Poets from countries outside the U.S. have recently been requesting critiques more often than American poets, which usually brings up correct usage of English grammar and punctuation. Both of these crucial aspects of language have been touched on in previous articles on The Poetry Editor blog such as “Revising your poetry can be a smooth move” and “That Punctual Punctuation (Anyway) How” but to recap a few important reasons:
• Punctuation guides readers through a poem.
• Punctuation and good grammar assist understanding.
• Punctuating a poem in a weird way punctuates imperfections and weirdness.
• Well-woven syntax (sentence structure) threads each line with artistry.
• Awkward or unnatural syntax confuses and loses a reader.
Almost every poet wants to stand out or be different, but breaking rules, peppering and assaulting poems with periods and commas, or twisting syntax into pretzels seldom has the desired effect. Most often, freshness comes in other ways as poets decide to:
• Be observant.
• Be clear.
• Be accurate.
• Be highly visual.
• Keep looking to find a fresh picture, perspective, insight, or comparison.
• Keep listening to the music by reading aloud each version of each poem.
Being consistent makes an effective choice too. For instance, some poets put a comma at the end of each line whether it’s needed or not, or they omit punctuation along each line then suddenly add a period at the end of a verse. Since a number of poets seem to be doing the same thing, this might be a trend (albeit ineffectual), or maybe the poet doesn't know normal punctuation works well, or maybe poets in general no longer learn about punctuation and grammar in grammar school.
Regardless of the reasons, poets and writers really need to fill or refill their toolbox of primary writing aids. If, for instance, you do not know how to apply punctuation or grind out grammar in appropriate times and places, you can improve your language skills by finding out what is correct and what is not. How?
Poets and writers with Microsoft Word software can:
Go to “File” then “Options” then “Proofing” and check the boxes needed.
Or call up a file you have saved in Word. Go to the “Review” tab on the menu bar, then click and activate “ABC – Spelling & Grammar.”
Your best options, however, include these suggestions:
Get a grammar textbook, preferably one written for grammar school kids! Why? Well, why not make learning as easy as possible?
Visit such sites as:
Chicago Manual of Style online
Guide to Grammar and Writing (college level)
Online Resources for Writers (from the University of Richmond)
Purdue Online Writing Lab
Studying proper use of grammar and punctuation might take some time, but then you will know the information and be able to use it in innumerable ways. Even more, though, as a poet or writer, your writing deserves whatever you can give – not tricks or weird maneuvers but skillful use of the tools of your trade.
© 2011, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved