Punctuation or the Addition of Sneaky Expletives

This week’s poetry exercise pushed us to take someone else’s poem, and keep ONLY the punctuation as we tried to fashion an original poem. Initially, I found this task to be a little off-putting. As I flipped through the course reader to find a poem with enough skeletal-punctuation to flesh my own poem onto, I became frustrated by the apparent lack of punctuation in all of the poems we’ve read so far. Some poems used only periods, and others had more commas than I could ever find a use for. After deciding that this exercise was probably not designed to be a form of torture, I chose a poem I thought would challenge me the most, in a sort of comfortable way. Andrew Zawacki’s “Credo” used enough punctuation to satisfy my poetic style, yet used all the types of punctuation that I find lackluster and hard to work around. I’ll admit to choosing Credo because it had a plethora of ampersands–a punctuation I realized I am a little too reliant on. As I struggled to squeeze my poem into the close commas and short lines presented by Credo, I realized that one of my poetic ticks is a reliance on punctuation as suggestion. In the same way that we might cluster punctuation as expletives in cartoons, I’ve been using punctuation to glaze over places where I felt stuck or underwhelmed within my own poems. I cover up thoughts and hints of much better ideas with m-dashes and colons. This exercise forced me to think about where I should use punctuation, and where I’ve been using it to suggest the things I should really just say. From this exercise, I think I’ll attempt to pull out what’s actually underneath my punctuation (and hopefully it’s not just curse-words).

One Reply to “Punctuation or the Addition of Sneaky Expletives”

  1. “Punctuation as suggestion” – it’s great that you’ve been able to observe one of those writing tics we all have, the ways we get through a poem somewhat subconsciously. Maybe you’ve also thrown down a challenge for us all: can we articulate how we use punctuation? And are we over-reliant on certain uses of punctuation, even more than certain punctuation marks? I fear I may be guilty of punctuation as being like a plant-step in tennis: a stop that readies the reader to be launched elsewhere…

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