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How Poets Use Punctuation as a Superpower and a Secret Weapon

How Poets Use Punctuation as a Superpower and a Secret Weapon
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How Poets Use Punctuation as a Superpower and a Secret Weapon

How Poets Use Punctuation as a Superpower and a Secret Weapon

A poet I do know, reluctant to outline what poetry can or can’t be, as soon as steered (considerably facetiously) {that a} bag of grime may very well be a poem if the poet deemed it so — calling to thoughts Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, the urinal was artwork by contextual/conceptual gesture alone. This obtained me serious about what my very own bare-minimum standards for poetry may be. A bag of grime in a gallery may be an set up, however I wasn’t fairly keen to concede it may be a poem — a poem should not less than, on some stage, I assumed, be verbal. However was that fairly proper? What about Aram Saroyan’s well-known visible poems, particularly the lowercase m with an additional hump — not even a phrase or a part of a phrase; an unletter. Possibly poetry solely requires typography — however doesn’t it additionally require sound, the sense that not less than in idea you may hear the poem? I do really feel I can “learn” that lengthy m — it has a sonic high quality — and the Saroyan poem “lighght.” An ampersand alone on a web page would characterize a pronounceable phrase. However what a few parenthesis, or a semicolon?

I’ve all the time cherished when a poet makes a punctuation mark her personal — take Emily Dickinson’s dashes, sometimes standardized as em-dashes in print, although in her handwritten originals, the marks had been extra ambiguous, some showing extra like sloppy intervals or commas, some strains slanted like slashes and even vertical, suggesting an idiosyncratic diacritical system. Alice Fulton invented a punctuation mark, a double equal signal she known as “the bride” (a reputation for the background threads that give construction to lace) or “the signal of immersion.” In a 2010 interview that I’ve returned to many occasions, Fulton relates these to Dickinson’s dashes (the bride is a “sprint to the max”) and to A. R. Ammons’s colons, glyphs which are “each current and silent,” “reticent but seen.” Maybe probably the most insistent instance of foregrounded punctuation is the citation marks in Alice Notley’s “The Descent of Alette” (1990), which seem round each phrase and a few single phrases, such that no phrase within the e book just isn’t encased in quotations. It begins:

“Someday, I awoke” “& discovered myself on” “a subway, endlessly”

“I didn’t know” “how I’d arrived there or” “who I used to be” “precisely”

As such we understand all of the language as a collection of discrete utterances, communicated haltingly, with problem, which has a mesmerizing impact, as if the poem weren’t the message itself however the medium, the channeling. In all of those situations, I do begin to hear the punctuation, rather more than I often hear it. Punctuation typically serves to pressure a pause, however the pause isn’t silence.

In a number of new books I learn over the previous yr, poets use punctuation and extra-linguistic symbols, like asterisks and different part markers (such a marker could also be known as an asterism or fleuron or dinkus, relying on its styling), to conjure nonverbal which means and nonverbal sound. THRESHOLES (Espresso Home, 112 pp., paper, $16.95), by Lara Mimosa Montes, makes use of a novel glyph, recognized in e book design as an decoration: slightly define of a circle that seems between fragments, a few of that are verse, often an remoted line or two; a few of that are prose, an essayistic paragraph or just a few in a row; and a few of that are attributed quotes, as in a commonplace e book. In some circumstances, Montes makes use of a single circle as a divider; in others, a collection of three, like a vertical ellipsis. These ornaments perform like punctuation on the stage of the complete textual content, relatively than the phrase or the sentence.

The circles underline the e book’s central query: Is absence a presence, is not any place a spot? (The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that holes are “an attention-grabbing case research for ontologists and epistemologists,” in that “we regularly attraction to holes to account for causal interactions,” and but holes are usually not strictly talking materials objects.) “Nowhere just isn’t a spot,” Montes writes, in verse; “It’s a modulation.” Later, in prose: “Generally dwelling in two locations directly (Minnesota and New York) brought about me to really feel as if I didn’t stay wherever as a result of nobody ever knew the place I used to be.” And in verse once more: “What if the nothing just isn’t a spot the place one can stay”; “What if there’s nothing? What if there’s not.” The circles, the titular “thresholes,” mark the thresholds between fragments (fragments which interrelate and accrue however by definition don’t fairly cohere), placing an indication that claims “HOLE” on what was already a gap, thereby making the outlet much less empty. It’s like a web page in a authorized doc that’s printed with “This web page deliberately left clean,” which is then now not clean. In Montes’s work, these labels appear to say, don’t skip the white house — the gaps between language are a part of the language.

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