Poets never think about poetry terms, certainly not when they’re writing a poem. I’ve never deliberately used enjambment, but on checking my poems I discover that I use it quite often, quite naturally.
It’s a word for one of poetry’s dance steps. It’s the nano-second pause at the end of one line, or the two nano-seconds at the end of a stanza, where the meaning and the sentence run on, leaping the gap to land at the start of the next line, or the next stanza. They pause, and continue, the toe-to-heel step of a dancer who reaches the edge of the space, and turns. It’s the nose of the goldfish nudging the glass on its journey round the tank.
Prose is made of sentences, poetry is made of lines. The pattern a poem makes on the page is musical notation, or choreography. Enjambment stops the sentence in its stride, forcing it to dance to poetry’s tune. Tension lies in the connection of music and meaning. It adds suspense, ambiguity, drama.
‘Legend’ is a true story. It unfolds in sentences that run over the ends of the lines. Then, at the moment of truth at the end of stanza 4, there’s nothing for it but to leap a stanza gap, just as I remember leaping the crack in the ice to pull my sister out of the lake.
By the way, it’s the same lake as the one in ‘Cold Knap Lake’.
The rooms were mirrors
for that luminous face,
the morning windows ferned
with cold. Outside
a level world of snow.
Voiceless birds in the trees
like notes in the books
in the piano stool.
She let us suck top-of-the-milk
burst from the bottles like corks.
Then wrapped shapeless
we stumped to the park
between the parapets of snow
in the wake of the shovellers,
cardboard rammed in the tines of garden forks.
The lake was an empty rink
and I stepped out,
pushing my sister first
onto its creaking floor.
When I brought her home,
shivering, wailing, soaked,
they thought me a hero.
But I still wake at night,
to hear the Snow Queen’s knuckles crack,
black water running fingers through the ice.