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Rated: ASR · Editorial · Educational · #717284
To punctuate or not to punctuate, that is the burning question.
Recently there has been a lot of debate about the need to punctuate poetry. A lot of very judgmental and brash statements have been made. I am taking a stand for the punctuation-less poem. Not all poems need punctuation! There, I said it. Of course, there are loads of poems where punctuation is most definitely necessary, but there are also cases where it is not. This is especially true when each line consists of three words or less. By trying to punctuate a poem like that you end up looking ridiculous, and having a page full of dots. Is a period so pretty that you'd rather have more of them on a page than words? I think not.

Let’s use one of my own poems ( Sanguine Words ) as an example:

Silent (sullen)
silky words
slip away
a passing phrase
a piquant quip
a fingertip
(and anguishing)
in liquid time
squeezing pieces
for any meaning
yet never seeing
the riddle behind the rhyme

Caught in the tides of time.

glowing gods
parade jaded laws
wielding worded walls
like weapons

Stones and staves
bars and blades
a sword
a spear
an adze
the word-titans clash
the survivors seek a way
But they're blinded by the rage.

Hushed and calm
soundlessly still
the moments move away

Madness and passion seethe
for your worded walls believe
in the cages they create.

Is the below version really any better?

Silent (sullen).
Silky words.
Slip away.
A passing phrase.
A piquant quip.
A fingertip.
(And anguishing.)
In liquid time.
Squeezing pieces.
For any meaning.
Yet never seeing.
The riddle behind the rhyme.

Caught in the tides of time.

Glowing gods.
Parade jaded laws.
Wielding worded walls.
Like weapons.

Stones and staves.
Bars and blades.
A sword.
A spear.
An adze.
The word-titans clash.
The survivors seek a way.

But they're blinded by the rage.

Hushed and calm,
Soundlessly still,
The moments move away.

Madness and passion seethe,
For your worded walls believe,
In the cages they create.

I daresay it's not, I think in cases of poetry that consists of short lines (or where the beat is the driving factor) good line breaks take the place of punctuation - and often punctuation detracts from the composition.

Obviously this isn't true for all poems. I myself write poems with and without punctuation. I feel, personally, that if the lines can stand alone as sentences then punctuation is needed. But to flat out say that ALL POEMS should contain punctuation, or to refuse to read a poem based solely on whether or not it is punctuated is about as ludicrous as saying that all stories should be told in the third person, past tense. It is stifling to creativity, and encroaches upon artistic freedom in a way that would not be tolerated in another genre. ( Not to mention more than a little pompous!)

Who are we, any of us, to think that we have the right to dictate what is “correct” when it comes to art? Blanket statements and generalizations are not something we should be doling out like fortune cookies. Every poem should be judged on its own merit, not a preordained list of fictitious rights and wrongs. Very few things in life are that cut and dried, and art is a very liquidy business.
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