Monday, 26 September 2011

Poetry and Punctuation

had no idea that punctuation in poetry was such a controversial area.
Some Poems
I am currently working with my editor on my new book of poems, "Some Poems" by me, Kate Dempsey, to be published Moth Editions (You can see details and buy one here) on October 7th.
Yes, you are all invited to the launch 7.30pm Second Floor Studios, The Former See House, Kilmore, Cavan. Actually, please come. I don't know many people in and around Cavan.

One thing that we discussed was punctuation. I hadn't realised how grey an area it is.
There are two extremes.

Hundreds and Thousands1. Punctuate as you would prose.
Advantages:
It's very clear what you mean.
It's obvious where to pause when reading aloud
Disadvantages

There's less opportunity to play with double meanings
Over punctuation can look like the page has been pepper-shot or sprinkled with hundreds and thousands

2. Have no punctuation.
Advantages
You don't have to consider each piece of punctuation
More pleasing to the eye
Disadvantages
Lists may be confusing
meaning may be too confusing
harder to read aloud

So I have from my poem Lump
For now it’s just a lump
a like it or lump it
a one lump or two, a lump sum
the size of a two euro coin, a heads or tails
an is she or isn’t she, all lumped in together
except it’s only me, on my own, with my lump
and everywhere I go, my lump goes too
And punctuated.
For now it’s just a lump,
a like it or lump it,
a one lump or two, a lump sum,
the size of a two euro coin, a heads or tails,
an is she or isn’t she, all lumped in together,
except it’s only me, on my own, with my lump,
and everywhere I go, my lump goes too.
In the end I decided that in a poem about lumps, so much punctuation was too lumpy. I'm still in two minds about the need for a full stop at the end of a stanza or at the end of a poem. Is it implied? There are poems whose sentences run across two stanzas (enjambment) so maybe not. And let's not start on shape poems where the line ending is determined not so much by the meaning, as by the shape.

I also had from my poem Developing Shadows the line


hands clenched little man

where I have deliberately left out any commas so the reader can become a more active reader and decide for themselves what exactly is clenched and what is little.

Quoted speech is a little more tricky. Quotes scattered across the page can look very messy and usually the meaning can be made clear using the more delicate comma. But not always.

And there's the bugbear, do you start each line with a capital, the way Microsoft Word does as default. My gut says NO, NO, NO! there but that's a personal choice!

So first.
1. Learn the rules before you break them
2. When you break them, know why
3. Don't be afraid to experiment

There's the 3rd option, best left to experienced poets which is punctuation that messes with your head. I'm thinking here particularly of one of my favourite poets, e e cummings from anyone lived in a pretty how town
someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream
Fabulous.
You can hear him read it, very sing song, here

7 comments:

Michael Farry said...

Ah punctuation in poetry!. The first version of Lump is the best with only absolutely necessary punctuation. I always feel that commas at the end of lines in poetry are unnecessary there being a natural pause there anyway.

Michael Farry said...

Oh and congratulations on the publication!!!

Titus said...

I didn't realise publication wasn't till the 7th! Best of luck, and as for punctuation, arrgh. I think I found a Jackie Kay poem quite inspiring in that regard once - she'd taken the 3rd option and it cheered me no end.

I always begin fully punctuated, and then take out. It is drawing teeth for me.

Emerging Writer said...

I take them all out and them put some back slowly, like adjectives! Thanks Michael. Hope to see you soon.

Emerging Writer said...

Aargh back at you Titus. If you google poetry and punctuation, the opinions cover an enormous spectrum

Brigid said...

Congratulations on your book, Kate, interesting about the punctuation. I must attend a class some day about the poetry craft. I tend to wing it a bit, probably shows.

Emerging Writer said...

Thanks Brigid.
I do think taking a class from time to time can make you work in new ways or look at things from a new prespective. If the teacher's any good