Enjambment is a literary technique used by which a line of poetry does not correspond with the clause it contains: a syntactical segment will be visually separated from one line to the next, creating a sense of ambiguity of the poet’s meaning, and sometimes of urgency in the reading of the poem. In Lux’s “A Little Tooth,” enjambment is used to propose alternative meanings, which will be further explored in the following analysis.
The first use of enjambment in this poem signifies how it will be used elsewhere, and is possibly the most stark and explicit of its uses. Lux writes, “she wants some meat / directly from the bone.” By ending the line after the phrase “she wants some meat,” particularly in the context of a girl coming of age, has disturbing sexual connotations. By resolving this implication with the following line, Lux effectively denies these connotations, although by suspending this resolution he leaves this interpretation open. This is a fairly typical use of enjambment, which Bradford remarks as being “usually characterized in terms of the generation and resolution of ambiguity, a physical and thematic opening in the text which may be closed by its relocation as part of a richer and more complex sequence of meanings” (198). In this way, the phrase “she wants some meat / directly from the bone” both generates and resolves the ambiguity of its sexual connotations.

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Similarly, the enjambment at the beginning of the second stanza opens up the meaning from the superficial content of the lines to a more ambiguous reference. Here, Lux writes, “she’ll learn some words, she’ll fall / in love with cretins.” The phrase “she’ll fall” here is visually separated from the qualification that she is falling metaphorically and “in love.” The reader is therefore inclined to assume that she is falling literally, as this corresponds more closely, chronologically speaking, with learning to speak.

The final example of enjambment to be examined here is in the final stanza: “you, / your wife, get old, flyblown, and rue / nothing.” By generating ambiguity at the unfinished “and rue,” Lux is prompting the reader to imagine possible ends to the sentence, what the couple may rue in their old age, and perhaps even inviting a brief moment of introspection, as it is likely that the reader’s mind would immediately seek out their own regrets, before the relief of the resolution: “nothing.”

  • Bradford, R. W. (1989). Criticism and the visual format of poetry. Word & Image, 5(2), 198-205.