Of all the different ways that Poetry is written, one of the most obvious grammatical markers is capitalization. In the following article I’ll go over the many types of capitalization briefly, and later add more in-depth thoughts on each style.
There are multiple ways to work with capitalization in poetry. For our sake, I will call them Line Capitalization, Sentence Capitalization, Alternative Capitalization, and Non-Capitalization. This article will just have the generalized types due to the length the article would need to be in order to go over the specifics for all of them.
Line Capitalization is when each line of a poem is capitalized, such as:
I saw you standing
In the green green grass,
And wished to join you
But was encased in glass.
I feel you. Standing in your way
Is the sun and moon, and o-zone
Between us, separating our love.
I am the moon, and you my
Native Earth, calling me home.
This is one of the most popular capitalization styles in general. It’s used widely through publication still today, and started in publication much older than we care to read. It’s not the be-all end-all that it likes to make itself out to be however. In many ways, this type of capitalization can feel stodgy and old due to how old the style actually is.
Line Capitalization is good for the old-style, nursery rhymed poems, but it meets its match when it comes to appealing to an audience which is experienced in other versions of capitalization.
Simply put, this style interrupts the eye flow of the reader by suggesting there is a new sentence every line. For a reader who reads through the lines, as people are trained to read poetry, it can break up the flow of reading and thus, is less prefered than otherwise.
Sentence Capitalization is when the poem is capitalized according to sentence structure, such as:
I saw you standing
in the green green grass,
and wished to join you
but was encased in glass.
I feel you. Standing in your way
is the sun and moon, and o-zone
between us, separating our love.
I am the moon, and you my
native Earth, calling me home.
Of the many types of capitalization, this is the most widely accepted today. If you pick up anthologies, this is probably the type of capitalization that you will see. This is because it is most grammatically familiar to us. Having something familiar allows us to hold onto what we already recognize as sentence and paragraph structures, and introduce us to something new, poetry stanzas.
We don’t have to think so hard to read it because we’re not fighting against capitalization telling us that there is a new sentence, and we don’t have to think so hard to read through the lines. This transitions us through the poem by providing familiar guidelines, rather than making a poem look so foreign.
Even among those poems which rhyme, this is more popular because it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the poem as the reader follows the capitalization indicators for tone since it’s larger than a period, and easier to see. Of the many ways of capitalization, this is the most common because it agrees with our natural sense of grammar.
Alternative Capitalization is more complex than the other types. It has rules, but not rules which are consistent. There are many types. It is the alternate to the other types of capitalization, meaning it handles all things which are not sentence, line, or non-capitalized, such as:
Capitalization according to inflection
tell me, Honey, give me your Two Cents
I SO want to hear what YOU have to say
because aPPARENTly, I’m WRONG.
Tell me the Stars are moving, the SUN
is nothing but Your Heart, and give me
the Moon of life from your body. I’ll accept
that Maybe, you love me enough, but you
Cheat and Steal
and for That, you are exiled to your orbit
about my amazing mass, watching my life
Self-Deprecating Capitalization, lacking “I” as capitalized
i have no right
to ask you for my sun.
You are so pure, so loving
so clean, and i am not.
You are the world, and i,
nothing but a dead rock.
Forgive me for my silent fears,
and maybe one day i can stand
among your glory.
And others such as capitalization for beat, and so forth.
Some of the advantages of this type of capitalization is to give us the ability to share fluctuation as we do in chat, and in discussions without intense use of punctuation. As CAPITALS is considered YELLING today on the internet, we can use THAT to our advantage and provide an inflection or SYNcoPAtion for those who are going to be reading on a stage.
Performing poets who publish their manuscripts from their performances often do this type of capitalization to provide a more original sense of the work. However, it is not that common among people who aren’t familiar with reading it.
On top of that, with brief promiscuities to a standard grammatical format such as when a writer chooses to not capitalize certain words that are supposed to be capitalized in standard grammar, and that is the only alteration to their standard grammatical structure, it is often considered ungrammatical rather than author’s discretion. It’s sort of like coming to Christmas Dinner with your pants on backwards., or eating with your mouth open. It’s considered “wrong” before they wonder if it was on purpose.
One of the ways that capitalization in poetry is misunderstood is through the belief that non-capitalization is a sign of rebellion. That’s really not the case. Non-Capitalization as a style is a poem which lacks capitalization such as:
i fear the gentle touch
of a lover’s hand upon my
cheek, as i rest among the pillows
and dream among the clouds.
lover, do not scorn me
don’t wash away my pain
as lacking inhabitable favors
from the stars. i hurt, i cry
and having you, despite my life
is all i hope to keep.
This type of poem often is just attempting to be gentle, or quiet, or informal, rather than being obstinate or unruly. Oftentimes, the same poem with the same capitalization can feel less personal, less like a plea, and provide the reader with a more self-assured tone. Either that, or a formal tone. At the same time, a poem about getting rid of conformities could sarcastically use perfect grammar and therefor capitalization, or imperfect grammar just using punctuation, and no capitalization. This mix allows the reader to develop their own sense of identity within the poem, and a new perspective.
This is one of the most up-and-coming types of poetry as well. Many young writers see this, and after getting over the shock of it lacking capitalization, learn to develop and love this style as it fits with the texting habits of their generation, and feels less formal because it’s not using school-house grammar so sternly.
Applications in Poetry
The different types of capitalizations are often used for different types of poems. While writing poetry, it is encouraged to explore all sorts of grammatical options, such as unique capitalizations, and different styles of punctuation in order to find the best fit for your poem.
While the capitalization of a poem might not look like it matters much, in reality, the capitalization actually provides the backbone of the emotional feel of a poem. To get the full effect of a poem, it should go through a stage where capitalizations are changed in order to determine what type of effect the poem’s language best connotes with. Poetry is an art, and art is as much about composition as it is the things composed with. The way a poem lays on a page, and looks on a page matters as much as what is said.
An overlooked feature of poetry on the internet today is the immediate sense of feel that a poem provides. We, as readers, can identify when a paragraph is too long or too short just by the length and size of the paragraph. One of our baser instincts of editing, even without knowing the language, is the size a paragraph should be. Similarly, we can tell certain things about a poem by looking at them. One of the markers we use to understand the style of poem is capitalization, so it is important not to overlook this detail when writing a poem.
Take my first two examples for instance; both of them have the same words. If you actually read the words, you picked up on that, but if you just read those words that have capitalization, you glanced around the second poem more than the first. Your eye traveled differently across the poem as you saw the capitalization, and that was on purpose. I used enjambment to create a poem with more inward, better movement than with Line Capitalization. This doesn’t matter much. The poem is still the same both ways, but it allows you to see the differences between the two styles and hopefully, explore them on some of your own peoms.