The Perils of Punctuation

Punctuation in poetry is like a whole different language. I remember during Poetry I, people suggested I use em-dashes or colons in place of words like “but,” “because,” “then,” etc. It was a way to earn yourself extra words in a line, complicate the meaning of a line, and reduce wordiness in poems. It was something I had never really considered before. Needless to say, I got incredibly enthusiastic about punctuation, and it was a good class in which to do so, with a large number of advanced poets to introduce me to new forms (like the em-dash-colon combination and double colons).

However, the exercise we did on Thursday got me thinking about how many different ways we interpret punctuation. For example, I tend to use colons to define something, while I know others use colons as a mirror. What I really want to speak about is the double colon, which has made a grand entrance into poems in the last couple of weeks & it’s something I (& a lot of others, I think) struggle with. The poem I’m submitting for workshop this week has a double colon in the title & I’m still not 100% sure that’s the correct usage, but we’re going for it. I frantically Googled “double colons” and re-read some poems from This Coalition of Bones (Cori Winrock), where double colons can be found aplenty. I found a useful hint on how some authors use a double colon (thanks to a poetry collection review) and Dr. Smith sent me a section from The Poetry Handbook he’d found.

In the review, Phillip B. Williams comments on how the poet’s double colons “function as a sticky board of allegorical possibilities, both defining conditions and labels and effectively confining such definitions to signifiers that carry an unconscious cultural and historical legacy.” (You can find the complete review here; the collection itself looks fabulous.) The Poetry Handbook suggests that in “maths (double) colons express (compound ratios, ‘punctuation’ : words :: cartilage : bone’ (punctuation is to words as cartilage is to bone).” Over the summer as I wrestled with double colons, Lucia told me she saw double colons acting as a mirror/”having your cake and getting to eat it too.” In other words, the poem is enhanced/complicated/furthered by both sides of the double colon, but the poem could function if you took one side away. All things to consider and struggle further with when contemplating tricky punctuation.

I wonder if our different interpretations of punctuation influence how we read/critique each other’s poems. Is there a real standard in poetry, where boundaries are constantly pushed & re-shaped? What new punctuation can we introduce in our poetry? Over the summer, I used inequality signs (<>) in a poem as a visual guide for the reader/a different way to create white space. Has anyone else played with unusual punctuation or punctuation combinations in their poetry? What’s a punctuation mark you’d like to further explore?

I’m Scared of Poetry! Help!

Some of you know that poetry is relatively new to me. In fact, I began to write poetry consistently just before I applied to the Creative Writing track. In other words, I wasn’t even expecting to be accepted into this workshop. Yet, in the few weeks that I’ve had workshop with you beautiful people, I find myself discovering more about my own particular voice by analyzing everyone else’s. I specialize in Fiction, and for most of my life I’ve been developing my voice in my short story writing. I’ve come to a complete halt now, resting with the techniques of Raymond Carver, Ray Bradbury, and Cormac McCarthy. Yet, my voice in my poetry is completely different. I like to be wordy and abstract in my poetry. I like to play with margins and line-breaks (something I’ve never done before this class). Yet, for some reason poetry still confuses and scares me. I can’t wrap my head around poetic interpretation and understanding which has recently affected my urge to verbally participate in workshop. Is my interpretation of so-and-so’s piece valid? Will I look stupid? Are the suggestions of an amateur even worthy of recognition? In my years of reading and writing fiction I’ve noticed a pattern in a majority of works: A produces B, and in turn B produces C. This is the natural flow of prose writing if you think of “A” as the beginning, “B” as the middle, and “C” as the conclusion. Yet, poetry can completely break free from these rules. In poetry time and space don’t necessarily have to be defined. And this renunciation of the rules of short story writing that I’m all too accustomed with scares the shit out of me. A short story about a boy riding his bike to the corner store sounds simple, but with added parallelism and metaphors the story will become well defined; the interpretation can be made obvious. Yet one poem can mean a thousand things to a thousand people. Then again, I could be completely wrong about everything I’ve just said. In any case, I need everyone’s help! Help me to not be scared of poetry anymore!!!!!!


Upon reading Hairston’s poem in the reader, I began to wonder how density plays into poetry. I know that I rushed through this poem, particularly because of the lack of spaces or line breaks, but sometimes when the lines sound more dense than they look, I tend to slow down. This is probably because of the simplistic language. The poem was also very aesthetically pleasing, as it sort of lays in a neat box.  This is probably also why the violent language caught me so off guard. I’m not quite sure why I sped across this poem, and I was wondering if anyone had any examples of poetry that seems compacted to the eye but, upon reading, seems to speed across the page.

I also thought the violent nature of this poem, particularly with the slashes, worked very well.

I was wondering if anyone had seen poems like this before, as I know that I really haven’t.

(I apologize for the strange title of this post- I wasn’t quite sure if the title was ‘YOUAREMYDAUGHTER’ or if it simply did not have one.)

When to Stop Writing

When we write and tell stories, we know to start at the beginning, develop the middle (conflict, character), then come to some conclusion, whether it be resolution or irresolution. Some stories might require a lengthy beginning and middle and a terse ending, or vice versa. The point is that narratives start, occur, and end, whereas poetry does not yield to these restrictions. Yes, poems must “begin” somewhere and “end” eventually or else the reader will walk away from it and the writer will die before the thing is finished, but the conclusion of a poem is never as well-defined or as latent as that of a story. In his essay “The End of the Poem,” which we read in the beginning of the semester, Agamben contemplates that poems might never end, they may resonate outward, infinitely, eliminating the risk of falling into prose. I’ve been finding this semester that my biggest difficulty in writing poetry is not beginning but ending. I rarely know when to keep writing, when to insert a new stanza, or when to just end the thing. My issue is less about how the poem ends, which seems to be Agamben’s primary concern, but rather when the poem ends, and why.


My most recent exercise poem is a whopping one sentence taking place over five medium-length lines. After I finished writing I pondered what would come next–how could I elaborate or progress or uncover this poem? After some time I read and re-read the poem, deciding that, for now, it was done the way it was. There was nothing more I could think of adding that would improve it. The poem didn’t need anything. Now, I may be wrong (I’m sure I am), and if I decide to workshop this poem I’m sure I’ll realize how much more I could do with it, or how inadequate it actually is. But as of now I have ended the poem where I think it needs to end, though I’m still not entirely sure why. Why do we end our poems where we do?


Do you guys also find yourselves struggling with dropping the pen (halting your tapping fingers)? Do you think shorter poems are a result of laziness (probably, in my case) or that some poems just don’t need as much space? And what of longer poems, like those of T.S. Eliot? Why extend a poem and why truncate it?

What EvEn is Experimental Poetry?

Let me start by saying that this blog post is going to be a bit of a ramble. I had an idea in my mind about what I wanted to write, but the second I started typing the title things just got all mixed up for me….

I couldn’t figure out if one should capitalize “even” in the title. I stared at it. I played around with it being lowercase, then uppercase. Then I Googled it, and continued to become more and more confused. Am I using “even” as an adjective, verb, or adverb? Did it matter which one it even was? Should it matter at all? Maybe you reading this know the obvious answer. Maybe this is something that I should have learned in 3rd grade but somehow fell asleep when the lesson was given. The point is that this just confused my brain so much that it made me change the whole direction of this post. Continue reading “What EvEn is Experimental Poetry?”

Weaseling out of Assignments (with Poetry!)

So ever since I started taking writing classes (not counting that one in high school), I’ve found that I’m less and less willing to write standard essays. Has anyone else found that sort of thing happening? I’ll get a research assignment for a literature class or an honors class or the odd philosophy class, and I’ll just find it impossible to think of a way to make it fun for myself. Once I’m writing an essay I can get into it, but it takes a while to break from writing from an artistic perspective. I know it might sound a bit pretentious, but I’ve been finding even the idea of a standard essay kind of boring, and it’s gotten to the point where I’m looking for ways around it.

The best way I’ve found so far is in my honors class, where we don’t necessarily have a set format for our papers, but we’re expected to do a final research paper on art during the Third Reich. I approached my professor, asking to write a research paper by way of writing a poem on a subject, instead of your normal fifteen page conglomeration of sources and thesis, and she was surprisingly open to it. I plan on writing about the battle of Monte Cassino, which took place in Italy just outside of Rome, and resulted in the needless destruction of an ancient Benedictine abbey. I’ve got a few first hand sources and reports from soldiers and officers on both sides of the conflict, and I plan to find the dialogues that chronicle the Allied decision to bomb the abbey. I’ve never undertaken this sort of writing before, and it certainly is daunting, but I’m hoping that writing a poem that requires extensive research will expand my writing abilities. Plus I don’t have to write a standard research paper anymore.

I’m not sure yet what the project will hold exactly, but I feel good about the decision to write a poem instead of a research paper, and I’d encourage anyone else to try it, if they’re in the right kind of class.

The Poetry Hangover

Or, in other words, that feeling of reading a poem/collection of poems that are so beautiful and inspiring that you feel you can’t read or write any more, ever.

I’m the emotional sort of person to cry at everything from sad commercials to happy endings in movies, so I’m never entirely surprised when I’m affected by writing enough to get one of these Poetry Hangovers, but it’s still an inconvenience, considering being a creative writing major and the need to be inspired to complete writing assignments.

The inability to write and read that I get with this is because my head feels too full of other words.  It’s like listening to a song through headphones while trying to compose new music; It’s near impossible.  The Hangover continues: Continue reading “The Poetry Hangover”

Are All Poems Narratives?

In class today, Lytton quoted Aristotle and his views on what makes a narrative and whether or not Myung Mi Kim’s Dura fits this definition or not. Kim defends the collection and says that it has a clear narrative while many of us wholeheartedly disagree. By Aristotle’s standards, is all poetry narrative? If all lines in a poem (beginning, middle, and end) are in conversation with each other and thus causally relate to each other, is the poem a narrative? Is Dura a narrative?  Continue reading “Are All Poems Narratives?”

Poetry, Prose? Where’s the Line?

We’re a few weeks into the semester now, and as I’ve probably mentioned in class I’m currently taking Lyric Essay with Steve West, in addition to our own wonderful Poetry Workshop. I entered both classes with a somewhat strong idea of what categorized each genre: poetry has stanzas and line breaks, beautiful images that are stringed along with some sort of unifying idea or moment; lyric essay, a subgenre of CNF, I thought was usually more narrative—it could have beautiful images like poetry, but those images were usually unified through the personal experience of some sort of first-person narrator or embodied self presented within the essay. Continue reading “Poetry, Prose? Where’s the Line?”