Poetic Grammar: Part IV
Redefining Grammar in Poetry
Rooted in both literature and art, poetry is a unique form of written communication. A poem’s structure and the tools which it employs, such as meter and rhyming, make poetry unlike any other form of writing. Penning poetry which meets all literary standards is not as easy as one may think. Also, focusing on being grammatically correct may hinder the poet’s creativity, thereby, diminishing the artistic value of the poem. It’s time to acknowledge and embrace just how unique poetry truly is. It’s time to acknowledge how much poetry has changed and to embrace the ideas of today’s poets. The time has come to redefine what constitutes proper grammar in poetry.
Over the last couple of decades, the poetic atmosphere has changed significantly due to the attitudes of the times in which we live and technological advancements. Today, everyone is promoting individuality and self-expression. The internet has given us multiple platforms for exchanging ideas and information. Social sharing, blogging, and self-publishing have changed the face of poetry. With the emergence of micro-poetry and the ever growing popularity of street/slam poetry, the majority of poets today aren’t too concerned with being grammatically correct. More emphasis is being placed on having a firm command of the English language and using it in new ways in order to convey a poem’s meaning and to paint a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. Given these facts, it’s interesting that so many continue to insist that poetry should be subject to the same literary rules as all other forms of writing.
The implementation of grammatical rules in poetry presents many challenges. Poetry, by nature, is rebellious. The structure of a poem is in direct opposition to the very basics of proper grammar in writing. Poetry rejects traditional sentence structure and standard paragraph formatting in favor of lines and stanzas. Quite often, a single sentence will span multiple lines and may make up the entire stanza itself sometimes even bleeding into the next. This is just one of the many reasons why poetry is not as conducive to the rules of proper grammar as are other forms of writing. When it comes to proper grammar in poetry, there are three main challenges which poets face:
1.) Capitalization. If a sentence spans more than one line, the question arises of whether to capitalize the first word of each sentence or the first word of each line. The real question, however, is what constitutes a sentence in poetry. Is it a traditional sentence as seen in every other form of writing? Or, is each line to be considered a sentence in and of itself? One could also question whether a sentence which is broken up into multiple lines maintains its sentence status.
2.) Punctuation. Sentences spanning multiple lines also bring punctuation into question. Should punctuation be used traditionally in accordance with grammatical rules? Or, should punctuation be used to emphasize and maintain the flow of the poem?
3.) Wording. The issue of wording doesn’t arise from the poem’s structure. It arises from what the poet is trying to convey, the flow the poet is trying to achieve, and poetic tools such as rhyming and meter. Spelling, pronunciation, and word usage are all called into question. Sometimes, the English language in its grammatically correct form cannot adequately express all the subtle nuances the poet wishes to highlight in a poetic manner. The question at the heart of the matter is how much creative freedom a poet should be allotted.
So, what are the poets of this era to do?
Every poet must decide for themselves what being grammatically correct means to them. Does it mean abiding by the rules of proper grammar as traditionally as possible? Does it mean following grammatical rules loosely only when they jive with the flow and tone of the poem? Or, does it mean refusing to implement grammatical rules in order to define your own unique poetic style and possibly make a statement? Once you’ve decided what being grammatically correct means to you, you’ll be able to use proper grammar to your advantage.
Another option is to create the illusion of proper grammar. I believe that poetry truly is an art form, in more ways than one. It’s just as much about how the poem looks on the page and how it flows as it is about the message and tone of the poem. So, this is the option I chose for my poetry. To keep my poems aesthetically pleasing and flowing gracefully while maintaining the illusion of being grammatically correct, I made up four grammatical guidelines which I implement however I see fit:
1.) Capitalization is used only for emphasis and the word “I”. Capitalizing the first word of each sentence makes the poem appear broken and misplaces emphasis. Capitalizing the first word of each line tends to be a bit distracting and isn’t visually appealing.
2.) Punctuation is used only to enhance the poem’s flow and convey emotion.
3.) Wording is entirely up to the poet. However, misspelling and misusage of words should be employed sparingly and with a specific purpose. A poem littered with accidental mistakes appears amateurish and loses its intellectual value.
4.) Abbreviations should be avoided with the sole exception of enhancing the poem’s theme. Using abbreviations appears lazy, sloppy, and unintelligent.
This is what works for my personal poetic style. I believe that poetry was never meant to be oppressed by literary rules. Poetry was meant to reveal the secrets of the heart and comment on the human condition. If your poem is coherent and expresses all that you intended, you’ve written an authentic masterpiece. So, create your own definition of poetic grammar and write from your heart and soul.
FUN POETRY FACT: The German poet, Gottlob Burmann, despised the letter “R” and avoided using it whenever possible.
FUN GRAMMAR FACT: The dot topping the lower case letters “i” and “j” is called a tittle.