“To His Brooke.” Review

Edmund Spenser’s  “To His Brooke.”

For those of you who don’t happen to have a wonderful copy of The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser or those of you who have never heard of Edmund Spenser before you searched poetry on WordPress, here’s a copy of the poem I will be talking about.

To His Brooke.

Goe little brooke: thy selfe present,
as child whose parent was unkent:
To him that is the president
Of noblesse and of chevalree,
And if that Envie barke at thee,
As sure it will, for succoure flee
Under the shadow of his wing,
and asked, who thee forth did bring,
A shepheards swaine saye did thee sing,
All as his straying flocke he fedde:
And when his honor has thee redde:
Carve pardon for my hardyhedde.
But if that any aske thy name,
Say thou wert base begot with blame:
For thy thereof thou takest shame.
And when thou art past jeopardee,
Come tell me, what was sayd of mee:
And I will send more after thee.


With the text out of the way, I’d like to talk about the poem, but first, there’s one more order of business. I want to paraphrase the poem as well, so if you don’t want to read my paraphrase of the poem, skip the next speech box.

Read More »


Line Punctuation

Line Punctuation is one of the most common forms of punctuation for old styles of poetry. If you flip through an old poetry book, you’re going to run across it, and most teachers show poems with line punctuation first in their classes.


Line Punctuation Value

The value of line punctuation really breaks down to one thing, reading poetry. When a reader has line punctuation, they feel more at ease reading a poem if and only if they have a habit of stopping at the end of a line.

Since poetry used to be all about that sound, ’bout that sound, ’bout that sound, not written, the end of the line usually was the end of a sentence, or where a period, exclamation point, comma, dash, or other type of punctuation was sitting.

After all, when poetry was first transcribed and read in letter, it was meant to be read for those who were still illiterate for a long time afterwards. It wasn’t common to read poems in print, therefor the language had to be geared towards shorter lines with obvious beat and punctuation that assisted the reader to get it right each and every time, and the same each and every time.

Rhyming also has some support with line punctuation because the natural meter that line punctuation can provide, can help hide or stretch some of the rhymes that are weaker than others. Using line punctuation cannot make words like word and fear rhyme, but word and chard, yeah, it might hide that if you’re good.


There are some exceptions to the rule ‘punctuation at the end of every line’, like with everything. Line punctuation was never meant to be a strict thing, it was happenstance due to the meter and way that poetry was developing into a literary tool. For instance, when flipping through a book of Spenser, who is a poet around the mid to late 1500s before the standardization of a dictionary was widely accepted (1700ish), we have this poem:

To His Brooke.

Goe little brooke: thy selfe present,
as child whose parent was unkent:
To him that is the president
Of noblesse and of chevalree,
And if that Envie barke at thee,
As sure it will, for succoure flee
Under the shadow of his wing,
and asked, who thee forth did bring,
A shepheards swaine saye did thee sing,
All as his straying flocke he fedde:
And when his honor has thee redde:
Carve pardon for my hardyhedde.
But if that any aske thy name,
Say thou wert base begot with blame:
For thy thereof thou takest shame.
And when thou art past jeopardee,
Come tell me, what was sayd of mee:
And I will send more after thee.


As you can see, the poem is before the time when words were spelled like they are today. This is back around/before Shakespeare, and it has two lines that do not have punctuation at the end. “To him that is the president” and “As sure it will, for succoure flee” both lack a punctuation mark at the end!

This was during the time when punctuation at the end of a line was at it’s height, and the majority of his poems have the cadence that support punctuation falling at the end. So what can this tell us today? Well, that it’s not necessary even when using an older style to maintain strictly to having punctuation at the end of literally every line. There’s more to it than that.

Putting it Together

What line punctuation is good for is when you’re writing a poem with a certain meter [cadence] and you want to ensure that meter is being met. That means the writer is using those punctuation marks more like breath punctuation, or to follow the inflection of the poem, rather than just because it’s the end of a line.

Traditionally, meter ends at the end of the line with a strong or soft beat that feels like the end of the pattern, and therefore it ends up with end punctuation. This is when it’s typically supported the most by how the poem is read. If a poem doesn’t read with a meter, chances are it won’t look good, or sound good, with line punctuation.

  1. Not all lines need punctuation at the end
  2. Metered poetry supports line punctuation
  3. Rhymes also support line punctuation as rhymes can be part of metered poems
  4. Line punctuation supports a reader who wants to stop at the end of each line
  5. It can seem like a really old style for a poem.

Down Sides

The problem with using line punctuation might seem obvious to some of you by this point, especially those of you who are familiar with it from personal experience, but let me lay out how I’ve responded as a reader to line punctuation.

Most of the time, poets who are trying to be dramatic use line punctuation exclusively. They will write poems like:

My life is a lie …
I want to die …
If only,
If only,
I wasn’t so lonely.
No one loves me.
My cat hates me.
I want to drown in the sea!

And being someone who handles a lot of unpracticed poets, I am stuck trying to explain why it doesn’t have any emotion when they’re talking about suicide. So where do I begin? Personally, I start with structure because these lines are not beefy and that’s a big part of the problem.

Taking away the line punctuation doesn’t help this poem, by any means, but, after seeing a lot of poems like this, and writing a lot of them myself when I was at that delicate age of hating the world, I grew out of love with line punctuation. So the first thing I check whenever I read the poem as a critiquer is line punctuation and capitalization. If those two things are there, chances are, I’m not going to like this poem as much.

If the poem shows promise after I get by the first two lines, I try to struggle away my general dislike from years of handling poorly written line punctuated and capitalized poems, but it can be a struggle.

When I did Submission Reading for literary magazines, and when I do contests, these two things are top on the list of annoying things for most readers I was speaking to. Just to stand out, staying away from these two things can be a good idea. The third top thing was rhyming in poems.

That being said, don’t let it compromise your poem if the poem feels best with this formal style. Just know what battleground you’re entering if you want to submit it.

Should I Use it?


I am a strong advocate for using anything and everything in your arsenal, so line punctuation is no different. The question should never be ‘should’, but ‘when’ because it has it’s time and place.

For instance, if you were writing a haiku, probably not the best time to use line punctuation. Haiku aren’t a style that benefit from the added structure because they started out with their own structure and rely on a couplet, and a turn.

However, if you are writing a villanelle, or a cinquain, or some other form of poetry that either requires meter and/or rhyme, using end punctuation and enjambment can create a completely new and unique atmosphere for an old style of poetry, or an older feeling to make it seem dated and antique.

The best thing for you to do as a poet is to experiment and read. The more you read, the more you’ll discover what touches your funny bone, kicks you in the shin, or gives you a back massage after a long day’s work. In other words, you’ll find what you like and what you don’t like. If you avoid writing the types of poems you don’t like, you’ll find an audience who likes what you like too.

After all, we’re a bit of a niche right now. Most people who read poetry are those who write it, so if you, as a writer, don’t like something, chances are your audience doesn’t either.

If you enjoyed reading about line punctuation, check out Quirni on Amazon Kindle to see how I utilize my poetic language in a full on science fiction adventure! Join Erica as she explores a whole new world in Book One and help support my blogging hobby by buying a copy.

Have a question? Write a comment!

I would love to hear from each and every one of you about your experiences with poetry, writing, fiction, or anything else on this blog! If you don’t find somewhere you feel comfortable commenting, leave it on my “About” page and I’ll get to it ASAP!

Thanks so much for reading, and stay subscribed for new updates!

Punctuation in Poetry

I mentioned during my segments on capitalization in poetry that I would go over punctuation in poetry in a similar manner. Well, the time has come so let’s dive in with getting an overview of all of the different types of punctuation I’ve seen in poetry. If you’ve seen more, please comment and write your post about your style of punctuation you’ve seen, and I’ll link it in this post! I’d love for this to be collaborative.

The types of punctuation I see most in poetry are what I’m going to call Line Punctuation, Sentence Punctuation, Breath Punctuation, or No Punctuation. This is not an exhaustive list so I’ll add in ‘Alternative’ Punctuation as a final catch-all category to show you some of the author specific methods. I will go over each one briefly but this article is mostly for naming and explaining what they all are. In later articles I’ll go over each one individually and those links will be edited into this article once those articles are posted.

Line Punctuation

First up is the traditional. Line Punctuation is for when a poem has end punctuation, or very standard punctuation for the syncopation of the poem.

The blue buds bloomed,
beneath the spring sun —
little heads peeking, slowly,
a tentative reach for warmth,
after the long winter.

They calmed into the nippy day,
as it warmed, their green shoots;
unprepared for night, they frosted.

The important thing to note is that not all lines end in just commas. Sometimes they get jumbled up with other punctuation types, but each and every line has punctuation at the end and the beat for each line is typically the same, or at least similar. This is most commonly seen in older styles of poetry.

Today some people see this end punctuation structure as naive because it can break up the flow of the poem, and hinder any real distance of a breath. You’re not reading through the lines to keep the reader interested in these poems, but pausing to contemplate each one. That takes longer as a reader, and sometimes it can lose interest.

The best place for this is when you’re trying to mimic a slower style of poetry, or an older style. If you’re using spoken word and you want each line to be impactful, it’s often a good thing to use as well because you don’t want your readers reading through the end of the line if the end of your lines are your important loud sounds.

Sentence Punctuation

This type of punctuation is based on the idea that poems are made up of sentences and it often pairs with Sentence Capitalization. Basically, if you would punctuate it in a paragraph, you punctuate it in the poem like that.

The blue buds bloomed beneath
the spring sun. Little heads peeking
slowly, a tentative reach for warmth
after the long winter.

They calmed into the nippy day as it warmed
their green shoots. Unprepared for night,
they frosted.

The example above is the same words, I just changed the punctuation to show you something fun you can do with sentence punctuation: enjambment. Because you aren’t constrained by having to end with punctuation, you can make different styles of liens and get a more varied experience with a poem using Sentence Punctuation.

This style is the most commonly used today for punctuation in poetry that I’ve seen due to the versatile nature and the general acceptance of grammar guidelines for any other form of writing applying. If you need a comma as a paragraph, you need a comma for a poem. Oftentimes this makes it easier for readers who are more unfamiliar with poetry to accept and read the poem as well due to the familiar nature.

Sentence Punctuation works best with poems that aren’t trying to rebel against anything, or show anything off aside from their words. If you want the punctuation to be in the background, this is a good choice.

Breath Punctuation

This is one of the less traditional methods of punctuation. Basically anywhere you pause while reading your poem, put a comma, anywhere you stop, put a period, and anywhere you feel like it, put whatever other type of punctuation you want. You need to be consistent with what you’re using the punctuation for, but after that, it doesn’t much matter.

The blue buds, bloomed, beneath
the spring sun. Little heads, peeking
slowly, a tentative reach, for warmth
after the long, winter.

They calmed, into the nippy day, as it warmed
their green shoots. Unprepared for night,
they frosted.

This style can be used for more dramatic readings and as a reminder if you’re reading spoken poem where you want your pauses to be. Oftentimes this type of punctuation will get comments that you’re using punctuation wrong however, if you’re on a poetry reviewing site. This could also be why I am slowly beginning to see more of it accepted into poetry magazines. It’s harder to see that the writer isn’t just using punctuation wrong, but the general guideline of it is very straightforward. Read it how the poet wrote it. Use the punctuation as guideposts as they are meant to be.

This is paired best with Sentence Capitalization or Breath Capitalization surprisingly enough because if you’re using either one, the punctuation pretty much falls together with the style. No Capitalization also works nicely with this, especially if you want to add just a touch of structure to your lack of capitalization.

No Punctuation

This style is one of the easiest to edit into a poem. Basically, any punctuation you use, take it out. There is some debate about leaving things like apostrophes and other spelling punctuation, so that is up to the poet.

The blue buds bloomed
beneath the spring sun
little heads peeking slowly
a tentative reach for warmth
after the long winter

They calmed into the nippy day
as it warmed their green shoots
unprepared for night they frosted

As you can see I went back to the line punctuation version of this poem to show you the effects and how this works. Without punctuation, our brains will automatically decide where we want to stop and start sentences, so naturally it’s a little easier to see the sentences if we have clear chunks that don’t have enjambment. Because of that, this style lends itself well to shorter lines which are usually just verb/noun/etc. phrases.

The effect on the reader can range depending on the style of capitalization you choose to pair with this particular style of punctuation, so this one is worth exploring. I’ve often found that it works best with dark or brooding poems, or poems that are showing some form of rebellion because we’re stripping away the societal norm of guidelines for how to read something, and imposing the reader’s choice. It can create multiple different ways to read a single poem and a lot of younger poets really love that aspect of this style. You can allow the reader to explore and really just step back into the audience as the poet.

Alternative Punctuation

Some more styles of punctuation that some people use are:

  • Ellipsis Punctuation: Putting . . . at the end of each line for dramatic effect.
  • Dash Punctuation: Look up Emily Dickinson.
  • Meter Punctuation: Do the same thing as breath, but for the meter strictly.
  • Image Punctuation: e. e. cummings style

And any more that you can find. These other styles are often specialized to a particular group of writer, so their presence really tells us that punctuation is fair game to play with in poetry. If we want to get published in a magazine, it might be smart to see what types of punctuation and capitalization they accept before we try to send in our poems, but as long as we have a purpose for our madness, it’s really no holds barred.

Applications in Poetry

When you’re trying to figure out what type of punctuation you want to use in a poem, the best thing to really do is try them out. Just like capitalization, if you don’t know how something will change things, write a poem, apply it to the poem, and re-read it once you have some fresh eyes. The change might be something you love, or it could be something you hate. It’s up to what type of mood and design you want to create on your page.

Just like Capitalization in Poetry provides the backbone of the emotion in a poem, the punctuation can drastically affect the muscular structure. Some poems use more complex language and sentence structure than others, and those poems could get confusing to read with less punctuation, or with a different style of punctuation than they were originally written. Likewise, some poems are written with clearer meanings without punctuation at all due to the variety of interpretations a reader can receive from the absence.

As a rule of thumb, and an easily broken one, if the poem has complex sentences, stick with a more complex punctuation strategy. If you need to legally use parentheses in your sentence, for instance, chances are you’re never going to be able to get rid of them without jimmying the lines.

Punctuation can be expressed through capitalization, lines, and stanzas however. Oftentimes without punctuation, a gap, such as a stanza break, is read as a full stop, and a comma is the end of the line until after the first readthrough. The same can be true when punctuation is available. Some readers can never get over reading a comma at the end of a line, and some will always stop for a pause between stanzas.

If you look at the examples I created, you can see that the punctuation makes you linger in the poem the most with Breath Punctuation and Line Punctuation. The poem reads the fastest with Sentence Punctuation and No Punctuation. This is because the punctuation forces the reader to pause and breathe which lets the words linger longer. Sometimes that’s good, sometimes that’s bad. It’s up to you to figure out what type of effect you want to create using the different styles you can see here.

And lastly, I’m no expert, so I’ll offer this. I’ve had years of playing with poetry, and I’ve had a few published, but if you see something counter to what I’m saying, let me know. I’d love to talk about it with you and edit this or link to your explanations if you’ve written one of these yourselves.

Here are some parting questions. I eagerly await your responses.

  1. Did this article help you see a different type of punctuation opportunity?
  2. Do you see something that’s different from your experience?
  3. What’s your favorite style of punctuation?
  4. What style do you want to see in more detail first?

Finding Your Passion

One of the hardest things to capture as a writer is what you’re passionate about to keep writing consistently. Yeah, I’m talking about writers block.

There are literally hundreds of books on writers block out there. Seriously, I searched Amazon and I came up with about 400 results. Not all of those are books though. Several of them are journals rather than reading material.

For me, reading about solving writers block isn’t something that would help. The only way to really prove you don’t have writers block is to write. But, what do you write about? That’s what I want to talk about today.

Your Options

Here’s a list of things you can use to approach the “what do I want to write about” question.

To start, here are some questions geared to get you thinking about your passions.

  1. What do I love to hate?
  2. What do I talk about for way too long?
  3. Who was the subject of my last rant?
  4. What are my friends [or family] annoyed with me for talking about?
  5. How did [x] happen? [where x is something you keep thinking about]
  6. What was the most interesting thing I’ve heard recently?
  7. What was the last petition I signed?
  8. Who is my least favorite character of all time?
  9. If I list everything I do in a day, what gets me frustrated?
  10. What did I search most recently and why?

Another thing you could pick instead of passions is something random. Here are some prompts for finding a random thing to write about.

  1. Close your eyes.
    • Turn around once or just shake your head a few times.
    • Open your eyes.
    • First thing you see is the subject.
  2. Plug the word of the day into a rhyme dictionary and pick the third rhymed word.
    • That’s your word to either use as inspiration or directly.
    • If it doesn’t rhyme, use the word itself.
  3. Grab a book, or open your browser’s last history page.
    • Roll a 100 sided die and count to that word.
    • If it’s too high to count, like 100 or 99,
      • count the number of words per line
      • do a little math (your number divided by words per line) to find out how many lines down your number would be.
  4. What was the last thing you did physically?
    • That’s your prompt.
  5. Count how many pencils you can see.
    • then find a list of emotions
    • count down the list the number of pencils you counted.
    • Use that emotion.

If none of these prompts speak to you, you can roll a die using the dice roller I linked to earlier and a coin flipper. If the coin is heads, use the first list, if it’s tails, use the second. Then, roll the die and see what number prompt you get. If you get over 5 on the second list, pop up to the first list and use that number from there. If you don’t use a 10 sided die, you won’t get the last four prompts for the first list.

Once You Have a Subject

After you have a subject matter, writing could still end up being hard to do, so here’s how I deal with that. For me, it’s less about writing and more about accepting.

I often end up with writers block because I want to write something amazing, and I have to remind myself that failing isn’t a problem. I don’t have to write gold every time. So, if you’re feeling that same tension, I challenge you to write something bad. Give yourself the freedom to write poorly so you’re actually writing, and then do it a bunch. The more you take the trash out, so to speak, the more you’ll hone certain skills, like recognizing your own faults.

For me, I tend to use too many ‘s’ noises. I hop right to metaphors when I shouldn’t. I get a little preachy sometimes. I often change metaphors too fast. I also like to write poems with a mopey tone, and use obscure references that no one gets or that I invented.

I only know that because I’ve written bad poetry on purpose. I do it for a few reasons.

  1. It helps me identify what I think is bad.
  2. It shows off faults to look for in the future.
  3. Sometimes bad poetry can be made into a good theme.

On that last note, some of the poems that I wrote to be bad on purpose actually turn out pretty well. They need to be re-written, but they give me something to write about and that gives me focus. Once I have something I want to say, writing comes much easier.

That’s why I call it finding your passion rather than getting rid of writers block. We’re not removing a block on our creativity, we’re creating a riverbed to encourage our creativity to flow in the direction we want. In a sense, our creativity can stagnate in a lake and until it busts free, we’re stuck with the same ideas we wear at continuously. We have to find or create a new riverbed of passions to move away from our old beaten home.


Connecting To Poetry

When I read new poets, I often have a hard time connecting with the poem. Part of that is on me, part of that is on the poet. I think it can be hard to connect with a work if we’re looking at it critically. The more critically we look at something, the more we examine it under a microscope, and microscopic organisms never really give us the big picture. A single piece of a 10,000 piece jigsaw puzzle can’t tell us what the picture is.

So what can we do to prevent a disconnect with our readership? After all, most people who read poems are poets themselves. It’s just statistics at this point. That means that our main audience is going to be asking themselves “are they worthy” every time they read our literature. So what do we do?

As A Poet

As someone who is writing poetry, I think we can protect ourselves by passing a few tests each time we write a new poem. These all come up in the editing stages of writing, and I’ll go into more detail when I get into editing poems.

  • “You’re not the boss of me!”
    • Instruction: Read your poem like a moody angry person who is talking to their equal or subordinate. If, at any point, you can shout at your poem “You’re not my mom” or “You’re not my boss” then that area needs reworking.
    • Explanation: Whenever a reader feels like they’re being bossed around, readers tune out. It doesn’t matter whether it’s because someone’s saying “You must” or “You should always” or one of those other imperative, commanding phrases. Talking about the right thing to do with a little too much passion can annoy a person.
  • “Well, I don’t … !”
    • Instruction: Read your poem and look for places where you assume a universal truth or fallacy. If you have assumed a universal truth/fallacy such as anything with “always” or “never” then take those words out.
    • Explanation: The only time when a universal truth is a good thing to use is when you’re being contrary on purpose, such as sarcasm or satire. In these situations it works well, but otherwise, you’re likely to turn a reader off, or disconnect with them, by using what you perceive as a universal law.
  • “What?”
    • Instruction: Paraphrase your poem! Take each line or sentence, and write it in plain English. Don’t use fancy language. Don’t use difficult words. Make it as simple and short as you can.
    • Explanation: Sometimes we get so caught up in our flowery language that we forget the meaning of the sentence. It’s good to take a step back and read over your poem in layman’s terms to ensure the poem actually means something and it isn’t just a bunch of pretty pictures.

It is good to leave uniqueness in your poem, but if you overdo it, the poem can be bogged down like an inside joke, so finding that careful balance between writing a poem like you’re sharing with your best friend and a stranger is important. You want the openness of sharing with your best friend, but the explanations like you’re sharing with a stranger.

As A Reader

All of the work does not fall on the poet to create a connected reading experience. To enjoy the act of reading, it helps to step back and give the poet the benefit of the doubt. When a reader enters into a poem with an open mind, expecting the poem to meet their level of entertainment, it can be self-fulfilling. Here are some questions we can ask ourselves to help ensure we’re not hyper-critical.

  1. How does this relate to my life?
  2. What is the poet doing to make this poem imaginative?
  3. Why did the poet use [that word]?
  4. How would I translate [that] stanza into my own words?
  5. Where do I think this is taking place?
  6. When do I think this is happening in the speaker’s life?
  7. Who is the poet trying to connect with?
  8. What turn of phrase do I like the best?
  9. What is the poet trying to tell me?
  10. What would I tell the poet if I met them?
  11. What part do I really like? Why do I like it?

These questions can help keep us looking at the positive aspects of the poem rather than the negative, but it also leads to some good critiques. The best critiques of poems point out things that the writer did well and things that they can improve upon in your opinion.

If we look at questions 2, 4, 9, 11, and 12 we can see that each of these questions have the potential for being answered negatively. If the poet isn’t working very much on imaginative poetry, than 2 is a place to talk about that, and how to improve upon that. 4 is a chance to look at the clarity of the poem and if it makes sense to you. 9 is also looking at the clarity of the poem, but from a different perspective. Eleven helps the reader consider why the poem elicits a strong reaction. Instead of talking about a stanza or word, some of these questions ask about the big picture. Some others probe into questions about the style of the poem.

puzzle-1487340_1280.jpgPoetry is ultimately about our experiences as people, piecing together our own feelings, and it is best to approach poems with that in mind. How does the poem relate to me? What in the poem relates it to something in my life? If you feel an emotional reaction, something relates.

Once we feel that, we are more likely to read the poem with a kinder eye. If we have a personal experience called up in our minds, we can read the poem looking at that personal experience, and, from there, talk about what we liked and didn’t like and why. That makes us think and it might make us aware of some inner truth or demon we rarely bring out into the light.

Specifics in Poetry: Challenge

Starting out as a young poet, we are told to write about our experiences, but at the time, our experiences are things like “I got in the car today” and “I put my hair up in a pony tail for the first time” or things that are too general to really make a good poem.

I had a poet who came into my third grade class to encourage our poetic ingenuity, and she had us write a structured poem. It was an “I am …” poem. Here is what I learned from the experience.

  1. You are a lot more than you think you are.
  2. You don’t have to keep writing “I am” at the beginning of every line
  3. “I am” can be followed by verbs rather than noun phrases, like “on” or “at”

This became my first experience with the phrase “not specific enough” which I’ve come to use as a mantra for new poets I run into on sites like Young Writers Society and Poetry Soup. So what does it mean?

When something is not specific enough it means that the details the poet chose for their poem don’t explore something personal enough to make a good poem. It could be that the poem is about a romantic experience, but it could be about anyone’s romance, or it could be that the poem has nothing to do with any one person at all. It becomes a spectrum of “unrelatable” and “too easy to write” and your job as a poet is to find the happy medium.

What can you talk about that is relatable because of personal experience, but not too detailed and exclusionary?

Taking the Dive

I can’t say I’m good at “taking the dive” in the figurative or literal sense. If you put me on a diving board, I’ll just stand there and wonder why the stairs aren’t a better way to enter the water. I’m frozen by my fears. My flight or fight response is broken. When faced with something that terrifies me, I do not try to fight it, because I am sure I will lose, and I do not try to run from it, for fear it will chase me.

In this way, I’m always on a diving platform staring down at the water from above, waiting for someone to push me in so I can go without needing the courage to jump.

I would talk at nauseum about what recent jumps I’ve been forced to take, or those I’m still waiting on, but this is, at it’s heart, a blog about getting better at poetry from one person who’s gotten only 3 poems published to millions of people who aren’t listening, and a handful of you who are curious enough to humor me. So instead, I think it would be more interesting for us few in the wings of millions, to talk about language.

That’s what we’re here for after all.

Figurative language is the art of finding something physical or so well known that when you say an example, the example doesn’t need any explanation. Usually these are all very old examples, and we’ve come to know some phrases over time rather than remembering the example, but the results are the same.

“Take the plunge”, “take the dive”, “take the jump”, they’re all the same example, leaping off of something either with or without knowing the results, and doing it with your full body, putting death on the line. People use this expression to say “go for it” or “don’t fear the results, do it anyway” and for me this can be a powerful encouragement, or a reminder of what I was avoiding in the first place. So how can we use figurative language to support our poems?

Simple, make our own. The idea of “take the dive” is the trepidation which stops us from moving forward, it is the human inability to perform when being faced with a challenge greater than they think is worth the risks. The saying is meant to say that “I took a chance” and even though I didn’t like the risks, I did it anyway with all of my effort.

From there, now that we know what it means, we can come up with our own. Think of something that stops you in your tracks every time, and ask yourself what you are least likely to do with that situation. Be careful now, we don’t want people dead, so if you’re thinking “pet the lion” or “step on the tracks in front of a train” back it off a step or two.

For me, my non-deadly thing I don’t do is touch spiders. I am creeped out by them with their long legs and quick movements. Because of that, instead of saying “take the dive” I could say “touch the spider.” I stood petrified until I touched the spider, and now, everything is fine.

There are a few things to be careful with. First, you don’t want to confuse people. If it isn’t clear why it is something which matches with the original saying, then add in context clues. Second, if it doesn’t fit with the poem you’re writing, add in context clues. If you’re not sure what I mean by context clues, restate your intent in another way, or give the reader a chance to understand by what else is being said.

Now, if you want to take me up on it, write a short poem with an idiom or phrase you replaced, and comment, give me a link or how to find it, and I’ll give you a review!

I look forward to reading your work.

non-capitalization in Poetry

Non-capitalization is good for helping progress the emotional drama of a poem. For many poems, this is a capitalization strategy that you can try to see if it will help improve what you want to say. This style can surprise you.

Writing any poem without capitalization to begin with can be a challenge, so mostly this style is good after finishing a poem while exploring all of the different tones and options. The time I find non-capitalization helpful in a poem is when the poem is informal, and quiet, or morose. Non-capitalization tends to change the tone towards something more personal and sincere. Poems which are navel gazers or preaching poems can turn into something that sounds honest when getting rid of the formality of grammar.

There are two different ways that you can play with non-capitalization; leave everything uncapitalized, and leave sentences uncapitalized.

The difference is a method of thought. In most cases, uncapitalized poetry won’t mean uncapitalized words, just not capitalizing the first word in your sentences, but that isn’t the only grammar rule which deals with capitalization. Some poets also add on that they want to capitalize nothing. It’s all about a degree of choice. There are even some poets who will choose to capitalize nothing but the most important part of the poem to draw attention to it.

Everything Uncapitalized

This tone is usually more private, almost like whispering and sharing a secret. It comes off soft, and sometimes disrespectful to the speaker or the individuals and places involved. This is because most of the time capitalization of proper nouns and pronouns is regarded as honoring that individual.

With this style, you would not capitalize things like “I” and “United States” which can leave the tone of the poem somewhat morose. Most poems that choose to go with this style also feel less restricted to proper sentence structure and grammatical rules.

There is a new trend in poetry for younger generations which creates poems that do not follow these grammatical rules such as just using lists of noun phrases as a poem rather than adding verbs and sentences. These poems can be very bold and shocking, but most of them will look better without capitalization because it plays at the idea that these are not sentences, but fragments which were meant to be fragments.

The more you want to break traditional rules, the less grammar and punctuation you may want to try in the poem. Not all poems will abide by these rules. It takes understanding the subject, the motivation, and the response people will have to find a balance between clarity, and presentation. Some grammar rules will help with the flow of the poem.

Sentences Uncapitalized

This tone presents with more belief in self if the poem is first person, and more respect for the character if it is in third person. In this case, you still capitalize things like “I” and “Tim” but you wouldn’t capitalize the beginning of sentences. Oftentimes this is the stop-gap for poems which feel too formal with capitalization, but not informal enough for a lack of capitalization.

Another fun thing to do with this style of non-capitalization is to allow for a lack of punctuation, or minimal punctuation which can create interesting sentences, and develop new ways to read lines. You can use enjambment to plan sentences as they read, versus sentences that are on a line. This can be tricky if you stick with all grammar rules, but given the trends of poems, it’s oftentimes easier to create unique images on a line with enjambment than you may imagine.

Applications of non-capitalization

In many ways non-capitalization in poetry can be a challenge to see how well your poem stands up to grammatical criticism as we read. Sometimes the capitalization in a sentence or paragraph can hide grammatical flaws like missing clauses.

As we read, we jump from sentence to sentence with capitalization guiding us along, and getting rid of that capitalization can create a new perspective of how the sentences flow together, and where they don’t. A problem for some young writers is to write in complete sentences, and getting rid of capitalization can show them where the complete sentences are so they stop putting periods where a comma should go.

More than a learning tool, taking away capitalization can give people a feeling of missing something which may be exactly what your poem is about. Sometimes the best metaphors for emotions are visual rather than the symbolic meanings of the words. If the poem is about a lack of beginnings, or a lack of respect, or just written by someone who would be texting it rather than typing, try taking out capitalization, give it a little bit of time, then read it fresh and see if you like it better.

The worst thing that could happen is having to add the capitalization back in, so it’s worth the extra effort!

Rap and Poetry

Today, English teachers try to engage their students with poetry by saying “it’s like rap” even though there are a lot of differences in the way that rap and poetry function. Poetry and rap are different because while rap has a beat or rhythm that it’s set to, poetry often creates a beat through word choice and meter. Also, rap is more prone to rhyming, or requiring rhyming than poetry. Lastly, rap and poetry differ widely when it comes to stylistic developments. The first one, and most obvious, is that rap has a beat pounded with it, and while that’s not always the case out loud, it usually is with motion.

Rap has developed over the time almost like a cousin to beat poetry, or the movement in poetry when it was more important to hit the spoken word aspect of sounds rather than presenting a story, or a clean reading. There’s a lot of interaction with both of them. With rap, there is dancing, singing along, and even rap battles. With beat poetry, they also have battles and audience jeering. This is the primary similarity between poetry and rap.

However, not all poetry is beat or spoken word, and while you could debate that all rap is poetry, you could also debate all songs are poetry, or all music in general, even instrumental, is poetry. To start kids off in poetry, this is great, but once you want to get into the more complex explorations of poetry, once you start developing an understanding of different forms, different eras, rap and poetry stop being similar.

Not all poetry relies heavily on the spoken word’s beat, or tonality. A lot of it has been morphed into something that can be read silently to yourself, although it always sounds more visceral out loud. Also rap tends to be a lot longer than most poems today. With the waning attention spans due to the wide variety of entertainment, it’s hard to keep someone around for a 5 minute read, so poems tend to be one page.

If you look at the length of a typical rap song, such as Eminem’s “Rap God” you can easily see it’s much longer than one page. [Warning: explicit language in Rap God]

If you look at a recent poem published by The Poetry Foundation, like “A French Piano Tuner & a One-Eyed Glassblower Walk into a Bar” you will see that not only are the lines much shorter, but the poem in general is small. [Warning: explicit language in A French Piano Tuner & a One-Eyed Glassblower Walk into a Bar]

In many ways that’s because rap is made to almost be a verbal plethora of language, to speak quick and combine tricky sounds. Poetry in general, is a slower sport. This helps build the next difference between the two.

Rap is more prone to rhyming than poetry. That is because rap tends to ride through the rhythm and rhyme of the words to speak faster and keep your tongue from twisting, while poetry is relying more heavily on meaning and inferred messages. It becomes necessary to remain slower so people can catch all of the words clearly.

This isn’t to say that rappers don’t speak clearly, they do. It’s just that their goal is sometimes to best the others in their field by pure eloquence of phrase and speed, whereas Poetry aims to obtain the most visceral, or emotional response. Both of them also have classes within their groupings. Some are more popular than others, some are easier to follow than others.

While I talk about Eminem, there are some audiences who are widely familiar with the more popular rappers of today’s generation which have different styles of rapping, just as I know of many styles unlike the poem I used as an example. For instance, this particular song “XO Tour Llif3” produced by JW Lucas and TM88 on the most popular songs on SoundCloud, a music listening website, is different from “Rap God” but still considered rap.

Lastly, or at least the last one I want to talk about, is that rap is stylistically different. As you can see from the examples, rap and poetry can have the same subject matter, or similarly explicit language, but be very different in how they approach a situation.

For poetry, conservation is the name of the game. Fit as much as you can in the tightest space possible, and then cut half of it. In rap, it’s more about the flow of the style. Fit whatever you need to in the song, but make sure you’re entertaining and giving people they can use to follow along.

All in all, the primary difference falls down to the audience’s expectations. Poems used to be more like songs or rap, but the more we expect from either class, the less similar they become. As we expect people to avoid repeating themselves, the styles change to conform, and as we expect them to read less, again, the style changes. It becomes a game of knowing your audience and writing for them.

The last thing I’d like to leave you with is a question. What differences or similarities do you see between different songs? Can you pick out a writer from the lyrics alone, or does it take the voice?

National Poetry Month

It’s that time of year again.

National Poetry Month is based on the premise that the more you write, the better you’ll get, but there’s a flipside to that. The more you write, the less time you spend reading, and that can really hinder your ability to improve.

For me, it becomes a balance between reading and writing. Read a poem, write a poem, be aware of poetic language throughout the day, all of it is what National Poetry is good for.

The most surprising place I find beautiful poetry is on the radio. There are a lot of song writers today that develop language through poetry and write stories with their songs. Some of the big names in the business do just that, like Taylor Swift, and Eminem.

Sometimes the message isn’t always the right one, but listening to how the music flows with the words can help improve craft. You can concentrate on stresses, learn to write in meter, and how to rhyme better while listening to music.

So in that way, it can be really easy to get your “reading” time in if you have to drive, but you can also hide a chapbook in the bathroom, or have one on your phone through the Kindle app. They have a lot of poetry books for free in the store.

Most of them are the old books too, so you can learn some of the more famous names like Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Longfellow, and so forth.