Punctuate Yourself

Punctuate, yourself.
A few points on punctuation.
Punctuate yourself!
Can we pull over, please?
I have to go punctuate.
But there’s nowhere to stop!
I’m going to runon.

Imagine you’ve just finished a possibly remarkable poem (into which you’ve poured the decanted, pure liquid of your heart and soul, not to mention other vital organs), if a poem can be said to ever be finished (be it ever so humble), in any kind of existential sense (which we know it can not – can never end), and the first, perhaps the only, criticism that is offered remarks on the lack of commas or periods – a comment on the punctuation used, or not used, in your poem, ignoring the fact that an apparent absence of punctuation is, still, a kind of punctuation. But in fact, your poem is called (critics love name calling) a run-on sentence. Or, in any case, that’s the only comment you get, that there’s a run-on indeed there is so you have no or little defense.

But punctuation is pertinent to poetry, and poets should take due care to punctuate their poems. What is punctuation? We often, maybe, think of punctuation as a tool used to separate. To insert. To come between. A wedge in thought and time, or speech. We insert a punctuation mark. We dot. We apostrophize. The punctuationist seeks to achieve stasis – no more morphological change, by which we mean the study of shape. Punctuation, then, suggests change. To mispunctuate is to risk sudden change in selection and variation – in other words, to introduce ambiguity (mutation).

Adorno wrote a short essay on punctuation, on punctuation marks, to be specific – as if punctuation consists of a kind of graffiti sprayed across one’s text.

Note how Adorno moves from anthropomorphic comparison to explaining writing as driving a car. And then apparently turns on the car radio, and there too, in the canned music, finds punctuation. He thus shows the difficulty of even talking about punctuation as it might exist in its own right.

We find punctuation endlessly interesting, and appreciate the attempts of our readers to find clarity and avoid ambiguity in our writing. Unfortunately, achieving clarity and avoiding ambiguity are often not the primary aims of poetry. What is clear is often opaque. What is meant is often not what is meant at all. This is not to suggest that poetry is a game of hide and seek (though that does often seem to be the point of the universe). Poetry may indeed be viewed as a kind of punctuation – where we insert in our day or night a comma or period of rest and pause, of relaxation, where, or within which, we may reflect and attempt to come to terms with our predicament.

Indeed, we might even say that poetry is punctuation. And punctuation is poetry, even if mispunctuated.

3 Comments

  1. Dan Hen says:

    Only punks punctuate poetry while poets proceed within pointedly prickly paths of propriety possibly . We should probe the small possibility of probability that portentiously poking fun at poets gets one in poetry prison at least a few poo poo points perhaps .
    Go punctuate yourself — okay , we can leave it at that . Runon ! ; oh , I meant to say : carry-on !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe Linker says:

      now there’s some punctuation full of pee & vinegar

      Like

      1. Dan Hen says:

        I think Old Pee and Vinegar was a WWII general . Generally speaking .

        Like

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