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!

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Alternative Capitalization

This style of capitalization is new on the scene, but not as new as you might think! If you read Victorian era writing, you’ve actually seen this capitalization style. Remember when words like Death were capitalized because they were being used as a proper noun? That is an alternative capitalization strategy!

This style is more complex than sentence or line capitalization, but it is incredibly useful. Basically, line and sentence capitalization didn’t work for everyone, and after people stopped capitalizing metaphorical symbols, these people found they had to break out of the box, and do something different. They decided to take all the grammatical rules we know and memorized, and toss them out the window.

The main ones I’ll be talking about are going to be Breath Capitalization and Victorian Capitalization. These are used in spoken word and victorian era poetry. We can still see their uses today, however, as we combine and fiddle with things like emotional capitalization, which wraps up under Breath.

Breath Capitalization

This is when something is capitalized based on how you breathe and speak. For spoken poets, it’s their cheat sheet for when to raise their volume, breathe, speak softer, or change intonation. It goes hand in hand with an alternative punctuation style.

Instead, they use capitalization based on where they Want it to be to create EMPHASIS like we do while we TexT our friends late at night because “OH MY GOD I CANT BELIEVE HE JUST SAID THAT” is a lot easier to type than “Oh my god, I cannot believe he just said that!” on a phone. Both of them emphasize that whatever he just said, was crazy, but the first one matches breath capitalization+punctuation, and the other one matches sentence capitalization+punctuation.

Victorian Capitalization

While this style isn’t nearly as used, it is very useful for explaining how Alternative can be such a fun way to write. Back when Emily Dickinson was crafting her Great American Paperweight, she chose to capitalize words that were important somehow, but not always obviously important. They were words that deserved emphasis, but also words that required further investigation.

Today poets use this idea when they want to change inflection and tone in a poem. It also can indicate things like worth!

Working Together

Breath and Victorian capitalization styles can work together beautifully because when you want something to look a certain way, you can capitalize it to fit the weight of a page, and throw all of those nasty grammar rules out the window to create your own.

The beauty of poetry here is that as long as we are consistant with ourselves, people will be able to follow along and understand what we’re saying. People are programmed to recognize patterns, and we can use that to our advantage by creating a pattern and then using it consistently, and poetry readers will forgive us for not using a pattern they’re familiar with. In fact, a lot of poetry readers will be thrilled to see something unique.

Sentence Capitalization

To continue from a month ago with my series on capitalization in poetry, sentence capitalization is next.

This style of writing is the most common today. The more you read, the more you’ll see it. The style is pretty basic. Write your poem like you would write your prose. If you would capitalize it normally, then you would capitalize it in this style. The one caveat to it is that you would capitalize it as if you were writing in a paragraph, not lines and stanzas. Here’s how it goes, if it’s the beginning of a sentence or a proper noun, you capitalize. Basically, you can write your poem as a paragraph, and then add in all of your stanzas and lines, and you’ll have your capitalization spot on in this style.

The nuances of this style really allow the writer to explore the different aspects of poetry. It’s got enough class to handle a poem that rhymes, and enough system to handle a poem that doesn’t.

One of the reasons this style is something that most poets write with is because it handles nearly everything you can throw at it. Villanelle? Sure. Haiku? Of course! Dramatic reenactment of World War II? Definitely! This style allows the poet to avoid thinking about how they want to capitalize, and when to hit those buttons, and just write. It’s already how we naturally do things in every other aspect of our lives, so it’s a smooth transition.

Writing poetry becomes a thing that’s not very different from writing in a journal, or on a blog, aside from the style of word choice, and how often you hit enter.

For me, as a writer of poetry, and a reviewer of poetry, I find this style the easiest to delve into the meaning and content of the poem. It’s accessible, and I don’t have to stop and wonder about a certain word being capitalized.

I don’t always want to see this style though, sometimes, a poem needs to shout and that’s where one of the other styles comes into play. This style doesn’t allow a question about what should be capitalized. It doesn’t give you leeway to capitalize “anger” because you’re really angry, or “love” because you want to express that it’s not puppy love, but the big, capital ‘L’ kind. Those nuances are left to another capitalization style.

This style makes it more about the words you chose on an internal level, unless you pair it with breath punctuation. Breath punctuation is when you punctuate according to how you read the poem, rather than how the poem should grammatically be punctuated.

This combination can be enthralling, because everything looks right on the surface, with the capitalization, but the breath, the pauses, the waiting, the speed you have to read some sentences at without stopping for just a moment before you get out the next line is all there and together and it can be beautiful, or just make you gasp. But these things are unique to the poem, and how you want to write it as a poet.

It’s your choice what you want your voice to become. Your voice, how you want to present your words to the reader, has a lot to do with your choice of capitalization style for particular poems. This type of capitalization doesn’t surprise anyone, so if you’re trying to really make a statement, then this capitalization might not do it. You’d be relying on other things, like word choice, structure, punctuation, syntax, connotation, metaphor, and so on.

Still, if you look at poetry books today, many of the literary magazines like this capitalization the best. They’ll get on kicks of poems that lack capitalization too, and sometimes they’ll even publish really cool poems that capitalize according to emotion, but this style is one of the most popular ones.

That says a lot about it’s value.

In summary, this is the go-to style for most poets who aren’t trying to rock the boat with their capitalization.

Line Capitalization

I said I would go into details about each of the capitalization types, so here I am!

Line Capitalization is the original traditional way to capitalize poetry. It went out of fashion pretty quickly, around the time free verse started getting into the full swing of things, line capitalization went out of traditional style. It wasn’t mandatory any more, and people began to get very comfortable, very quickly, with the idea that our capitalization can match our prose writing. Poets such as William Carlos Williams were among those who challenged the traditionalist style of poetry.

It quickly became a matter of fashion whether you capitalized or not, sort of like wearing your favorite team’s colors on enemy territory. If you continued to capitalize your lines, you were standing up for tradition, for rhyme, for structure, and all the moral obligations holding to the past represented.

Meanwhile, if you capitalized some other way, typically by the sentence rather than the line, you were standing for the new free verse movement, the flow of a poem, the sounds of words on a page, and capturing the essence of nature rather than the essence of rhyme.

Today, line capitalization is a stark statement that what follows is a poem. It’s a way to declare a poem like screaming off a roof. Most reviewers don’t like it, and if you are a subscriber to a poetry magazine, it is a rare poem which actually gets published with this style of writing.

Today, it is mostly seen as the mark of a beginning writer, but that’s because it’s what poets are taught to see as poetry when they first approach the subject.

Our schools show us poetry and teach us “capitalize every letter at the beginning of a line” and “make it rhyme” as they tell us that a haiku is 7-5-7 and damage us for the rest of our lives into hating the structure and failing to see the nuances it presents.

So, when we eventually spread our wings again, and explore the crisis stage of our poetry careers, filled with navel gazing and Sylvia Plath style poetry, we’re naturally writing with the only style we know how, it has to rhyme, and it has to capitalize the first letter of every line.

The style itself is good for more than that.

It’s good when you want to create a traditional, classic feel, like putting on a suit with tails, all crisp and black and white. If you’re writing a poem honoring Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, or any other ancient deity of our kind, it’s best to suit up for the experience, and that’s where it really shines. You have to know your classics to do the style some real justice, but since so many don’t know their classics, it’s easy to slip by until you find another fanatic.

The style has its pitfalls too.

If you choose to write this way just because Microsoft Word is your platform, and it decides to capitalize the first letter of every line, you’re going to have analysts like me assuming you’re new to poetry and that has a plethora of disadvantages. Glancing down poems on WordPress, I’m disheartened to see so many classically structured poems just because of the word blobs “With sentences Like this Because It is A poem.”

But more on that next time. I’ll go into Sentence Capitalization and you might begin to see what I mean.

Too long, didn’t read:

Use line capitalization when you’re trying to be fancy and classical. Otherwise, avoid it because it makes people assume you’re a newb.

If you disagree with me, or just want to chat, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Commas In Poetry

Considering the general size of most other articles, I’m sizing mine down to single subjects.

Commas in poetry are a very useful thing. There are many ways to use a comma in a poem. Most readers see them as general breaks in speech and allow the reader a pause before continuing, such as a breath marker.

Some poets only will use commas in poetry to indicate when they want the reader to breathe. Others will use commas in grammatical fashions to indicate pauses in sentences, new items in a list, or subordinate clauses. Because poetry and grammar actually can go hand in hand, it’s not unusual to find grammar markers used in their traditional sense.

Some poems even use more grammar markers than prose would traditionally use in modern writing because people are more afraid of poems than grammar.

This is true with commas too.

If you look at a poem and see a bunch of commas, it makes more sense intuitively about where you need to pause, and where you should not pause. Take a look at this poem of mine in two different versions and I’ll walk you through the use of commas.

Both of the ways these commas will be used will be completely “legal” in sense of writing poetry.

I smile in my silent surrender,
dancing moonbeams in my hands.

It reflects differently now
than before the moonwalks began.

Now, it bounces when it would veer,
and we have a new moon swimming
through the great black abyss.

Our ever-silent companion.

In this case, I’m using standard punctuation. I’m not trying to deviate from any known standards, I’m not trying to use it to convey any hidden messages, and I’m not putting it at the end of each line to show a pause at the line’s end.

I smile, in my silent surrender
dancing, moonbeams in my hands.

It reflects differently, now
than before the moonwalks began.

Now, it bounces, when it would veer,
and we have a new moon, swimming
through the great black abyss.

Our ever-silent companion.

Here, I am using the commas to include syncopation for words and phrases that I want the reader to feel. Depending on how you like to read poetry, either one of these might be good for you to read. You also might only like a traditional style of poetry, such as the next one.

I smile in my silent surrender,
dancing moonbeams in my hands.

It reflects differently now,
than before the moonwalks began.

Now it bounces when it would veer,
and we have a new moon swimming,
through the great black abyss.

Our ever-silent companion.

Here, I am only using commas and punctuation at the very end of a line. This is another way in which commas and punctuation can be used to emulate the feeling that old poets used to have with what they wrote.

My personal favorite is a mix.

I smile, in my silent surrender
dancing moonbeams in my hands.

It reflects differently now
than before the moonwalks began.

Now, it bounces, when it would veer,
and we have a new moon swimming
through the great black abyss.

Our ever-silent companion.

What are your thoughts on commas in poetry? Do you have a preference for how you use them? 

Share your thoughts down below and let’s talk about it!

 

 

Capitalization in Poetry

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

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.

Line Capitalization Extended

Sentence Capitalization

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.

Sentence Capitalization Extended

Alternative Capitalization

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
from afar.

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.

Alternative Capitalization

non-capitalization

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.