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Punctuation In Poetry: "To Punctuate, or not to punctuate; that is the question!"
Blog Posted:9/29/2012 3:37:00 PM
These types of blogs are meant for the possible re-evaluation of your writing. That's it! I am not attempting to sway you away from a style of writing that you may hold very dear. Write as you so desire.
This is not a philosophical discussion concerning the conundrums of poetic license. If only one person who reads these types of blogs, re-evaluates his/her writing, ends up becoming a stronger poet for it, then my intent has been served. View such a remark how you wish to.
I am here to help people become stronger poets; not to nit-pick about conceptual poetic license, freedom, and the rights thereof. If you continuously desire to live within complacency, and to also have your complacency reinforced by false encouragement....well, I am not the person to offer such things. Thank you.
Punctuation. There's the period, comma, semicolon, colon, dash, ellipsis, exclamation mark, question mark, and some would add the parentheses, and the bracket.
What purposes do they serve? Or perhaps a better question would be, why, if they're so important in organizing thoughts, should they be eliminated?
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 together.
Punctuation assists in organizing the written word into discernable 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.
Many poetic forms require punctuation (unless, of course, you're a rebel-in-training).
Consider the following: the acrostic, the ballade, the sonnet, the epic, the cinquain,
the ode, the villanelle, the terzanelle, the triolet, the rondeau, the pantoum, the ghazal, and blank verse.
Speaking generally, what forms don't use punctuation?
Western adaptations of traditional Asian forms such as haiku.
Experimental forms, such as John Carley's "zip", use caesura, or line breaks, to denote pauses, while other experimental forms, such as Denis Garrison's "crystalline", do follow traditional stanzaic punctuation rules.
Consider Hip-hop, Rap, and Slam, as well.
With experimental poetry, space is often used to serve the same purpose as punctuation (e.g., tabbing over on the same line; the dropping and centering of lines; running adjacent columns; creating shapes with words; and so forth).
Bold-faced type and other devices are often used to provide accents or other forms
Since poetry is spoken aloud (i.e., performed), read silently and aloud to oneself, it is heard on many levels.
I often find myself longing to hear a poet read their work, rather than just listening to it in my own mind or hearing it uttered by my own tongue.
Why? Because we enter into that poet's realm of interpretation.
The result (hopefully) is that we can hear their emphasis. We are then part of the poetic experience; it's a social contract, a Sartrean 'gift exchange'.
When I was in high school, one of my favorite English teachers of all time, introduced me to e.e. cummings. Needless to say, I loved his work, and yes, partly because he broke the rules. He was a rebel. I like rebels. So, if you're inclined to be a rebel, too, consider the possibility that if all poetry is devoid of punctuation, then it becomes mainstream.
At that point, utilizing punctuation and traditional forms becomes rebellious.
We are at such a point now.
Mainstream poetry is dropping punctuation more and more.
It is becoming difficult to glean wot the author intended in a poem, because the words/thoughts are smashing into each other without proper breath/pause.
In addition to being introduced to e. e. cummings, my favourite English teacher of all time, taught me three important adages that I do my best, never to forget:
1) Learn the rules before you break them.
2) When you do break the rules, know why.
3) Don't be afraid to experiment.
It would take more space than I have here to address each punctuation mark and how it would or could be used. So, to illustrate an absence of commas, semicolons, periods,
and such, I've included an example.
Check out this piece by local poet Don Snider (Thank you for your courage in the face of potential fire!).
Callin' Mr. Bojangles
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles
I gotsta learn this dance
is it not the right time
have I lost my chance
maybe it's Gregory Hines
or Sabian I need
or should I study at Julliard
to perform this deed
is it two left feet that
have me crashing to the floor
or did I look too deeply
into her slightly open door
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles
help me keep in time
maybe one day we'll look back
and smile at this rhyme ...
I had my dancin' shoes
all shined and ready to go
was it my fault I cha cha ed
as she did the tango
is her sweet melody
a song too divine
not meant to be heard
by me at this time
Mr. Bojangles, Mr. Bojangles
I've put my shoes away
I'm old enough to know
I'll dance again someday
If Don had added in standard punctuation, this poem still works, but the flow would be interrupted. Usually performed live, or recorded, this style of poetry is highly musical.
He uses line breaks to point to where he might take a breath, line beginnings for emphasis, and no doubt, when he does perform this piece, he'll add his own special something.
Local Slam poet and publisher, Chris V., says this on punctuation:
"My punctuation is based on the lines themselves. I split the lines the way that I want them to be read. Commas are not necessary if you do that. Once in a while, I will use one if I want to continue the thought on one line...but rarely. A comma represents a pause in breath, which can also be created by a line break. Words running together can create an effect, often emotional, of speed, of flow, that following strict rules of punctuation would eliminate, thus hampering the poem's flow, and perhaps meaning."
When a poem is written in short lines(usually 2 to 6 words), the line breaks make for punctuation itself. Because more and more poets are viewing punctuation as useless, or 'uncool' in poetry, there are more and more instances of poems being written without punctuation, were really....punctuation is dearly needed.
Lyrics usually don't show punctuation, because the words are obviously set to music.
It is the musical bars that become the punctuation.
I hear a lot of poets say:
"Well, lyrics don't use punctuation, and I see my poetry as being musical, so I too, don't use punctuation."
I completely understand this, BUT when the poem is publicly posted without the punctuation AND the musical bars, the reader has more of a difficult time discerning when to breathe and how to stop the words from 'crashing' into each other.
Again, highly stylized poetry, uses the formatting and line breaks themselves as the punctuation. Generally speaking, couplets and quatrains written without at least one comma or period somewhere throughout each coupling or stanza, can make for some very awkward presentation and reading.
Do you have any opinions/thoughts to add?