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.

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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.