Tag Archives: Emily Dickinson

Thursday Thoughts: Poetic Inversion and the Yoda Effect

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


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