9:36 a.m. — Atlanta
listening to Yellow River by The Tremeloes
Oof! My whole day is off-track. I started with a dentist appointment… hang on… phone rang: My son with the latest update on their move to Vermont. Now, it’s 10:21 and Me and You and a Dog Named Blue is playing. This post might take a while.
Punctuation. Where do I even start? It’s a pet peeve of mine, poems that are not punctuated and need to be. I don’t have a problem with minimal punctuation. Heck, I don’t have a problem with poems where the poet is so good at line-breaks that I don’t notice the lack of punctuation. I have even read a couple of poems with no punctuation whatsoever and thought to myself, That’s how it should be. But those are rarities.
Why is punctuation important? This is our, us writers, chance to talk with our readers: Pause here, but only for a 1/4 of a beat. This is an aside — pause longer — see these dashes, they mean you can read one thing jumping over the content between the dashes, another richer way, with what’s between. Pause here; breathe a 1/2 beat.
I came across several good sites while pulling my thoughts together and seeing what others are saying:
Punctuation in poetry is similar to punctuation in prose. In many ways, it serves the same purpose as bar lines in music: without them, the words and notes flow all together. Punctuation assists in organizing the written word into discernible packages or units. Punctuation in poetry serves the same function as in prose: to encapsulate thoughts and ideas; to aid in coherence and the presentation of meaning (i.e., to avoid confusion); and especially to signal when and where to breathe. [Poet's Workshop]
I would argue that, even in drafts, punctuation is important as a guide to ourselves through our own thinking regarding what we write. However, that’s a personal thing with each writer. Our poems become less creations of our persons once we post, or publish, poems. By posting, or publishing, we invite a whole world to join in the creation. There are few writers whose thoughts are so crystal clear on paper they do not require the aid of punctuation in interpreting those thoughts. Most readers require some guidance, so that their part in experiencing the poem is enjoyable.
How many of you have found yourself reading a poem and your brain says, Huh? What? and you have to go back and reread, maybe a couple of times, until the sense of the poem is clear to you? As a reader I am irritated if that happens. I want to read a poem as a whole and then choose to reread it because the content has made me think, Wow!, not, Huh? What? I want to grapple with, or enjoy, the form and content of the poem without obstruction.
If I leave the paragraphs in this post unstopped, or just missed the full-stop at the end, how many of you would think, Oops! She missed some punctuation. The same thing should hold for poetry. It drives me nuts to arrive at the end of a poem, but the writer has not told me to stop. The writer has left the poem unfinished, but the thought is clearly finished. The punctuation should match what is happening in the poem.
While I am generally more relaxed, more fluid now, on the topic [in that I will admit .01% of poems might work without punctuation], the lack of an end stop still rattles my bones, as does the out-dated convention of capitalising the first words of each line. I can hear feathers ruffling, but, it is a convention and it is out-dated. Almost every single reader of poetry, these days, has a brain that says, Capital letter = new sentence. They do not just read through. They go back to see what they missed, before they realise the writer is writing old-style, rather than the way most poetry is written now, with a capital letter only when a word begins a sentence.
Let me give you the links to two posts I wrote on this topic, one at the beginning of this blog experience, where I talk about what the most common punctuation marks do; the second, a slightly more recent one on the topic of enjambment [several of you will remember this one].
A thought from a writer of an article ‘Punctuating Poetry Part 1‘: In order to punctuate with purpose, however, a poet must understand two things: what she wants to achieve with the poem and what a piece of punctuation can achieve in a poem. This means a poet must understand more than the common rules of punctuation; she must know the effect that certain punctuation points can have on a reader or in a text.
Are there rules? Yes. Do we have to follow them? No. But, if we are going to put our poetry out in the world and expect people to read it, then we need to be aware of the effect of having, and not having, punctuation. We had also, better be very good at line breaks.
Can you tell this is my soap-box? Thank you for bearing with me. I shall see you tomorrow for the prompt roundup; Tuesday for a prompt on how strong memories feed our creativity [and a question about a possible future prompt]; and next Thursday for links, or announcements, if you have some to send me, or a topic, like today’s, that you would like me to take on.
Happy writing, all. I really need some coffee.