Writing Tips – How to punctuate a poem, 5 tips (podcast)


Hey everyone. Anna from girlsonkey.com. We do content about poetry. Today’s video is about grammar and punctuation for poets, so as an editor I’m just going to give you a quick overview and some tips. Hi everyone. So today we’re talking about punctuation and grammar for poets. It’s a little bit of a misunderstood area. So I’m just going to give you a little bit of an overview and some some tips on how to use punctuation marks effectively in your poetry. So the first thing to remember is that grammar and punctuation are not rules, they’re guidelines that were developed over many years as a way to interpret the written word as it would be spoken. So as in music there are certain ways of notating where there is a breath for example, how to inflect for example, the question mark. And so punctuation are our indicators of how to interpret the written word. So I’m going to go through each punctuation mark now. The first one is obviously the comma. The comma shows us where there is a pause, a break or a breath. And it just breaks up the line a little bit where there’s a long sentence or an idea. Now as an editor I wouldn’t use a comma at the end of a line because they’re not necessary, you’ve already got an implied pause there. But you’re welcome to of course, so any of these rules are able to be broken because at the end of the day poetry is an art form, it’s a written art form, so feel free to play around with them. You might want to be the next E E Cummings or Gertrude Stein, who were very experimental the way that they use punctuation. So we’re just talking about the comma and there’s something called a serial comma which is also sometimes called the Oxford comma, which is used in non-fiction texts as part of a style guide provided to a publishing house. They might use a Chicago style guide or the Oxford. Now what the serial comma is is to avoid ambiguity in a list. You might have a sentence such as: I’d like to thank my parents, Nickelback and God. Now if you had a comma after parents it would be read: to my parents who are Nickelback and God, so Nickelback and God are my parents. So to avoid the ambiguity like that we would pop a serial comma before the conjunction, before the and, so it’d be: to my parents, Nickelback, and God. So that’s the serial comma and we don’t really need to know about that in poetry, but it’s nice It’s nice to know that it’s there. The next punctuation mark is the colon, which is two periods on top of one another vertically. Now what the colon does, it has three different types, and then it also has some non-radical types as well. So the first type is where we want to introduce a list. So we have specialist types of art: and we list those types of art with commas. So one thing to remember with this type, with this use, is that if the items in the list flow on as as a sentence then we don’t need the colon. So if we said the gallery specialises in X types of art, that’s a run on, so we don’t need the colon. The next use of the colon is in between clauses to indicate an explanation or an illustration of that point. For example, both of my children play sport: Sally plays hockey, Brent plays soccer. So you have the little introduction and then you have the explanation or the illustration of that point after the colon. So the third type is for emphasis, so very similar to the em dash, which we’ll talk about later. So with this particular use, it might be another little qualifier. So he blow-dried my hair with panache: perfect. Now the semicolon has a period with an apostrophe underneath and it’s a little bit of a difficult one for some people. Now, what a semicolon does is it gives a pause but it’s a slightly longer pause then a comma. And it’s between two joined ideas. So where you might have a long sentence with two little ideas and so you want to separate them with a pause and what it does is it breaks the two ideas. So for example: he put his hand on mine gently; a way to indicate it was alright. So you see there’s two different ideas there. It gives a little pause between. One thing to remember with semicolons and commas is that if you already have a conjunction, which is words such as ‘and’, ‘but’ or ‘because’, you don’t need a comma or a semicolon because these words automatically imply a pause and there is a join between the two ideas. So if you have a conjunction, you don’t need a semicolon or a comma. So a question mark is quite obvious. It’s used right at the end of the line to indicate the inflection of a question. Now, the next is another little tricky one and it’s the apostrophe. Now, the apostrophe has two different uses. The first is possession, to show that something is owned by someone else. For example, the girl’s bandana would have an apostrophe to indicate that the bandana belonged to the girl. If the bandana belonged to many girls plural, then you would pop the apostrophe up after the s to indicate that it was many girls. So the girls’ bandana, with an apostrophe after the s indicates plural position. So the next use is for omissions. For example when you have ‘it is’ and you want to make that into a contraction it’s, then you would pop an apostrophe to indicate there is a letter missing, which is the ‘i’. So it is and it goes to it’s. So you have an apostrophe which indicates an omission. Say for example that you’re talking about a dog and you’re saying its biscuit was very big. So you would not have an apostrophe in that case. So when it comes to its, we don’t use the possessive apostrophe. So that’s just one thing to remember and I quite often as an editor have to go through and check those. So for ‘its’ we only use the omission apostrophe. So the last set of punctuation marks that I want to talk about are the three types of dashes: the hyphen, the en dash and the em dash. Some of you might not have heard of the en and the em dash. Now sub editors and publishers can put those in for you. If you’re not sure of the difference and might want to check with an editor and as a style thing often people just use hyphens. So the small one is the hyphen, the slightly longer one is the en dash and the longest one is the em dash. And they can be inserted as special characters when you’re in Word. So a hypen connects numbers or compound words together such as mass-produced or a phone number 332 -221-111. An en dash, E N, is slightly longer than a hyphen and it’s used to show a range for example July en dash October indicates July to October as a range or 22 to 23, a page range, with an en dash in the middle. So watch out for those particularly with ranges, make sure that you’re not using a hyphen there. For em dash, E M, is slightly longer than an en dash and it’s used in the same way as a comma but it gives more emphasis than a comma. So it’s indicating a break between two ideas in a sentence. But for example, Hunter paced the room em dash it was very confusing. So those are the types of dashes, and yeah, hopefully some of the these punctuation marks have been useful to you. Let me know in the comments if you have any other ones that you want to add or any questions about those, any ideas for videos or podcasts drop them in the comments, and we’ll see what we can do. Thanks guys. We’ll catch you in the next podcast or video.

1 thought on “Writing Tips – How to punctuate a poem, 5 tips (podcast)

  1. Thank you, I never thought to omit the comma at the end of a line in poetry, since the pause is already expressed. I stumbled onto the dash by chance, i.e. while reading works by Emily Dickinson.

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