Tag Archives: Punctuation

Punctuation Rules Your Serendipity @ Thursday Thoughts

Punctuation Cookies For National Punctuation Day

Punctuation Cookies For National Punctuation Day (Photo credit: DavidErickson)

9:36 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to Yellow River by The Tremeloes

Oof! My whole day is off-track. I started with a dentist appointment… hang on… phone rang: My son with the latest update on their move to Vermont. Now, it’s 10:21 and Me and You and a Dog Named Blue is playing. This post might take a while.

Punctuation. Where do I even start? It’s a pet peeve of mine, poems that are not punctuated and need to be. I don’t have a problem with minimal punctuation. Heck, I don’t have a problem with poems where the poet is so good at line-breaks that I don’t notice the lack of punctuation. I have even read a couple of poems with no punctuation whatsoever and thought to myself, That’s how it should be. But those are rarities.

Why is punctuation important? This is our, us writers, chance to talk with our readers: Pause here, but only for a 1/4 of a beat. This is an aside — pause longer — see these dashes, they mean you can read one thing jumping over the content between the dashes, another richer way, with what’s between. Pause here; breathe a 1/2 beat.

I came across several good sites while pulling my thoughts together and seeing what others are saying:

Punctuation in poetry is similar to punctuation in prose.  In many ways, it serves the same purpose as bar lines in music:  without them, the words and notes flow all together. Punctuation assists in organizing the written word into discernible packages or units. Punctuation in poetry serves the same function as in prose:   to encapsulate thoughts and ideas; to aid in coherence and the presentation of meaning (i.e., to avoid confusion); and especially to signal when and where to breathe. [Poet’s Workshop]

I would argue that, even in drafts, punctuation is important as a guide to ourselves through our own thinking regarding what we write. However, that’s a personal thing with each writer. Our poems become less creations of our persons once we post, or publish, poems. By posting, or publishing, we invite a whole world to join in the creation. There are few writers whose thoughts are so crystal clear on paper they do not require the aid of punctuation in interpreting those thoughts. Most readers require some guidance, so that their part in experiencing the poem is enjoyable.

How many of you have found yourself reading a poem and your brain says, Huh? What? and you have to go back and reread, maybe a couple of times, until the sense of the poem is clear to you? As a reader I am irritated if that happens. I want to read a poem as a whole and then choose to reread it because the content has made me think, Wow!, not, Huh? What? I want to grapple with, or enjoy, the form and content of the poem without obstruction.

If I leave the paragraphs in this post unstopped, or just missed the full-stop at the end, how many of you would think, Oops! She missed some punctuation. The same thing should hold for poetry. It drives me nuts to arrive at the end of a poem, but the writer has not told me to stop. The writer has left the poem unfinished, but the thought is clearly finished. The punctuation should match what is happening in the poem.

While I am generally more relaxed, more fluid now, on the topic [in that I will admit .01% of poems might work without punctuation], the lack of an end stop still rattles my bones, as does the out-dated convention of capitalising the first words of each line. I can hear feathers ruffling, but, it is a convention and it is out-dated. Almost every single reader of poetry, these days, has a brain that says, Capital letter = new sentence. They do not just read through. They go back to see what they missed, before they realise the writer is writing old-style, rather than the way most poetry is written now, with a capital letter only when a word begins a sentence.

Let me give you the links to two posts I wrote on this topic, one at the beginning of this blog experience, where I talk about what the most common punctuation marks do; the second, a slightly more recent one on the topic of enjambment [several of you will remember this one].

A thought from a writer of an article ‘Punctuating Poetry Part 1‘: In order to punctuate with purpose, however, a poet must understand two things: what she wants to achieve with the poem and what a piece of punctuation can achieve in a poem. This means a poet must understand more than the common rules of punctuation; she must know the effect that certain punctuation points can have on a reader or in a text.

Are there rules? Yes. Do we have to follow them? No. But, if we are going to put our poetry out in the world and expect people to read it, then we need to be aware of the effect of having, and not having, punctuation. We had also, better be very good at line breaks.

Can you tell this is my soap-box? Thank you for bearing with me. I shall see you tomorrow for the prompt roundup; Tuesday for a prompt on how strong memories feed our creativity [and a question about a possible future prompt]; and next Thursday for links, or announcements, if you have some to send me, or a topic, like today’s, that you would like me to take on.

Happy writing, all. I really need some coffee.



Posted by on 06/09/2012 in exercises, poetry, writing


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Your Serendipity @ Thursday Thoughts

7:57 a.m. — Atlanta

Listening to You Got to Me Neil Diamond

We have a couple of sites, two with longish reads, worth reading, so I may keep the places to visit down to three, this week. If three is a more manageable number for you, tell me. I am happy to post three a week [if I have three]. I am also going to talk about next Thursday, when we might have a topic post.

1] The first article, by Jo Eberhardt, is featured in WordPress’ Freshly Pressed, which is how I came across The Happy Logophile. She has an intriguing title for her post, so I stepped over to check. What she has to say about reviews and reviewers is fascinating [and stunned me — but in a world of paying for high school essays, I don’t know why]. She starts with: Up until a few months ago, I didn’t realise there was a seedy underbelly to publishing. But all of a sudden, I can’t seem to look anywhere without turning up odd or unpleasant behaviour from authors, publishers, or other members of the writing community.

Eberhardt gives us links to other voices on the subject [beware of Alan Baxter’s, if swear words bother you — I got a kick out of him]. The bonus is that she writes well. The article is worth a read.

2] One of the blogs I get in my inbox is Write to Done: Unmissable Articles on Writing, which has several contributing authors. The particular article I am offering is ‘A Kick in the Pants: How to Obliterate Distraction, Clear Your Head, and Finally Write What Makes You Happy,’ by Joe Pawlikowski. The title alone is worth the visit. The article is long, but well-written.

Pawlikowski’s audience is writers who get paid, but so much of what he says applies to us. Does this sound familiar: The process of distraction starts so innocently. It’s just checking Twitter a few times, and then loading Facebook. Then it mounts and builds. It’s checking my smartphone at every little notice. It’s browsing around the web, because hey, someone might have posted something new in the last three minutes. Visit him when you have a couple of minutes.

3] Finally, a talk by Seth Godin on one of my favourite topics, our lizard brains [I love just saying the phrase]. As one of his commenters says, it’s not about starting; it’s about finishing. You will need roughly twenty minutes and you can probably catch up on email while listening.

Okay, next week. I think it’s time to talk punctuation again. I did a post a year or two ago talking about what each punctuation mark does. Now it’s time to talk why punctuation. Plenty comes under the heading of punctuation. If you have something you want to be sure I cover, let me know.

I shall see you tomorrow for the roundup of prompts; Tuesday for a prompt to do with self [you should be quite warmed up on the topic]; and next Thursday for a discussion, if I have everything pulled together.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 30/08/2012 in poetry, writing


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Your Serendipity @ Thursday Thoughts

8:02 a.m. — Atlanta

Hello, all. We have quite a grab bag today, so let us start.

1] I came across the first article on a blog I subscribe to, For Bloggers By Bloggers. The title, ‘Finding Timely Images for Topical Blog Posts,’ is, well, timely and affects many of us, who like to use images from the Web. The premise is: ‘You also can’t just lift an image from a… site saying “kindly borrowed from xxx” – that’s still image theft and you can still be taken to court, found guilty and punished heavily’. Even some of the sites I am used to going to might be a little dickey, according to the author, Sarah Arrow, managing editor of Birds on the Blog [itself worth investigating].

Arrow lists the occasions we might find ourselves in trouble and then offers a site that she and other writers use. While their focus is topical items, I went to the site and typed in winter, then, even more general, trees. Not only did I get a wide variety of photographs, they were gorgeous. Visit, read the article, check out the photo site.

2] The article above arrived in my inbox shortly after I read ‘Beware of Copyright Infringement‘ over at imaginary garden with real toads. Serendipitous, no? Kerry O’Connor starts with: I received a complaint this week from a photographer whose image I used for a picture prompt on Real Toads last year without permission. Kerry includes a link to another article that will be of interest, ‘Bloggers Can Be Sued’. Go on over to read her short post, but also, read the comments. They are a discussion of sorts.

3] Need a little lightness? Try this one: ‘How to Eat Like Your Favourite Authors‘ from the site Flavorwire [which is a dangerous place. I was distracted by several items]. While your favourite author might not be among the ten listed, the article is great fun, including recipes from and by writers ranging from Dickinson to Rushdie. Head over. Oh, you already went and came back? I don’t blame you. Did you check out the bonus link, ‘love to drink’? Good heavens, go back. The link takes you to an article on ten writers and their favourite drinks.

The set up, for both articles, is to click next, for each writer. If you prefer a long list there is an option to view as a single page.

4] That was fun! Now, more serious: punctuation. I know, but it’s good for you. Judy Lee Dunn, whose site I also subscribe to, because of the plentiful information which I find of use, tells us that this is a topic that pushes her buttons. It pushes mine too, although I have mellowed a little. I still hold that punctuation guides a reader and adds clarity to poetry. However, this is a discussion of the exclamation point. When I taught, I banned them. Students who wanted to use one had to defend their use. Their writing became so much better with that small thing alone. Check out: Here She Comes to Save the Day!: ‘Wanton Exclamation Point’. Quite a title. Says it all.

5] I don’t want to leave you there, so something quick. Poets & Writers, recently, gave us a short video, about which they say: “Wonderful things happen when your brain is empty,” says artist and author Maira Kalman as she shares her thoughts on the difference between thinking and feeling, the inspiring power of walking in the city, and more. The video is charming and short, so take a minute to listen and watch.

I shall see you tomorrow for Friday’s Freeforall; Tuesday for the warm-up, transition back into new, uncharted prompt territory prompt; and, next Thursday for more serendipitous finds, unless you send me announcements you want to… announce, or, have a topic you want us to discuss, a question you want answered.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 16/08/2012 in poetry, writing


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Thursday Thoughts: Language Sites You Should Bookmark

8:22 a.m. — San Antonio

This moving back in time wreaks havoc with the brain. Granted it’s only an hour earlier, but it’s an hour earlier and it’s morning. If what I write is not terribly articulate, you can put it down to that. No, I don’t know what I am going to do in a couple of weeks when I move two hours further west…

So, dear readers, it occurred to me that one of the things I should occasionally have thoughts about are links you might bookmark to build a reference library for your writing. The sites I collect are mostly to do with poetry, language, and blogging [an art in itself]. Today, having finished several Thursdays focused on language usage, I shall talk about some links you may wish to visit and collect for yourself, on language.

The Rag Tree

Keep in mind that as many poets also write narrative, or prose poems, and some write flash fiction, that I will include posts and sites that deal with a more prose than poetry focus.

The first is one such. I will link you to a specific post worth reading and even keeping to hand, but The Rag Tree is also a site worth subscribing to, as he has many interests besides language and writes beautifully and articulately. He titles the piece: ‘Words That Abduct Your Audience’ and starts with, “Gone. That’s right. Nothing says more about you than the way you speak (or write). Here is a list of words that will turn your audience off and make them disappear into space…” While you are there, check out his different categories.

Grammar Monkeys

First, how can you resist the title? Second, whether you have a passion for grammar, or know it is a weakness, this is the site to have. They deal with common mistakes of grammar in a simple, straightforward, understandable manner. I have given you the link to the home page in their title, but I also want to give you links to two posts you should read: 1] ‘Why We Need Grammar‘. I wish I could have written this post, but as they say it better than I can, go read the essay. 2] ‘Nutty non-rules of grammar’. Much as I have said, their conclusion to the points they discuss is do what makes sense, but if you break a rule know what you are doing.

The Elements of Style

How many of you clutched a copy of Strunk and White anytime you wrote something in college, or if you were lucky, in high school? Despite being first published in 1918, they are still the first and last word in proper language usage and now they are online. [Although I still want my paper copies. I have three. Don’t ask.] I’m not sure there is a question they don’t answer.

Hyperbole and a Half

This post is worth a read, as, if it does nothing else, it will make you laugh. It does pertain to language, a misuse I was going to deal with, but I would much rather you see this post on the alot. If you enjoy the author’s humour and illustrations wander around.

Guide to Grammar & Writing

This is an incredibly thorough site with easy to navigate drop down menus. It pays to visit and wander and I have given you the home page link in the title. But, I want to direct your attention specifically to punctuation, as it is one of the most vital tools in a writer’s armoury.

The Oatmeal

Still having problems with the semi-colon. Visit! You will learn how to use one and you will laugh at the examples. What more can you ask?

These sites will provide a good start to our reference library. If any of you have a favourite language site, send it my way and I shall check it out and discuss it in a further Thursday Thoughts.

If you have questions, please ask; I always appreciate comments; and if you think someone would enjoy this [or needs it], click on one of the buttons below.

I shall see you tomorrow for the Friday roundup of prompts and exercises; Tuesday for an open prompt; and next Thursday for a discussion of poetic inversions.

Happy investigating and writing.


Posted by on 16/06/2011 in poetry, writing


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Tuesday Tryouts: Are We Talking Yet?

8:05 am, Tuesday — Atlanta

Good-day. I hope everyone had a good weekend. I am going to give you the second example of a dialogue poem. This one differs from the first exercise as it involves a third person narrator, so a little more story exists than that told through conversation alone. Next week we will switch to a first person narrator, so you can see how the story differs when told from a different point of view.


They met
near pickles
in A & P

He said
Do you know where
rutabagas are

She saw
the lone artichoke
in his cart. I can
show you the way

Between zucchini
and cherry tomatoes
they found it

It looks good
he said. He was
looking at

her eyes
playful as kittens:
I’ve never tried it

Let me fix you
some Sunday
he said.

–Dorothy Scheiber Miller

Note on Miller’s Punctuation:
Miller knows how to punctuate, but she wants to remove all clutter–words and punctuation–in order to concentrate the poem. To adjust for what’s missing, she provides other clues– arrangements of lines and stanzas–to serve the purposes punctuation usually serves.

As above, a dialogue poem can have both talk and narration/description. A third-person narrator tells a mini-story; characters speak dialogue. Look at how much we are told in so few words. Who tells what and how?

Draft a Dialogue Poem With a Narrator. You need someone to tell the poem. Whether your narrator is silent or participates in the dialogue, work for four or more exchanges between the speakers.

Decide whether to use quotation marks and other punctuation.

If you leave out quotation marks and punctuation, arrange things so a reader will understand who speaks where and when. Do not just leave them out without considering how it affects the way the poem works. Reflect on whether you had difficulty when reading the example poem, or whether it irritated you to have to work through it without clear signals.

Begin in medias res. No hello!

Dialogue adds layers and dimension to poems, so give this a try. I will see you Thursday for verbs and how important they are to poetry, and Friday for the usual.


Posted by on 15/03/2011 in exercises, poetry, writing


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