more punctuation angst

My relationship with punctuation in poetry grows ever more strained. I now feel, when I punctuate a piece in standard fashion, that I am stringing pink neon bulbs or polystyrene sandwich boards onto it that say STOP HERE or TAKE A BREATH HERE or THIS IS A QUESTION HERE.

Oh dear.

Update: Gravitating (naturally) towards what supports my position, I lose no time in pointing out this interesting essay which says, among other things:

What this all really comes down to is that punctuation is up to the poet. Moreover, do not let punctuation get between you and the art of writing poetry. Unlike in writing prose, punctuation in poetry exists as a secondary function and sometimes is not even incorporated into the body of work until the poem has been completed. And always remember when it comes to poetry punctuation, less is better.

Then there’s this agreeable site which says:

Every poem you write has the possibility of being a new poem with the addition (or deletion) of just a few punctuation marks.

And finally, this lesson plan, which lets you know that students will:

..experiment with line breaks and how they affect rhythm, sound, meaning, and appearance, and can substitute for punctuation in poetry.

And so on. (Hat tip: Those links were provided by a very cool moderator at a workshop site in response to a critiquer who said in so many words that a piece submitted to the workshop was fatally flawed because it was not “properly” punctuated.)

On a more general note, there is this brief essay (look in the comments) on punctuation graciously added to this blog by C.E. Chaffin.  

You know what this means, right? Yep.


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Nic Sebastian

Nic is the author of Forever Will End On Thursday and Dark And Like A Web. She founded the now-archived Whale Sound site and is co-founder of The Poetry Storehouse. Nic blogs at Very Like A Whale and Voice Alpha.

2 thoughts on “more punctuation angst”

  1. Nic,

    The napo experiance has been very good for you, I perhaps enjoyed your little extra poem with the synesthesia theme the most. But I wanted to comment on your punctuation question. Punctuation provides inflection to the written word, without it, the timbre of a poem is monotone. It lacks drama and shape, becomes one dimensional, just words on the page. There are times when this tact my suit the theme, but more often than not it only serves to dilute it. Non-punctuation is just one of many tools available to the poet- crafter, unfortunately it is one that has very limited applications.

    Just my thoughts,


  2. Hi Gene — fantastic to see you here. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. The more I look into the punctuation question, the more I see how vast the continuum is, with strong supporters at almost every point. It’s interesting to learn the rationale behind the different positions. All best and thanks again, Nic

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