Thursday Thoughts: Poetic Inversion and the Yoda Effect

23 Jun

9:16 a.m. — San Antonio

A couple of weeks ago I asked if any of you, dear readers, had a topic you wished me to discuss. Viv, of Vivinfrance’s Blog, whom many of you know, had an immediate response: ‘Could you give us your view on poetic inversions – which I was taught to shun, but which sometimes force themselves into a poem.’

This could be a short post. My view: If the poem requires it, do it.

But, let’s look at what a poetic inversion is and why it was, and is, shunned by teachers. In the English language, normal sentence syntax [the order of words in a sentence] is subject, verb, object: I kicked the ball.

But, there are five other possibilities. Glance back at the sentence and see if you can figure them out before reading my list.

I the ball kicked.
Kicked the ball I.
Kicked I the ball.
The ball I kicked.
The ball kicked I.

What happens to each sentence when I shift the order of the words? Two major things: The emphasis shifts and so does the rhythm. Say each one aloud, if your internal ear is not hearing the difference enough. What are teachers so afraid of? With young, or new, writers, teachers want them to develop their internal ear before they take on something that can ruin a poem if a writer cannot hear its effect. That would be what I am calling the Yoda effect: Afraid of the force not, am I.

But, like many of the things I have said to beware of in past Thursday Thoughts, it’s more a case of be aware. Know that you [or the poem] are creating an inversion and the effect of that inversion on what you are writing. If it sounds cheesy to you, probably it will sound the same to a reader. You may choose, for the poem, to do it anyway, but you are doing so with knowledge and deliberation.

Some poets who have used poetic inversion: Shakespeare, often; Milton; Emily Dickinson; Walt Whitman; and the most known for it, e. e. cummings. Go look at some of cummings’ poetry. The poetic inversion is a major device of his.

Why consider using the inversion yourself? For the reasons listed above: you want the emphasis, or focus, placed on a word; or you need to keep a poetic rhythm going; or you want to break a poetic rhythm.

I had such fun writing this post, so at any time, because I will forget to ask, give me a topic you want me to write about and I shall look into it, and if I am able, I shall write about it. Thank you for this one, Viv.

I want to give a shout out to all the people who responded to this Tuesday’s Tryouts to write a poem on something lost. If you haven’t had a chance to read their poems, stop by when you can. If you haven’t posted a poem, it’s never too late. Remember that if you have questions about anything I write, ask. If you think someone will enjoy this, click buttons!

I shall see you tomorrow for the Friday roundup; Tuesday for a second open prompt [whoo hoo!]; and next Thursday for …wow! I don’t know. Can you tell I am on vacation? I usually know two or three topics in advance. I’ll let you know.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 23/06/2011 in poetry, writing


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

16 responses to “Thursday Thoughts: Poetic Inversion and the Yoda Effect

  1. brenda w

    23/06/2011 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you, Margo and Viv. An old friend in another lifetime gifted me with the complete works of e.e. cummings, I think I shall pay it a visit today. If you can I’d like to know more about enjambment—with specific examples. It came up in a prompt quite some time ago, and all that I remember is that I didn’t really “get” it. I’m enjoying your blog Margo. Keep writing! If we lived near each other, I’d treat at Starbucks. 🙂
    ~Brenda (I don’t know why I put the squiggle before my name, I just do.)

  2. margo roby

    23/06/2011 at 1:10 pm

    Ooooh! Enjambment. This one will take a couple of weeks, but I would love to talk about it. I shall start putting something together, Brenda. And, I shall write as long as I can find things to write about. That’s why I probably won’t forget to ask for input from you all re topics.
    If we lived near each other I would take you up on that Starbucks 🙂 Just had dinner this week with Paula, who follows your Sunday wordles. It was such fun to meet and talk with someone from our poetry world.
    And you aren’t the only one who squiggles — that’s why I asked. I figured I had missed some cyber etiquette!

  3. wordsandthoughtspjs

    23/06/2011 at 2:21 pm

    Margo, I am glad Brenda brought this subject up. I don’t understand enjambment at all. That is wonderful you and Paula got to meet each other. Must have been fun! On another note… the little birds are completely grey with round heads, no plume, and longish straight beaks and big round bellies (well, for their size).


    • margo roby

      23/06/2011 at 6:17 pm

      If you have streams nearby, we might have a winner, Pamela, or if we don’t it should be. Try Googling the American dipper, and we’ll see if my eyes see what you describe. That alone will be an interesting exercise. A second possibility is the juvenile European starling [despite its name it is all over North America], but only the juvenile. Otherwise we have something not in the Birds of North America book! I can promise you I am now acquainted with every small round-bellied bird, of which there are quite a few, but only these two are grey. I look forward to seeing what you say. The hunt was fun.

      Paula are you getting this comment?


      • wordsandthoughtspjs

        24/06/2011 at 7:58 am

        We have a winner! It is the American dipper. I must get a picture of one of them. They’re quick and don’t hang around long, grabbing seed and scurrying. Thanks for looking into this, Margo.


      • Margo Roby

        24/06/2011 at 9:32 am

        Yay! Anytime, Pamela. You have a bird, I have a book!


      • pmwanken

        25/06/2011 at 6:47 pm

        I have neither a bird nor a book…but have wonderful cyber friends who encourage AND entertain.

        I picked up a fondness for birds from my dad…and enjoyed following your birdwatching prowess.



  4. margo roby

    23/06/2011 at 2:26 pm

    Part of the reason so many people don’t understand enjambment [even though they may be doing it] is that not many people can explain it well. Note that Brenda asked for examples…that’s why she did. And, that is why it will take me a couple of weeks. I want to make sure I can articulate it clearly.
    It was a lot of fun. We talked for three hours!
    Okay, back to my bird book. I may have a candidate.


  5. ladynimue

    23/06/2011 at 4:13 pm

    I never knew wat i was doing .. thanks fr this wonderful post and outting some sense into my head !!

  6. margo roby

    23/06/2011 at 4:30 pm

    Lady N, it is my pleasure. I am so glad I helped!

  7. vivinfrance

    23/06/2011 at 4:36 pm

    Thank yoyu, thank you, thank you. I mentioned it to KG during my final f to f tutorial today, and, like you, she says that if the poem demands it and you can do it without it sounding twee or naff, then DO IT.

    Enjambment: If I hadn’t understood it before (and I think I did) its importance was underlined in five evenings of reading poems in company, our own and other poets’ works. Reading aloud, can only be done meaningfully if follow-on lines and stanzas are respected, and read to enhance the sense.

    • margo roby

      23/06/2011 at 5:30 pm

      Viv, I am delighted you are delighted. The most valuable thing my mentor taught me was in his invariable response to any question I asked that began ‘Can I..” to which he always said “Of course!” His caveat is the same as KG’s.

      Re: enjambment. Would you care to contribute a guest paragraph or two on the topic, from your newly aware point of view? If not, I’ll rely on you to clarify where my explanation isn’t clear!


  8. pmwanken

    23/06/2011 at 4:41 pm

    Brenda: Glad you asked about enjambment. Why? Because it is the first I’ve even heard (read) the word! So…I’ll wait with the rest of you for Margo’s teaching on the matter.

    Margo: Yes, indeed, it was fun to meet…wasn’t it!? 🙂

    Brenda and Pamela: Yes…the three hours with Margo passed like a wink. What a fabulous evening we had! Oh, to have someone nearby on an ongoing basis. With that said, if either of you happen to find your way to San Antonio, I’d love to meet you, as well!

    Margo and Pamela: Regarding the bird…do keep posting about which it is. Now I’M curious! 🙂

    Have a lovely evening, all!!
    ~Paula (yes, I “squiggle” too!)

    • margo roby

      23/06/2011 at 5:32 pm

      Paula: Love your multi-pronged comment. Great fun to read. And indeed it was great fun 🙂 I am smiling as I write, in remembering.

      Heading for bird book now. Knew there was something I had let slip. Will report back.

      suiggleless margo

  9. Mike Patrick

    24/06/2011 at 12:58 pm

    Margo, thank you for the info on poetic inversion. I fear I use it too much, but when I’m writing in something like iambic pentameter, there are times I can find no other way of maintaining meter. Even then, I sometimes end up rewriting lines or entire stanzas trying to keep my words adjusted to my storyline. To me, an inversion may sound right, but my ear doesn’t know when it goes too far and makes the line so archaic it no longer fits in normal language. My failure is because I love the sound of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and I find myself trying to write using the vernacular of his period. Do you have any suggestions on guidelines for knowing when I’ve gone overboard?

  10. margo roby

    24/06/2011 at 3:29 pm

    Mike, I would bet you don’t often go overboard. If it sounds right, even if it is Shakespearean, it probably is right. Just no doths and haths, please. Three suggestions: make sure you read it aloud. In this case, it might take an external ear over the internal; or, have a second person read it — if your external ear isn’t helping you may need a remote ear [if you don’t have a feedback source, my ear is always on tap]; or, balance the Shakespearean sonnets that you read with more modern sonnets. While those are more often Petrarchan in style rather than Elizabethan, they still use the iambic pentameter. They might give you the perspective you need to know if you have gone too far. Millay, Frost, Larkin…
    And all the poets, including Shakespeare bowed to the poem when needed. I have found lines in his sonnet that are nine, or eleven syllables because they sounded better.


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