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.

Poetry Critiques

Poetry is a type of artform that allows you to write it faster than read it sometimes because we always want a poem read twice. That makes it easy to spit out a poem and roll the dice that it’s going to be good, but hard to edit. Why edit, when you can just produce a new poem?

The problem with that logic is that editing is what makes a poem good in most cases. We as writers cannot make something perfect the first time around, editing is needed to give us space, perspective, and allow our thoughts to develop over time.

What I’ve found with websites like Young Writers Society is that when I get a critique on many of my poems, I have an easier time breaking away from the moment I wrote the poem and into looking at the poem from a critical eye. Other people’s opinions on what sounds poor, or what might improve, helps me develop a sense of what I want to say and where I need to change it.

Because of that, we oftentimes want to have people critique our poems without compensation. You critique mine and I’ll critique yours, but we never get around to it because we’re off writing more. If we’re honest to ourselves, we know when we sign up we’re not going to critique other people’s poems. But why?

Critiquing someone else’s work is good practice for identifying good and bad writing. Reading their work provides us with a basis for developing what is cliche, what has already been done, and engaging ourselves in the market. We should be writing poetry because we like poetry, not because someone told us to, and if we like poetry, then we should read it too.

If anyone is interested in starting a group to share and improve their poetry with me, please comment.

I think it could be a lot of fun to create a blog together with other people and critique like a writing circle.

 

 

So you think you can Syllable?

Counting Syllables

Syllable counting is one of those things that poets are supposed to know how to do. Why? Well there are a lot of reasons. Having the same amount of syllables in multiple lines can help the flow of the lines and provide a reader with expectations for how long the next lines are going to be giving us a chance for surprise. The reason we can’t just do this with length is because syllables often vary in length on the page. For instance, “strength” is a single syllable.

The methods we usually have for learning this are pretty straightforward for some of the population that is more hearing-oriented, but no matter who you are, you can learn to identify syllables. You don’t have to be able to hear them.

That being said, the other methods of learning them, listed below, are somewhat complex ideas, so I need to over some basics first.

Linguistics is the study of language in general. It’s a descriptive study of language, meaning linguistics attempts to describe what is already going on in language, not create rules for people to follow as a whole. They have a way to think about syllables which I can pretty much guarantee, you’ve never run into before. It’s good stuff.

In Linguistics, there is an International Phonetic Alphabet which linguists use to indicate sounds without catering to a specific language. This IPA is used to indicate the difference between things like a hard I and a soft I or the difference between th and t, or z, and s. It’s broken up into sections according to where the sound is made, and covers all possible sounds humans as a species could conceivably make with the equipment we’re provided.

After that, I have a more prescriptive way outlined for those of us who just want to get right to the rules of what to do. This won’t always work however, because language is fluid. However, it will give you a place to start.

To start, I’m going to re-explain what you’ve probably already been frustrated with about how to count syllables and then we’ll move into the linguistics, then the rules.

Just Do It

For a lot of people what works best is to listen to how a word is pronounced and decide where the parts of those words are. For instance, where are the parts in the word “Strength?” Many people will answer that there aren’t any, because it’s one syllable, and when compared to a word like “Strengthen” it’s clear that there is a break in only “strengthen” and not “strength.”

How do we hear that? Strength-en is because we can hear the minute language change sort of like a pecking sound in the word. For instance, “pecking” has “peck” and “ing” however, it’s not always apparent where the language is split. “Apparent” is a three syllable word that can be hard to determine. “A-par-ent” is usually the way that it’s broken up, however, it’s potentially going to change for your own dialect and pronunciation.

For those of us less linguistically inclined, but still wanting to get this without rules, think about it like breaking up words into their base. From there, you’re going to have to decide if those parts sound like they’re separated at all or not. As long as you can get how many syllables a word has, it doesn’t really matter if you can break it up appropriately, so don’t fret so much about the were, so much as the how many.

Linguistics

So I actually did a bit of research to see how better to describe this to people who just aren’t getting the first method. Here’s what I’ve found: This is actually a result of how language is created. Syllables are parts of words that are stuffed together to make the complete idea. It’s sort of like when you have a card, you have the number/face and the color/suit, and then the individual suits in those colors. We can’t have individual cards with just 1-24 because that wouldn’t be much fun matching pairs, there wouldn’t be any! We create classifications so we don’t have to memorize so much and some of those groupings for words are syllables.

Here’s the best video I found on syllables. The symbols popping up in the part where he’s talking about sounds and the spellings of words are from the IPA spelling and sounds. Here is the IPA

Linguistics Video

A large part of structured poetry is based on your ability to count syllables. To get going, first, a syllable is a part of words. Each word is composed of syllables in any language. In every language, we compose our words with syllables which tend to follow similar patterns.

When we learn about syllables in school, they say to listen to what you’re saying, and group it according to breaks in language. This is because as we grow up, we start speaking by learning syllables. When babies engage in babble, they are actually practicing forming syllables. “Ba” for instance, is a syllable, same with “da” and “ga” and so on. As it is how we learned to speak in the first place, we often can already identify syllables, by accessing our intuition.

If you are not among those who can easily identify syllables, don’t worry! Linguistics has studied syllables and come up with ways to identify syllables in your language, whatever that might be.

Syllable Composition

A syllable is a part of speech, sure, but what is it made of? The quick answer is a vowel and consonants. Linguistics have called these parts the nucleus, onset, and coda. In other words, a syllable is composed of up to three sounds, the main sound, the sound before that sound, and the sound after it.

Nucleus

Syllables contain multiple parts because they’re bigger than just letters. One part of every syllable is the loudest/longest part, similar to the nucleus in an atom. Linguistics calls this the nucleus of a syllable. A hard fast rule you can cling to is that vowels can always make up the nucleus in syllables, always. However, other things can be the nucleus too, though not much.

The nucleus of a syllable is what is holding the sounds together. So when the sound is being held together, it needs a sound in the middle which has good air flow, such as mm, nn, or even rr, which makes up the center noise. Quieter noises, like those which aren’t vocalized, often can’t hold up to that weight, they’re sounds which circle noises which are stronger and louder.

When we’re looking to count syllables, we can immediately break away any vowels that are next to one another and not composing a single sound. For instance, if we’re looking at the following list of words, we can tell how many syllables they have by just counting the vowels.

ginger
2

foxy
2 (counting y)

barbeque
3 (e is silent)

trepidation
4 (io is acting as one sound)

As you can see, there are different exceptions to these rules, but they’re not so much exceptions, as looking at the word phonetically. Think about “foxy” phonetically, as it sounds. The word starts with a “ff”, then goes into “ah” “x” and “ee” at the end. This makes two vowel noises rather than just one. Same with barbeque, we don’t hear the “e” on the end, because in English, it is silent. That means the noise isn’t phonetically marked, and thus, is not a part of its own syllable.  Trepidation is harder. I put it on the list because “ion” is not “ee” and “aw” “nn” it’s closer to the word “in” or “on” depending on your accent. This is only one noise. As “ion” is a common suffix on words, it is always something that can be used as a syllable, usually with the attached onset of whatever consonant comes before it.

Basically, the nucleus is the noise which is the longest and loudest in the syllable. A nucleus is always made when there is a vowel sound. Vowels are a clear hallmark of a nucleus. In some cases, like “mountain” the phonetic noise of “tn” at the end won’t have a vowel though, and in these cases, noises which are long, and have moderate to good air flow such as “mm” and “nn” which are nasal vocalized sounds, can act as the nucleus instead of a vowel.

Around the nucleus are two different sections, the onset, which is the more important of the two, and the coda. The onset is whatever sound leads up to the nucleus of a sound, and the coda leads away from it. Both of these are completely optional, sort of like in sentences how subjects and predicates are up in the air, but you have to have a word. “Go.” is a perfectly valid sentence because of an implied subject. For syllables, the vowels can always be a syllable alone, but they can also have some clothes on, the onset and coda.

Onset

An onset is an optional part of a syllable, but between a coda and an onset, the onset is more likely to happen than the coda. This is because it is easier for us to hear/collect/recognize information coming before a nucleus than after it. Language is about communicating, so being able to identify what we hear is important. Because the nucleus is strong, it is easier to miss the end sounds, codas, than it is to miss sounds before it, onsets.

An onset will be any consonant sound. This could be anything like “th” all the way to “z” so they’re fairly important. Basically, any consonant noises before a nucleus can be an onset to that nucleus, however, it cannot be another nucleus. These are how we identify where to break up the actual syllables in our words. Let’s go back to our list and examine the onsets we have there.

ginger

foxy

barbeque

trepidation

All of the underlined letters are potential onsets to the bolded nucleus. In “ginger” we have “[g]i[ng]er” for instance. In this case, there’s some examining to do. Because we’ve got both n and g with the second onset, we have to determine if it is a viable word.

Every syllable should be able to start a word.

So, can “nge” start a word? Can you think of any words which start with “nge?” Personally I can’t, so because I cannot think of words which start with “nge” I know that the n has to be the coda, and the g has to be the onset alone. This is how you figure out syllables.

Every word you meet, determine the vowels which are actually heard when you say the word, then, determine the consonants surrounding those vowels. If you have more than one consonant before a vowel/nucleus, ask if it can start a word. If it can, then both/all noises are part of the onset, and if not, then that is where you divide the syllable. Let’s do the rest of the list.

Our next word is (f)o(x)y. This one is pretty quick because we only have two vowels and two onsets. Regardless of whether we break it up “fox-ee” or “fo-xy” we end up with two syllables. Personally I’ve never heard of a word that starts with Xy though, so I like “Fox-y” as the division.

The third word on our list is (b)a(rb)e(q)ue, we have three syllables here because we have three vowels. There’s nothing tricky at the end to make another vowel. Here, we see a clear use of codas again for that middle potential onsets. I don’t know of a word that starts with the syllable “Rbe” but “bar” is definitely a word, so I’m going to break this down into it’s parts of the word. “bar-be-que” because a “cue” ball sounds exactly like “que” anyways, also “be” is totally a word.

Lastly, (tr)e(p)i(d)a(t)ion. In this word, we actually have a consonant set that actually does start a word, and is together, but we also have tree, trim, trailer, and so forth as examples of “tr” starting words in English. As for the rest, it’s a break right before the consonant because the vowels like to be onsets rather than codas. To explain why they like to be onsets more than codas, I have to go into explaining codas, so here we go. If you don’t care to learn about codas and you’re just happy to know that you can break up vowels as they are, then go ahead and stop reading here, or skip down.

Codas

Codas are the ending sounds of a syllable because they are the sounds that come after the strong words. Basically, they’re the tail. Just like we can have prefixes, we can have suffixes in syllables too. In this case, these suffixes, or endings, are actually used as a sort of cap and are a part of the rhyme pair when rhyming.

All in all, because we find it easier to hear onsets rather than codas, just like we want the subject front and center, or our favorite dish first so we have fresh taste buds, we are more inclined to have onsets than codas. Anything can be a coda in language, however, we are more disposed to hearing them as onsets.

Think about it like seeing a pattern. You don’t look at a pattern like /-/-/-/- and break it up by saying Oh, every (-) is the end, so every (/) must be the beginning. We look at the first thing that’s there, and break it up because a (/) is next. /- /- /- /- that way when we end up with /-.- /-.- /-.- we don’t mess up.

In many ways, this is exactly how we break up syllables too. Instead of looking for codas, look for the nucleus and then any onsets. The codas, however, are good for rhyming.

The part of a word that sounds like a rhyme is actually the nucleus and the coda. This is because the coda alters the ending sound of the nucleus giving us more options for language. When we label something for a rhyme, the onsets don’t actually matter so much as the vowel and coda. Slant rhyme is rhyming just the vowel sound because of that very fact. Treat rhymes with feet because “eet” is the same in both of them, even though “f” and “tr” are different, and both are only a single syllable.

For rhyming purposes, codas are important, but in terms of identifying syllables, not so much.

Listening To Syllables

So what are we actually doing when we listen for syllables? We’re identifying the difference between a coda and an onset through our intuitive knowledge of how language works. Just like we don’t need to know that a verb needs a direct object because of a list that says what verbs require them, we often don’t need someone telling us that two specific consonants don’t get stuffed together to start a noise.

On top of that, when we use prefixes and suffixes, we are adding a complete syllable because we’re adding a noise, a full noise, to a pre-established word. This can get confusing with words like “words” because s is a suffix, but it’s not strong enough to stand on its own as a nucleus, so it’s stuffed on to the rest of the word and is left as a single syllable.

That being said, there are some quick rules you can follow to break up syllables if you don’t understand this whole nucleus thing or you’re not sure. You can find the list of rules here: Dividing Syllables

I’m going to go over them for a complex word and see how the two compare.

Break off suffixes and prefixes

Root words themselves already have syllables, so put the word back down to it’s root. This is helpful with words like disestablishmentarianism. All of our prefixes and suffixes are as follows. dis-establish-ment-arian-ism. From what we learned earlier, we can break it apart with our nuclei too.

d(i)s(e)st(a)bl(i)shm(e)nt(a)r(i)(a)n(i)sm

Here are all of our nuclei

Here are our potential onsets and why they are or are not onsets.

(d)i(s)e(st)a(bl)i(shm)e(nt)a(r)ia(n)ism

sta = star, stairs, etc.

bli = blithe, but that’s a hard I, not a soft i, so no

shme= shmuck is u not e, so no.

nta = none

the total results.

di-se-stab-lish-men-ta-ri-an-ism = 9 syllables. Above, breaking away the prefixes, we have five of these nine.

Personally, this is how I break up this word: dis-e-stab-lish-ment-ar-i-an-ism, which is still nine syllables. They only differ in “dis” and “ment” but that doesn’t change the syllable count.

The next step for rules of what to break and where helps us get closer to accurate.

Separate consecutive consonants

There is a caveat to this, Don’t separate consonants that are making a single sound such as sh, and th. Howwever, repeated consonants such as in little, break those apart. Let’s go back to our suffix/prefix split word above and add this rule.

dis-estab-lish-ment-arian-is-m

Did you notice a difference? The ism is broken up because m is able to hold the weight of a nucleus in a word. If you just look at vowels as a nucleus, you don’t notice “mm” and “nn”  which are trying to hold that weight. Now we’re up to 7 out of what should be 10 syllables.

Divide consonants that are surrounded by vowels

If it is a long vowel, then divide before the consonant, if it is a short, divide after. Long vowels are vowels which sound like their name such as “eye” being “i” and “ih” being short “i”

dis-estab-lish-ment-ar-ian-is-m

We actually have so few vowels in this that this rule only applies in one case “ari” and in this case, we have a hard/long “I”, so we divide after the “I.” Now we’re at 8 out of 10!

Divide “le”s

Basically we’re supposed to look at “le” endings now, but our word actually doesn’t have that. For this, they want us to divide after the k but before the l, so ck-le.

After “ckle” they want us to look for “le” at the end and see if the letter before “le” is a vowel. If it is, then leave it attached, if it’s not, pull it off with the consonant.

That means this method falls short, but how?

The simple answer: they didn’t count on a nucleus without an onset or coda. Here’s another rule you can add that should put you up to the right count.

Separate vowels into separate syllables

– If it has a consonant next to it, determine if that consonant, or consonants could start a word. e-stab-lish-ment

– Pair consonants at the front of vowels if the resulting group starts a word.

– If a vowel has vowels on either side, separate into its own syllable.

dis-e-stab-lish-ment-ar-i-an-is-m

And we got to 10! Depending on how you pronounce “ism” it may be 9 or 10.

When you’re using the other method, remember to check the end of your words and determine if mm or nn is the last sound. Chances are, the few times you run into this situation, you can use a syllable counter to determine what the standard norm for that word is anyway, and you won’t have an issue counting the syllables.

Please remember, syllable counters are computers trying to determine human language. They’re not always right! Oftentimes they don’t understand things like silent e and that messes up their counts.

In short, listen to how you speak and break it up according to when you hear changes in tone, with vowels and consonants together. If it has a short vowel, chances are it needs more consents. If it has a long vowel, it needs fewer consonants.

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.

The Palindrome

When it comes to structured poetry, there are all sorts of different styles, devices, and ideas for what can make a structure. The palindrome is one of the word-play structures like a found poem, or a cinquain. The palindrome bases itself around the idea that you can read something forwards and backwards, and get something interesting and unique both ways.

What is a Palindrome

A palindrome, in general, is something that is read the same forwards and backwards. For example the name “Hannah” is a palindrome with the reflective point between the two Ns. “Madd Addam” is another palindrome, with the reflective point as the A in Addam. Just like those are palindromes, so is the sentence “You can see can you?” with the reflective point around “see.”

Poets have taken this concept and adapted it; while they keep the same letters on both sides, the meaning changes. Just like “You can see can you” has two sides, “You can see” and “can you?” the poems are developed into two different messages using just one set of words and letters.

Types of Palindromes

The most common on the internet are ‘letter’ palindromes: “Anna”, “Was it a car or a cat I saw,” and “racecar.”

However, in poetry they are much more diverse. A palindrome can make a mirror from the smallest size, letters, all the way up to entire stanzas. To understand how I am going to be naming these different types, bear with the mirror metaphor.

Reflections

If we look at “Anna,” putting a mirror between the Ns makes a direct translation. This is what I will call a word palindrome, or a ‘letter reflection’ because the individual letters are what we move to make the palindrome.

Now let’s take a look at this example:

“We can be
as happy
as we want
as happy
we can be”

This is an example of a ‘stanza’ palindrome because if we were to make these two stanzas, the reflection is around “as we want” and the entire lines are repeated exactly as they were the first time. It could also be considered a ‘line reflection’ because the entire line is taken and over the reflection.

Here’s another example:

“Suddenly I saw
her. Bells in hair
watching
hair in bells, her
saw I suddenly”

In this case we have a line palindrome because the lines are flipped. Each line has a reflection so the last word becomes the first word. These are also called ‘word reflections’ because the individual words of the lines are taken and reflected.

So to explain this better, each time we call something an x reflection, we are talking about the smallest unit that is reflected. If we talk about an x palindrome, we’re talking about what is created when we flip it.

A word palindrome is a letter reflection
A line palindrome is a word reflection
A stanza palindrome is a line reflection

Others

There are still more types of palindromes out there than just these three!

Another type of palindrome that is popular is a palindrome with a cue for the reader to read it backwards. These can be tricky because it requires breaking the fourth wall, or directly addressing and suggesting your reader do something. Still, it can be really popular, and most of them are stanza palindromes.

Through some debate palindromes thus have become something that is read both forwards and backwards, whether it is intended to be read straight through once, or by reading the lines backwards once you reach the end of the poem. The complexity of the palindrome is completely subject to the choice of the writer.

The best way to indicate that something is a palindrome is to simply put “Palindrome” in the title somewhere, whether it is “Our Lives: A Palindrome” or “Palindrome 1” it can help indicate that it is supposed to be a palindrome. Another method is to add it into an author’s note in the poem.

Grammar

In palindromes, grammar goes out the window. It is not necessary to mirror anything other than the words. This is part of how palindromes work in poetry. The idea is to create something new even though we are reading the same words. This comes in handy if we’re reading a poem that is a stanza palindrome where the lines are just repeated because we can give it a new intonation with removing, adding, or substituting characters.

This does not mean we can erase words or add words.

Editing

Editing palindromes can be tricky because what you do on one side of the reflection, if you include the reflection, you have to do on the other. The best way to edit a palindrome is to pick a side and make that side as good as you can while reading and checking the other side for clarity.

When you finish with one side, do the reverse and see if there is a way to compromise between the two sides. The best palindromes are the ones where you don’t even notice there was a reversal.