personal relevation #36b

As I read through my copyedited pages, I am struck by my various ticks (writing is deadly for […]

As I read through my copyedited pages, I am struck by my various ticks (writing is deadly for ego; reading through an edited chapter with “track changes” on is like listening to your voice on a tape recorder.)

One such tick is my addiction for connective punctuation — em-dashes, elispses, semi-colons — I love them all. I like the “sound” they make in your head… a morse code for a pause. A codification of hesitation.

Elipses allows you to gather yourself… gather your words. You can almost see the speaker gaze at the ceiling… lick her lips… rub her hands together… as she seeks exactly how to proceed. And when the words aren’t found, when the words fail the writer, they simple trail off into four dots, lost ….

A semi-colon couples together sentences like a train conductor; all aboard, next stop: the point.

That is the power of the semi-colon’s brother the colon: it’s a full stop. With a colon we have arrived; please check to make sure you have not left any personal items in the sentence.

I use connective punctuation as any poet would — for the “sound” they make. Not, of course, for the rules that demand their use; I’m too ill-trained for that. I’m sure my phraseology would give Strunk the heebie-jeebies; I like to think White might understand.


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  1. 1

    =v= I use parentheses too much, because in my mind it means I’m lowering my voice a bit. (I’ve been making an effort to do it less, though.)

  2. 3

    I am also big on the semicolons and em-dashes (or, as I prefer to think of them, double hyphens). It probably won’t surprise you that I don’t ever use ellipses.

    And btw, some of the most interesting poetry is all about rules.

  3. 4

    Heh. I always have the feeling that someone, somewhere, is going to tell me off for using too many semi-colons. I love them. Deeply. The mid-way point between a comma (too half-hearted, too wet) and a full-stop (too final, too dry); they are, in fact, great.

    But I’m sure someone, somewhere will tell me off for using them too much.

  4. 5

    I’m not sure if I would agree with your assesment about what makes the “most interesting” poetry JJG… I enjoy some tightly ruled poetry such as sonnets or sestinas, while others seem forced or read like elaborate games. My favorite poetry — that which I find “most interesting” — is the black mountain and the new york schools; neither has rules beyond those dictated by the content. But that’s my taste.

  5. 8
    Laura Roylance

    I think that the greatest writers are those whose works are punctuated cleverly – not conventionally. My personal aim is to write correspondence so that a friend can read it, and, by virtue of clever punctuation, recognise where I would pause to breathe, laugh, or emphasise a point. Ahhhh, the beauty of the English language…

  6. 10
    Joe 10

    Yes! I’ve oft wondered about my obsession with those marvelous dots.

    I think we will, if anyone bothers to study it, find the use of the ellipsis (the plural of which confounds me) has increased in the past 5 or 10 years with the advent of email. Most likely an attempt to soften the tone – like an emoticon to denote reflection.

    I rarely use Elipses, as what are they but to a circle as a rectangle is to a square, more or less. The aforementioned “elispses” must be something you find in a on-line steam bath. 🙂

    On Strunk & White: as Tufte says: read the final chapter; 5, I believe. Read it once a year

  7. 11

    Chapter five is the one written by E.B. White, the marvelous author of– among other things– Charlotte’s Web. The rest is written almost entirely by Strunk, White’s College English professor, expect for a few updates. Or so says my dog-eared copy.

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