Punctuation in Poetry – Should we do it?

The most important thing you can learn about writing poetry is to add punctuation, especially if you are going to enter your poems into contests like I suggested in this post: https://colleenchesebro.com/2019/06/16/the-united-haiku-tanka-society-uhts-poetry-contest-information/. Join UHTS HERE.

We’re all familiar with this example:

Lets eat Grandma!

OR:

Let’s eat, Grandma.

When you read the above sentences, the punctuation changes the meaning. The same punctuation rules also apply to poetry.

There are 4 main types of possible punctuation in poems. I’m not an expert in this field, merely a student myself. I searched for information on punctuation usage in poetry and this great article from LinkedIn came up. I’ve shared some of it below.

Syllabic poetry uses many of these same types of punctuation:

“Punctuation in poetry is similar to punctuation in prose and serves almost the same purpose as bar lines in music without which the words and notes won’t flow all together. In order words, punctuation assists in organizing your words into discernible verses:

1) encapsulates thoughts and ideas

2) aids in coherence and the presentation of meaning

3) signals when and where to breathe (very important)

Interestingly, many poets use punctuation marks without knowing why they used them; others just write their verses without using any marks at all, not deliberately, just because they do not know how and where to use them. A third group of poet’s place punctuation arbitrarily, without realizing that punctuation actually aid the readers’ interpretation and also determines his/her breathe pauses.

The fact is that the punctuation marks thrown in affect the reader’s pace, understanding, eye movement and perception.

Before we go too far, let’s talk about the TYPES OF VERSES, determined by the POSITION of the punctuation they contain:  

End-stopped line – when punctuation occurs at the end of a line/verse, allowing the reader to pause before moving on to the next verse

Run-on line/Enjambment – when there is no punctuation at the end of the line and/or the idea expressed in the verse is continued in the next  

Caesura – when a punctuation mark comes within the line itself.

Please click the LinkedIn link below to read the explanations in this post. (They won’t copy over to WP).

Kukogho Iruesiri Samson Communications || Publishing ||Administration on LinkedIn shares his thoughts on punctuation use when writing poetry LinkedIn.com

Grammar rules add structure to your poetry. Yet, some of you will say that it disrupts your creativity. The famous Poet, EE Cummings refused to use punctuation and didn’t capitalize either, giving the proverbial finger to the rules.

Here’s what I think, and feel free to disagree. We are all students in writing poetry. If it goes on my blog or in one of my books, I’m going to use punctuation. Not only does that help my reader understand my words and meaning, but it also gets me into the practice of being consistent with my writing. NOT all poetry needs punctuation. Some poetry expresses more meaning without punctuation. Use your best judgment.

Most poetry contests will judge the structure and form that you use, your words, your punctuation, and the meaning. If you learn how to create your poetry using the rules, you will soon have plenty of poems ready to submit to contests. Some of these contests have cash prizes, but not all.

In the latest Issue of Seedpods, the UHTS e-newsletter, President Alan Summers shares some thoughts and a few of the award-winning poems.

Before I hand over to our incredible judges, just a few words from me, as a way of thanks and appreciation to our poets who were placed in this competition.

I just can’t help but acknowledge each placed haiku and senryu, and how well-crafted with thought, care, insight, consideration, and skill they all were, thank you!

Haiku and senryu require decisions of what is the strongest line, be it the opening or closing line. How does the placement of sometimes the ‘hidden’ stronger line do, and achieve, and does an opening line make the closing line work even more for the entire poem? We can often focus on just how the last line is a surprise, a “reveal,” or denouement, but each line has its part to play.  Sometimes the overlooked line is the middle line, but that too plays its part to support the power of the opening and closing lines of the three-line haiku (the most common, but not exclusive approach to this short verse). Each line plays a part of a bridge, and the middle line is the vehicle to get you to leave one ‘side’ to reach the ‘other side’. Through my own and the judges’ commentaries let’s enjoy and appreciate how each poet approaches the art of haiku and senryu.

Indra Neil Mekala’s verse might just start with one single word in the first line but for me it packs a punch and a whole vehicle of emotions, from joy and hope to fear and trepidation. The use of the comma adds that other side of joy and hope, and of concern that doesn’t go until the birth. The last line is heartwarming and without any saccharine. We humans really are of one color, and babies are babies, they are precious regardless. Great crafting of this verse throughout.

Rajan’s dark side of the moon verse carries hope in a world that appears as dark as the unseen side of the moon, which is shaking and shrinking as we speak, as reported by NASA recently. A  warm poem for a world that can appear cold. The opening line really works with the phrase, honing it back from being sentimental.

From a literal situation, with all the earthquakes and other catastrophes, and the sad effect of a long distance relationship I feel sad that Jay shows the “growing apart” feature of a relationship. I can only hope it’s really just a fault in the technical connection, and not the two people really distancing themselves from each other.

Thank you Pragya! I still remember, in awe, the vast night skies of Queensland, and the Mars-like sky of the Northern Territory, in Australia. One night I felt I might start driving skywards, as the stars seemed to form a ramp at the top of an incline. Lots of layers for me to dive into!

Already, just by the opening line, Andre’s verse feels evocative, gathered in pace by the second line, delivering us not just to quinces, but the heat and comfort of poaching them. Thank you quinces!

I love the unusual treatment of the opening line from Margo, and whether you consider this a haiku, or a senryu, it works for me, and already evokes a lot of feeling. A fun second line, or is it? Then the ‘reveal’ as (phew) it’s the birds feeding, but reminding us, we can go quickly out of favor.

Mark has a real knack with haiku that include rain, and here he deftly combines rain and thunder with horses real and/or imaginary. Superbly atmospheric.

Alan Summers

 President, United Haiku and Tanka Society

Below, you will find the first, second, and third place winners. The judges have left comments which will help us learn from their decisions. Learn how to write a HAIKU HERE. If you can write a Haiku, you can write all the rest of the forms.

2019 UHTS “AHA” Haiku Contest Results
 

1st Place
Indra Neil Mekala, India

ultrasound—
for now, every baby
has the same color

A profound truth simply told. A universal truth reflected in the now ordinary experience of a mother looking at her growing fetus by way of an ultrasound. There is no editorializing here. Instead the basic reality of the real world; the natural world. The connection that we all share.
                                                                                    – Jeannie Martin

Sometimes the best haiku are simple observations, which can lead to deeper meanings upon additional re-reads.  Here the lack of color in an ultrasound is effectively contrasted with our racially divisive society, emphasizing the innocence of an unborn baby before it is touched by prejudices and hatred that exist in this world.  And, on a deeper level, after several re-reads, knowing that our eyes see via refraction (also responsible for splitting white light into a spectrum of colors) where an ultrasound produces images from sound waves, essentially “color blind,” but yet hospitals in the United States fail black women with a pregnancy mortality rate 3-4 times the rate of their white counterparts.  The ultrasound can eliminate subconscious prejudice, and yet the baby may still be affected by it.
                                                                                    –  Deborah P Kolodji

2nd Place
Rajan, India


dark side of the moon . . .
everything the heart
still carries

The dark side of the moon, or the far side of the moon, is the one that always faces away from the earth, the part that we cannot see in our night sky.  Likewise, it is impossible to see into the heart of another and this somehow makes those things we carry in our hearts even more precious and real.   Even if we never see the dark side of the moon, it still rotates around us and remains with us.  Likewise, those things we cherish in our hearts remain with us.  This juxtaposition is very effective.

                                    – Deborah P Kolodji

3rd Place
Jay Friedenberg, USA


continental drift
the growing distance
in your voice

Continental drift: we do not notice the subtle movement of the ground beneath us, but it is very real. This haiku says a great deal in a few words and yet also leaves the details and the drama up to the reader’s personal reflection. Is this a romance? Or is it a long distance friendship grown cold? What we do know is the voice, the distant, perhaps faint voice that now sounds far away, tells it all. The balance of the first and the last words conveys the heaviness of the poem. In this, a certain symmetry is created that also leaves us slightly out of balance.

                                                            -Jeannie Martin

Now, get busy and write some syllabic poetry! Start with a Haiku and see where it leads you!

About Colleen M. Chesebro

Colleen M. Chesebro is an American Novelist & Poet who loves writing paranormal fantasy and magical realism, cross-genre fiction, syllabic poetry, and creative nonfiction. She loves all things magical which may mean that she could be experiencing her second childhood—or not. That part of her life hasn’t been fully decided yet. A few years ago, a mystical experience led her to renew her passion for writing and storytelling. These days she resides in the fantasy realm of the Faery Writer where she writes the magical poetry and stories that the fairy nymphs whisper to her in her dreams. Colleen won the “Little and Laugh” Flash Fiction Contest sponsored by the Carrot Ranch Literary Community on November 2017, and in 2018, she won first place for the “Twisted Travel” category. Colleen lives in Arizona with her husband. When she is not writing, Colleen enjoys spending time with her husband. She also loves gardening, reading, and crocheting old-fashioned doilies into works of art. Learn more about Colleen on colleenchesebro.com.
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45 Comments

  1. It’s obvious how important punctuation is in poetry. I often get confused without it

  2. Great article Sis. Maybe I’m old school but, I write poetry as I write prose aka punctuation and writing go together.The only thing I don’t use are periods as each sentence blends into the next. I think that would be this one: Run-on line/Enjambment. 🙂 <3

    • I feel like Syllabic poetry should use punctuation and that would include periods. When a thought is completed it should end the sentence. You mostly write the longer syllabic forms. Try a few Haiku and embrace the brevity of your words and thoughts. It’s a challenge to find the right words. ❤️

  3. Punctuation? Yes, please! If readers have to read a verse three times to comprehend it, the poet has failed.

  4. It’s very hard for me to put a period in a poem. But I do spend a lot of time thinking about punctuation, even when I don’t put it in. (K)

  5. Thank you Colleen, There is some great advice here.

    I am a huge advocate for using punctuation. It is nice to see that others still adopt these customs.

    … after reading your informative article, I have been inspired to write a verse or two, about this topic!
    (I have credited you, of course)
    Clapping, loudly!! 😀

  6. Some great info here, Colleen. I am never sure where to use punctuation in a poem, so this helps a lot!

  7. Thank you Colleen.. very helpful and will apply… hugsxxx♥

  8. Reblogged this on Plaisted Publishing House and commented:
    Punctuation for the Poet 🙂

  9. I loved this! I’ll have to think more clearly about my punctuation – I’ve always punctuated the same as I would in prose, and this helps me realize there are probably other schemes and things to consider!

  10. This is very helpful, Colleen. I feel punctuation in poetry helps the reader understand the intent of the piece.

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  12. This is very helpful and interesting too Colleen. Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂

  13. No punctuation for me, Colleen. Only the abbreviations (it’s) and personal pronoun (I).

    I use line breaks for emphasis and nuance and lilt and pause. Stanza breaks for breathing pauses etc.

    Congratulations to the winners mentioned above.

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  15. Most interesting, Colleen. Few people know how to punctuate poetry. I tried to get someone to edit my poetry book but there were no takers among those I asked. They said they were not confident with poetry.

  16. A helpful article, thank you. While I love punctuation, and proper grammar; I’ve learned to loosen up regarding poetry. Meeting other poets has exposed me to different styles/forms, and persuaded me that all parts of a poem: letters, words, grammar, punctuation… are determined, and rightly so, by the poet, which is part of what makes poetry so interesting. I believe that poetry, and its creative process, is enhanced by breaking rules and barriers. At the same time, poets whom follow proper grammar are not to be devalued, as their work has its place as well. That’s the best part about poets/poetry – they often bend the rules, create forms/styles that have not been seen before, write from intuition or rationality, yet add personal touches that make reading a poem an enchanting experience.

    • Exactly! It’s always best to consider the reader when it comes to punctuation. If you’re writing prose and it has no punctuation it’s a mess to understand. Much of my syllabic poetry has punctuation because it’s part of the form. However, creativity should never be stifled. ee cummings, the poet is a perfect example. I’m not much on breaking rules because if you don’t the rules to follow how can you break them? ☺️ Much of this post was geared at my poetry challenge participants where we work on our syllabic forms. Not all poetry needs punctuation. Thanks so much for your lovely comments. ❤️

  17. Thank you for the informative article! I used to write completely without punctuation and then realized, in my case, how much it actually added to my work.

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