I don’t know about other folks here, but sometimes I have have trouble following along in a poem like I should. This mostly goes for poems that don’t have enough capitalization, line/stanza breaks or punctuation or poems that use these too much. I also don’t know if other writers intend the same pauses as I do when using the same punctuation, line/stanza breaks, etc.
Without cues (or with misused cues), I can’t discern where one thought begins or ends. This is especially true when two thoughts share a line (enjambment) or multiple thoughts span one stanza. I inevitably end up pausing at weird spots because I misjudge where I should be pausing.
I can remember this being a prevalent issue when reading poetry aloud in school as a child. Us shy types would would rush through the poem as quick as we could, never stopping between stanzas or between thoughts, regardless of the inclusion of aforementioned cues. Those who couldn’t read as well would stumble through the poem like it was the thickest mud you’ve ever had the displeasure of trekking through. If there had been cues that would normally signal a pause, full stop or other form of emphasis, they wouldn’t have noticed it, if they knew what it meant or not.
I see poems lacking poems lacking the cues readers need everywhere from school to Neopoet to Emily Dickinson to Shakespeare’s sonnets. For some, it’s overdoing the signals. You might come across a poem with capitalization on every line, using punctuation as if the poem consists of complete sentences, lines long enough to make the stanzas look like paragraphs, extraneous punctuation (a period and a question mark together, ten periods in an ellipsis etc. For readers who notice every capitalization and every punctuation mark and try to use it the way it’s intended, it can make the poem very difficult to get through.
The poet. May not intend. For readers. To. Read the poem. Like this but. Capitalizing. Every line might. But sometimes, not, because. Some readers are used to this traditional style. on the other hand no punctuation or capitals means that the thoughts go on and on without any pauses or stops at all so that the reader just keeps going this is not so good because the reader will not be able to make heads or tails of the beginning and end of each thought they will miss out on important details they also won’t be able to savor the language use.
My suggestion is for poets to find a balance between their signals. Pick and chose. Use a combination of line/stanza breaks, punctuation and capitals. If you want to put more emphasis on one or two of those, limit your use of the others.
You can have multiple thoughts on one line or multiple thoughts spanning a single stanza, but use something that will tell the reader to pause between the two different ideas.
Punctuation like commas, semicolons, em dashes, parentheses, and periods can all provide different kinds of pauses in your writing. Commas are a brief pause that tell the reader that more relevant information is to follow. A period is a full stop that means a totally new idea is coming. Semicolons are a pause longer than a comma but shorter than a period that means related information is coming, but the information is it’s own complete thought or complete sentence (or for long lists). You typically see a period used when you have a new subject or you are explicitly restating the subject in the sentence. Semicolons are used when a previously mentioned topic, subject or action is not being explicitly restated.
Sentences are made up of clauses. An independent clause is a complete sentence with a subject and action. A dependent cause is not a complete sentence because it relies on another clause to establish subject or action. Use a comma to separate an independent and dependent clause. Typically, a sentence with an independent and dependent clause will still be a complete sentence if you removed the dependent clause (remove “Typically,” from the beginning of this sentence and the rest still makes sense). A sentence that follows a semicolon is like a dependent clause, but is a complete sentence; the statement needs the previous sentence to establish the subject or action, but it’s a complete thought and using a comma would have created a run-on sentence or comma splice. Do you see how I used the semicolon above? I needed it because my subject was “the statement”. Well, which statement? The previous line gives me the answer: the sentence that follows a semicolon.
Em dashes (the long dash, like this —) are similar in usage to parentheses or commas in that they usually denote appositives. An appositive is “added information” that can be taken away from a sentence without making it an incomplete sentence (it’s a dependent clause of useful information). The en dash (the short dash like this -), or hyphen, (the part “or hyphen” is an appositive, marked by commas) is used to hyphenate words (if you removed all the appositives from this sentence you would have “The en dash is used to hyphenate words.”). You hyphenate words (like-this) when two (or more) words together creates one adjective (age-old story, fire-red eyes, low-budget film, ten-year-old brat).
Does that all make sense (especially the period and semicolon part)? It’s a lot to take in, but I thought it worthy of explaining since I’m talking about punctuation!
If used, capitalization should occur where it would normally be if there were complete sentences and proper punctuation. Basically, use a capital to note a new thought and for proper nouns. You may not want to use this method if you plan to have multiple thoughts on one line (a capital would be odd in the middle of a line).
Lastly, lines and stanzas can also be used in various ways to distinguish thoughts. A poem that is one stanza with multiple thoughts (or could have multiple complete sentences) can use punctuation or capitalization to separate thoughts so that the reader pauses or stops when they should. Lines and stanzas can be used to separate ideas as well (new thought = new line or new stanza). However, if you would like to use the “new thought = new stanza” concept, you may not want to be writing a very long piece. Aim for a few haiku-like stanzas and express your ideas as concisely as possible.
Remember, find a balance between the various cues that are available for signalling pauses and stops. Under-doing it or overdoing will make the poem difficult for many readers to get through. You want to guide your readers. And for readers and critics, make note of how the poet uses these cues. There should be purpose for every signal that is used. If the poem does not appear to have selectively and intentionally chosen cues, let the poet know. They should be carefully placing each one.
Learn more about punctuation here: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/section/1/6/
Have any questions about using pauses and other cues in your poetry and other writing? Feel free to leave a comment on this blog or contact me in the contact form on my "About Me" page.
See this blog post on Neopoet: https://www.neopoet.com/swamp-witch/blog/tue-2018-06-05-1327
There are many online options for some of the writer or poet’s most basic tools- the word processor, dictionary and rhyming dictionary, and thesaurus.
Here’s information about a few of these tools.
Most computer users will be familiar with MS Word, a common word processor with many useful features. What some of us may not know is that recent updates of MS Word (probably editions from 2010 and later) have built-in synonym and dictionary features. Some of the older versions have a define feature, but it is called “Look Up”. It is likely the most feature-rich of the word processors I know of, but it is also a paid software.
One downfall of MS Word is that it does not automatically save your work. I can not count the number of times I have lost work irreversibly in the past when MS Word was my only option. I have spent more than my fair share of time retyping entire essays from scratch at the last minute. If you need help saving your work on MS Word, check out this tutorial: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Save-a-document-in-Word-B7F55D8...
On the other hand, most online word processors have the benefit of being free (or just costing $1 - $2 USD) and automatically saving (the only downfall to that is you must be connected to the Internet for the auto-save feature to function, so any time you are out and about working on your tablet, laptop, or smartphone without a stable Internet/WiFi/mobile data connection, you won’t be able to save).
The most common free online word processor is Google Drive/Docs. It has somewhat less features overall compared to MS Word, but is a powerful tool for those who might otherwise obsessively click the Save button on MS Word! The great thing about this online word processor is that it is connected to your GMail account, so you can access it anywhere from any computer or device just by logging into your GMail account. There is also a Desktop/’Google Drive for Windows” feature which allows you to download Google Drive for your personal computer and syncs your documents for offline access.
Google Drive does not have a Synonym feature, but it does have an “Explore” feature. By right-clicking on a word and selecting “Explore ---”, you will bring up a pane that gives you web, image, and Google Drive search results of that word. You can do the same thing with an entire phrase by selecting/highlighting the phrase then right-clicking (learn how to select text in the above Copy and Paste tutorial).
If these particular apps are not your style, a simple/free notepad app or one of these note-taking apps may be better: http://www.gadgetmatch.com/best-note-taking-apps-phone-android-ios/
For those writers who want a simplified, clean, focused, and uncluttered writing/typing experience with less bells and whistles (maybe even something akin to old typewriters) try these: http://fieldguide.gizmodo.com/9-minimal-word-processor-apps-for-distract... or Ywriter4: http://www.spacejock.com/yWriter4.html
The online/digital options for online dictionaries and rhyming dictionaries are just as plentiful, if not more plentiful, than word processes (the above links only share some of the available ones). Google can define words for you without using an additional dictionary by simply searching the word with “define” such as “define alliteration” or “alliteration define” as the search terms.
English to Other Language Dictionaries
For an online rhyming dictionary, my go-to is RhymeZone. Rhymezone features a dictionary, rhyming dictionary, thesaurus, near rhymes, and many other features useful for poets like searching for specific phrases or searching for a usage of a word in Shakespeare. It has the added benefit of organizing the words it provides by syllable so that you can find the perfect word to fit a syllable count in your poetry.
For picking end, middle, double, or other types of rhymes, (and also learning about the many different types of rhyme) use Rhymer.
To generate random words by part of speech or other parameters, try one of these generators (great writing prompt):
I'm just your average fictional creature, living in a swampland by the sea.