My Relationship with the Ampersand

Hey fellow poets, I have a question for you all on the usage of the ampersand (&) in poetry. I like the thing well enough in handwriting, because it’s fun to make those funny flowing loops. When typing, however, my soul becomes conflicted. So my question is this: why use the ampersand and not use the word “and”? For my last poem, I caught myself just about to use it before I started questioning it and my whole poetic life. What is its purpose beyond abbreviation — or is abbreviation the ampersand’s only purpose? Does the symbol exist to create some aesthetic variety on the page? I’ve noticed many of you using it, so what’s your personal reasoning for “&” over “and” or vice versa?

5 Replies to “My Relationship with the Ampersand”

  1. I actually have been wondering the same thing since starting this class. I, too, have noticed that many people in the class use “&” instead of the word “and” and sometimes even both ways in the same poem. I was trying to figure out the reason for this, but actually found myself using ampersands instead of “and” in some of my recent poetry. I think it does give a different feel to a poem, but it’s hard to peg exactly why. I think it is visually interesting and varies the pace of a poem in a different way, in my opinion at least. But I would love to know others’ takes on this as well.

  2. The Ampersand is cool and all, I just never really got into it. There’s something about seeing a word rather than the symbol for the word that makes me really happy. Take “$” for example, it’s cool and you get to slash an “S” like you just committed a crime, but I’d rather read “one hundred dollars” than “$100.”

  3. The ampersand is cool for pairing things specifically–since it takes up less space, your eye doesn’t have to go as far. For example, if you pair “ducklings & boots,” they seem to go together as a unit/have a more immediate feel in the way that “ducklings and boots” doesn’t quite have. It’s a very stylistic thing, I think, & I started out as a hardcore ampersand user, although I’ve found myself drifting into using “and” more. I like the way it looks, to be honest, and it makes your punctuation more interesting. Punctuation often functions as a whole different kind of layer in a poem & that’s really interesting to watch for–it helps with the timing & pace of the poem, as well as the way your eye goes across the page.

  4. sugar & spice might feel different, for example, than sugar and spice, as Amy suggests: a closer affinity. And I’d underscore that all punctuation also works in terms of pacing: the ampersand speeds us forward across and, crucially, beyond the items so linked. Some points insist on only or never &, but you can mix both in a poem, too.

    Lastly, the ampersand, especially occurring at a line’s start, might hide the conjunctive quality that ‘and’ has, allowing us to focus on what else is on the line.

  5. I’m going to echo Amy and Lytton on the “&” creating a closer pairing than using the word “and”, but I personally use it mostly for spacing as a whole. I know that it’s only two characters less than spelling out the word, but I am obsessive over how much space my lines are taking up on the page, especially in relation to the lines around them. I’m often consciously making my lines shorter or longer as the poem goes on, so having the choice of an extra (or lack of ) two characters allows me some freedom. I also think about how big the voice of my speaker is, and whether they are the type of person that would likely take up more or less space.

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