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.

A Few Salient Notes on the Point of Punctuation

Nail Punches and HammersWhat is the point of punctuation? When can we be sure our marks are correctly selected and placed, knowing our readers will often think otherwise! Or worse, won’t care :( `

No. Shouldn’t punctuation be like a trip to a good dentist who pulls your tooth but you don’t feel a thing? Later, you feel for the point of that missing tooth with your proofreading tongue. Say goodbye to sunflower seeds, those single quote marks that helped along slow reads at the center of summer late inning baseball games. (Who is you, by the way? – but we should save that issue for a later post, because it has nothing to do with punctuation, but with person.)

The narrator of J. D. Salinger’s Seymour – An Introduction [when do we place titles in italics or “surround them with quote marks” and omit italics?], Buddy Glass, one of Seymour’s brothers, offers his reader a punctuation gift:

“…this unpretentious bouquet of early-blooming parentheses (((( )))).”

But he then suggests the “bouquet” more accurately portrays his “bowlegged…state of mind and body….” Buddy speaks to you as if the general reader is a good old buddy, one who does not pack a red-pen mentality correcting as he goes like a noisy street sweeper the debris of punctuation through streets littered with pot holes and broken gutters with missing horse rings.

Salinger’s narrator’s bouquet has always suggested to me an Army sergeant at rest, as indeed J. D. was.

Is placing letters or words in italics a form of punctuation?

What is ` used for?

What are {/} {/} but no worries this is not a test but a post on punctuation.

From Adverbial Beach (by Joe Linker):

Gently the blousy wordiness finally quiet down not but up again and continually.

Usually superlatively long only this hour lately awake before four too early darkly to call this morning while lately too late to hope for a verbly sleep.

The apostrophe is a comma that evolved from the sea and learned to fly away. Bring an apostrophe down to earth and you’ve got a nice crowbar.

The best punctuation works like the nailing in a tongue and groove hardwood floor; you don’t see the nails. For side edged, top nailed floors, keep a nail punch and hammer close at hand for countersinking punctuation marks that will otherwise trip up readers dancing and sliding by in socks.

Punctuation is such a trip, hipsters in the 60’s used to say, but members of that particular generation of hipsters, pockets full of commas, are beginning to reach their final ellipses.