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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Puncturing punctuation in poetry

Some poets, including Pulitzer prized ones, believe punctuation weighs down a poem, while others overdo a good thing with a comma at the end of every line whether or not it’s needed.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed inconsistent (dare I say “erratic”) use of punctuation, for instance, when a poet omits it entirely, line after line, then suddenly adds a period at the end of a verse, giving the TA-DA flourish of a finale.

Since a number of poets seem to be doing similar gyrations with punctuation or its lack thereof, I suppose this could be a trend (albeit a generally ineffectual one.) More likely, I fear, Grammar School (yes, that grammar) is as passé as its namesake.

In case that’s sadly true, some of you might have opted for the no-punctuation-poem out of desperation, rather than artistic license. So, in hopes of helping you to find grammatical help on the spot as needed, I’ve been looking at English grammar websites and found two I especially like. If you know of others you recommend, let me know, and I’ll add those hotlinks, too, to the Writing Recourses page of my website.

Another option is to get acquainted with the impressive editorial features on Microsoft Word (or similar word processing software) that quickly check for errors in grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation then let you know how to correct such problems before your work sees print.

Why bother? As you’ve probably heard me say more than once:

• Punctuation guides your readers in reading your poem as you intended.

• Conversely, punctuating a poem in a weird way can punctuate imperfections, show snags in syntax (sentence structure), and baffle your readers.

With punctuation used as the traffic signals in your poems, however, your readers will be more apt to slow down with each comma and pause at each period, which just might help them to stop, look, and listen to what you and your poem have to say.


© 2012, Mary Sayler, all rights reserved. If your punctuation, grammar, syntax, and anything else in your poems need professional help, consider the fair fee of a priceless poetry critique to show you how, where, and why something is or is not working and what to do about it before your poems see print.



  1. Great words! Without punctuation, you have no real way to guide the reader of your verse. I sometimes use almost prose-like punctuation, sometimes I use very little punctuation in a poem. But I always aim to have consistency in each separate poem.

  2. Thanks for the good word, Carolyn. Yes, consistency makes a huge difference in guiding readers - and letting them know you did something on purpose :)