Monday, March 26, 2007

The End of Periods

In terms of my own poetry, I tend to move in and out of the usage of punctuation I suppose based more on mood than anything. Exactly why, I could not say and this bothers me. Sometimes in the process of rewrites I’ll add it and at other times I’ll take it away. There seems to be no real rhyme (no pun intended) or reason for my adherence or departure from punctuation. It bothers me not that I punctuate or not punctuate. What disturbs me is that if asked, I could not justify my decision. Line breaks, stanzas, etc. I’ll be able to give you a reason.

Some time in the 1960’s W.S. Merwin, whose work I greatly admire, moved away from punctuation. Merwin writes that, “By the end of the poems in The Moving Target I had relinquished punctuation along with several other structural conventions, a move that evolved from my growing sense that punctuation alluded to and assumed an allegiance to the rational protocol of written language, and of prose in particular. I had come to feel that it stapled the poems to the page. Whereas I wanted the poems to evoke the spoken language, and wanted the hearing of them to be essential to taking them in.”

I find a great deal of favor with Merwin’s justification, at least the idea of separating my poetry from prose. Yet, I am from the school that believes seeing the poem on the page can be an essential part of enjoying it as well. The spacing, open or closed on the page, the length of lines can so often speed up or slow down the reader to give the poet some control over tone. I don’t deny that punctuation can add to that process as well. Perhaps this is one reason that I have trouble making the break altogether.

I do find some comfort in knowing that Merwin’s change seemed to be an evolutionary transformation and did not just occur over night.
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