So I want to talk about punctuation – and how we use it in poetry. Can something as small as a dot – and its placement, or the lack of it – shape our poem? How?
For example, end-stopped versus enjambment. Shakespeare uses end-stopped sonnets all the time; it heightens our understanding of the rhyme scheme; it establishes the meter in our minds. Enjambment can create variety in structure, call attention to words that might not necessarily fall at the end of the line, and can create interest in continuing on to the next line.
So following are my (untutored) thoughts on some kinds of punctuation. I’d really love others’ opinions and experiences as well.
. – The period totally stops us. It can disconnect two lines from one another, or halt us in the middle. It can jarr us awake and out of a poem entirely. For such a tiny dot, periods do a lot of work.
– gives us some time to think, but doesn’t remove us at all from the line. It pauses us, but not in the same way as a blank space, which fills us with empty silence. The dash still makes visual noise on the page.
: v. ; One gives us the same feeling as a period: a full throttle stop before we continue reading. It compares the thing before to the things after, sometimes offering a definition. To me, the semicolon rolls us a long a bit more; it’s when you want a period, but without necessarily completely strangling the end of your line sentence. It also works to give more connection to the two lines connected with the semicolon; the comma at the bottom seems to lessen the harshness, and draw the ideas closer together.
() – whispers to us; gives the things inside the () more connection to one another whilst lessening the connection to things outside the (). It’s as though the () lives outside the reality of the poem. Of course, I’m actually not sure this is always true – sometimes () can give us information about things within the poem (almost as though these things contradict the reality the rest of the poem presents?).
, – slow down, pause. Take a breath here. The lack of these can build speed, as if therewerenospaces when we know we’re supposed to breathe. Finding them where they are unnecessary slows us down, without bringing us to the full halt of a period.
! – excitement, or surprise. Gives emphasis to whatever came before – generally, I think, happy emphasis or sarcastic emphasis. ! look to happy to be anything but.
& vs + – the ampersand is so much more pretentious than the + sign. While both of them speed us through the ‘and’ and bring the two things on either side into more immediate connection, the + sign is casual in a way the ampersand is not. & is more formal than +, but I actually think it’s also softer – the curves beat out the straight lines of the + sign, so that a + probably can’t be used in a soft, sweet, and gentle poem. It’s harsh like a ‘k’ or a ‘t’ can be, while the & is more of an ‘m’ or ‘s’. (I feel like I totally overanalyzed that one. Woah)
? – questions in poems always seem melancholy to me; maybe it’s in the curve of the hook.
What are your thoughts on the above and more?