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Punctuation and Capitalization in Poetry

Blog Posted:7/18/2014 6:35:00 PM

In many European forms of poetry, it has been traditional to capitalize the first word of every line. To some degree, there has never been a stated rational reason for doing so, it was just the way it was done. The same has been true for the use of periods. In many cases they were not used at all, except in quoted sentences. Other punctuation rules, such as commas, have been generally observed.

Should punctuation and capitalization be used in poetry just as though it were prose? No capitals at the beginning of every line, but only as appropriate. Periods at the end of every sentence?

Anything else? Exceptions?

What are your thoughts?



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  1. Date: 7/20/2014 3:19:00 AM
    That is one of the reasons I designed Suzette Prime: No capital letters (unless a proper noun), no punctuation as the line breaks serve this function. Lekker! As for the old style or new style of writing poetry: I would include punctuation in a sonnet, but not in Free Verse. Just my opinion. Greetings all. Love, Su

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    Richards Avatar Suzette Richards Date: 7/22/2014 7:25:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    That is why I stipulate in Suzette Prime that the line breaks serve as punctuation (or breathing spaces). It becomes more tricky when you have to consider the syllable count in each line as well. It is deceptively easy, until you try it - especially with the longer lines, eg 19 syllables. :-) Have a go, Cyndi. :-)
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 7/20/2014 9:25:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    BUT if I were to write about a mindful moment ... say walking through a museum, taking in each artifact, thinking... I would use a great deal of punctuation. As. I. Walk. And. Think. ;)
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 7/20/2014 9:23:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Interesting! For me, it would depend on the subject more than the form. If I am writing about, hmm, say something fast paced and either dark or disturbing.. like the recent shot down Malaysian plane... I would not use much punctuation, which is designed to give pause or slow down the read.
  1. Date: 7/19/2014 8:09:00 AM
    Interesting, I'm going to change some of my poems. I agree with Andrea, if the line breaks work correctly I think it can add to effect with no punctuation but if they don't it can be confusing. Also, I think you can be more creative with punctuation in poetry like you can with words as long as it adds to the art.

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  1. Date: 7/19/2014 7:40:00 AM WOOOOOOOOOW! I love this! Seriously, this is one of the best blogs I have read on punctuation in poetry. It's power. It's weaknesses. Roy, let me know what you think... interesting, yes? Cheers, off for the day... gonna rain here and I think we'll go bowling. I won't complain about rain... so much horrible stuff going on in the world ... I'm not on topic here... just feeling the horrors of the Ukraine ... the storms hitting our friends around the globe... Syria... so much anguish... :( sorry... will go hug my girl. What a world I've brought her into...

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    Richards Avatar Suzette Richards Date: 7/22/2014 7:29:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    I fully agree with you an this one, Roy. Even in the written text, people are moving away from all the enforced commas (for eg) as it does not really serve a purpose. Unless it might change the meaning of the sentence: Lets eat Gramma/Lets eat, Gramma. :-)
    Jerden Avatar Roy Jerden Date: 7/20/2014 10:09:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    That was a good discussion, Cyndi. Just as a trial, I went back and re-punctuated according to prose rules and de-capitalized first words as necessary in my poem called "Willow" to see the effect. I don't care for the result too much, particularly the commas on the end of the lines, which seem redundant. The line break should be enough. Even the colon before the list seems out of place. The line is an entity in poetry and serves purposes, one purpose is a pause, I think.
  1. Date: 7/19/2014 7:31:00 AM
    Could not pull up the interview... GRRRRR.... anyway, here is a great blog on the subject.... interesting and thoughtful examination of some good poems and the reasoning behind the use of/or lack of use of punctuation This is kind of where I am trying to head... make it matter! HUGS.

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  1. Date: 7/19/2014 6:43:00 AM
    I've bounced back and forth, exploring what I like and I think it all depends on the poem, perhaps even the subject of the poem. Poetry is NOT prose. I'll find a rant by one of Canada's most recognized literary giants... she sounds snobby, but makes sense that "Poetry is a language all its own." Cheers, Cyndi

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    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 7/20/2014 9:31:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    The more a poet is willing to pull out of his/her comfort zone and try something different, the better that poet will become. Even those classic writers who we all adore did not play it safe. Some are born with ability. But the majority hone their abilities, yes? Hope you are having a good summer!!! xoxox
    MacMillan Avatar Cyndi MacMillan Date: 7/20/2014 9:28:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Andrea, the ability of the person writing poetry is not stagnant. Each poem written, I believe, helps a poet develop his/her skills. So, by playing with punctuation and INDIVIDUALIZING syntax rules for THAT poet (like Cummings,) a VOICE and STYLE is created by the poet. We all stumble with something we have never attempted before or do not attempt often...
    Dietrich Avatar Andrea Dietrich Date: 7/19/2014 10:52:00 AM Block poet from commenting on your poetry

    Yes, Cyndi, it all depends on the type of poem. That makes a world of difference in the use of punctuation or not, and also in the ability of the person writing the poem
  1. Date: 7/18/2014 8:34:00 PM
    The way modern publishers prefer is for us NOT to capitalize the beginning of each line, well, at least the ones I have investigated. Like Charlotte says here, just write your poem as you would prose, stopping your lines with periods when the sentence is finally finished, and not putting a capital letter until you have begun a new sentence. This is my preferred way. A good writer can get away with not using punctuation. Unfortunately, not many people are clever enough to do proper line breaks; therefore, they produce run-on sentences that are difficult to read. The beauty in punctuation is that when properly used, it eliminates ambiguity in what the author is trying to say. I love it!

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  1. Date: 7/18/2014 8:24:00 PM
    yes, the traditional way is to capitalize each line; however, the modern way is to write each line as you would write prose, just capitalizing after a full stop...I had always been in the habit of capitalizing each line, but I reluctantly dropped the habit and I think it reads better the modern way...I've had to go back through my poems removing all the capitals! haha

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