Lessons Learned: Punctuation and Poetry

Punctuation Perils

I found this cartoon at Re:imago.

I found this cartoon at Re:imago. Click to enlarge or visit Re:imago

Editors don’t like semicolons. Did you know that? I didn’t. I’m a bit offended on their behalf, because I love semicolons. They inspire you to pause a bit longer than a comma would, but they don’t completely stop you like a period. They allow writers to extend a thought without disrupting the flow.

Seriously, I just learned that semicolons are a no-no in fiction. Apparently editors believe they slow readers down because they aren’t familiar with that particular punctuation mark. Hmmm… Does that mean that people without a college education are ignorant of punctuation? Why isn’t it covered in elementary school or high school?

In my English Comp I class there was an enlightening conversation about this maligned punctuation mark. I remember vividly because I learned how to use them correctly at that time, but I knew of their existence before then. Maybe folks don’t recognize the semicolon and writers shouldn’t use them in fiction. What do you think?

I think I’ll be doing a search and replace on my novel. *sigh*

Poetry Purgatory

Photo courtesy of Paula Patrocínio and stock.xchng

Photo courtesy of Paula Patrocínio and stock.xchng

I recently discovered the Triolet and though I usually steer clear of form poetry I decided to give it a try. I researched the form in some of the books I have on poetry and read a few poems. I discovered that many people have thrown out meter rules and only adhere to the rhyme and repeat scheme.

I wrote a triolet and thought it was pretty good – well, decent at least. I used eight syllable lines which seems to be missing from more recent triolets. However, it wasn’t until after I put the poem aside did I learn that the lines should be in iambic tetrameter.

It’s safe to say I’m rubbish at iambs. I remember trying to write a sonnet for one of my creative writing classes. It’s what made me give up on poetry for so long. You can call me a ditzy blonde when it comes to the ta-TUM rhythm, because I just don’t get it. Don’t get me wrong, I understand two syllable words being divided into stressed and unstressed parts. It’s the one syllable words that bedevil me. If you have any advice on the subject, I’m all ears.

I don’t plan to give up on poetry, but I’ll probably just dabble with form and focus most of my energy on free verse.


Have you learned any lessons recently that you’d like to share? Leave me a comment because I’d like to know I’m not the only one still learning the ropes.

  • I’ve been hearing about this semicolon hate lately too, and I think it’s a little silly. Yes, they can be overused, but they *do* serve a purpose! They link to sentences together. A semicolon shows the relationship between two thoughts — and that there is a relationship. A comma wouldn’t be grammatically correct between two complete sentences, and a period just doesn’t carry the same meaning. I’m on team semicolon (used properly)!
    And as to the triolet… I’m a fan. But remember this: the form should serve the poem, not the other way around. If a form doesn’t work for you, toss it out! And if you want to use it but break the “rules,” go for it. There are purists who disagree, but I write by the idea that form should be a vehicle for expression, and if that vehicle isn’t getting you where you want to go you can always hop into another. 🙂

    • Three cheers for Team Semicolon! Right now I’m of the mind to do it their way (on some issues) until I can get my foot in the door then I’ll slowly revert to my old self. I won’t compromise my vision of story and characters, but changing some punctuation along the way isn’t too much of a hardship.

      The triolet that I did write *without the correct iamb meter* works as it is. I don’t plan to mess with it. I agree with you about the ‘vehicle for expression.’ Some of the poems I’ve started would work better in constrained form and I’m dabbling with them using the restrictive methods – hopefully I’ll learn from doing so. Other poems are just too sweeping and need the free verse to do them justice.

      I’ve really enjoyed renewing my passion for poetry, even with the obstacles I’ve encountered.

  • I’ve been hearing about this semicolon hate lately too, and I think it’s a little silly. Yes, they can be overused, but they *do* serve a purpose! They link to sentences together. A semicolon shows the relationship between two thoughts — and that there is a relationship. A comma wouldn’t be grammatically correct between two complete sentences, and a period just doesn’t carry the same meaning. I’m on team semicolon (used properly)!
    And as to the triolet… I’m a fan. But remember this: the form should serve the poem, not the other way around. If a form doesn’t work for you, toss it out! And if you want to use it but break the “rules,” go for it. There are purists who disagree, but I write by the idea that form should be a vehicle for expression, and if that vehicle isn’t getting you where you want to go you can always hop into another. 🙂

    • Three cheers for Team Semicolon! Right now I’m of the mind to do it their way (on some issues) until I can get my foot in the door then I’ll slowly revert to my old self. I won’t compromise my vision of story and characters, but changing some punctuation along the way isn’t too much of a hardship.

      The triolet that I did write *without the correct iamb meter* works as it is. I don’t plan to mess with it. I agree with you about the ‘vehicle for expression.’ Some of the poems I’ve started would work better in constrained form and I’m dabbling with them using the restrictive methods – hopefully I’ll learn from doing so. Other poems are just too sweeping and need the free verse to do them justice.

      I’ve really enjoyed renewing my passion for poetry, even with the obstacles I’ve encountered.