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.

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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.

 

 

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!

 

 

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.