat on his fiddle
will play all night,
though that will end soon.

Van Gogh, Van Gogh,
chewing on your caramel,
with sugar rotting your teeth,
the dog is not barking to play with you,
but to tell you that time will not wait.

Let us go then, you and I,
Van Gogh, before the moon disappears.
Look already your stars are gone.
There is nothing left for you to paint.

Van Gogh, spit out that caramel.
We must jump and leap over the moon.
And look here what you have done.
The sun is up, the moon is gone
and you have ruined this nursery rhyme.

I wish you all a great today and a creative tomorrow.

Prompt Sources


This morning, in my garden, I had a conversation with a little bird. He told me everything!

Figment Daily Themes

Write a letter to yourself. — January 5

Give your favourite item baggage using anthropomorphism. — January 6

Solve a mystery using clues left behind. — January 24

Weird Fortune Cookies

About time I got out of that cookie.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock — C.S. Lewis

Let us go then, you and I.

I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was I meant to be.

All other prompts were supplied by members of the Write Group or me. (Just in case some of these come from elsewhere, let me know and give me a reference and I will check it out and credit the source here.)

The Write Group

© Shawn Urban

Picture the purls penned on our paper.

And through the darkness they slip and slide
along old pathways worn far and long.
They move through shadows between dim lights
and enter boldly through locked doors.

Many a stranger, who dare disturb
the wisping, quillling lychnobioi,
find there quietly sleeking olden owls
in steep stairways and hidden chambers.

Up the attic they gather and hide,
foxes around the risen altar,
whispering, trading incantations
from crinkled scrolls pro- found words they read.

They walk the pattern and weave the life
of heroes, monsters far long away.
In deep sanctity purling riffles,
and joining as one in common task.

And strangers observe shut gates open,
and in hidden truth locked knowledge.
For in that attic the Write Group writes
and through the darkness they slip and slide.