This is coming from a place of frustration. I’m sorry if I’m about to offend you, but honestly, your poetry will thank me.
I have been requested to read and review several poetry books recently, and they all have one, rather obvious thing in common.
They have no capitalisation, no punctuation, and sometimes no verses 😱.
Now before I go any further, please note that I am not attacking anyone who has a legitimate reason for pursuing this type of formatting. Rupi Kaur, for instance, has cultural reasons that make her decision to forgo the use of punctuation and capitalisations… poetic.
I’m specifically upset with poets who do it because it’s “easier” “popular” or “modern”. I recently had a conversation with someone who had put out a chapbook without capitalisation and verses. I, wanting to give him a fair shot, sent him an email asking about his decision. He sent me a link to a few other reviews, basically implying that the reader could get more meaning out an unformatted poem. I don’t know how to say this nicely, but he clearly doesn’t read poetry.
Poetry is such a unique and powerful mode of communication that utilises every word, comma, period, and full stop to introduce meaning to a piece of work. The places where you allow the reader to breathe are the places that show you where you need to stop and think.
Pacing can tell you the tone of the poem, whether it’s dark and moody, frantic and skippy or smooth and happy. There are so many indicators when it comes to poetry that tells the reader what you are trying to say. Without using these methods, it is almost impossible to dig deep enough to discover the meaning behind any poem.
I get it, punctuation in poetry can be intimidating, especially when you don’t know how to use it. The thing about punctuation is that it doesn’t undergo some magical change whenever it is put into poetry; a comma, is still a short break. A full stop is a longer one — a dash allows the connection of thoughts — or the breaking of one.
It is very likely, that when you read your poem out loud regardless of whether or not it has been punctuated, that there are specific places where you pause. Where you would use punctuation to emphasise a point. The reader doesn’t know where these places are unless you punctuate them!
Next is an argument for titles. More and more, I see poems that are being left titleless. I can’t help but feel sorry for these poor unfinished works.
A good title will expand the piece of work, allowing for more information to be explained without the confines of a poem itself. For instance, a sad love poem might be about a lover who has left the person they loved or the world behind. A title like ‘The Grave’ could establish that a person has been lost to the world. Without having to say so in the poem Assigning relevant titles can enhance the meaning of your work or show the humour in it.
When a poet chooses to forego these useful tools in their poetry without a cultural or personal reason to do so, I find it difficult to read their work with respect. To me, it appears as though the poet is either lazy or confused about what makes a poetic thought poetry.
I know that this is a controversial opinion, and ultimately you have the right to write whatever you want to.
You will, however, get much more respect from poetry readers if you establish that you understand the makeup of a great poem.
Ultimately your poetry is going to reflect who you are as a poet, so make sure what you put on the page represents you! You can style and format your work any way you like but please, make sure that you’re doing what you’re doing for a reason. As always, I cannot wait to see you on the bookshelf!