Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I spent much of yesterday working on a chapter about punctuation. My focus is Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "The Soldier," but I barely managed to get past my introductory section, which features snippets from bill bissett, Sonia Sanchez, Russell Edson, Derek Walcott, Robert Frost, The Elements of Style, and probably something else I've forgotten to mention. Still, that's seven pages' worth of first draft, so I'm feeling productive enough. Writing about punctuation sounds prissy and pedantic, and certainly there is a pettiness about it. But it's necessary. Whether in absence (as in bissett's poems) or abundance (as in Hopkins's poems), punctuation is a powerful notation of sound and sense--as well as confusion and ambiguity.

But enough of this subject. What you really want to hear about are the two turkey vultures that swept over the hood of my car and down into the greening roadside culvert; and the tiny blue scilla flowers that have mysteriously migrated into the grass and across the stone wall, far from where I planted the bulbs; and the busy black poodle breaded in sawdust and dead leaves; and Richard Hugo's hatred of semicolons ("No semicolons. Semicolons indicate relationships that only idiots need defined by punctuation. Besides, they are ugly."); and the robin caroling before daylight; and the beautifully made yet unbecoming red-knit hat I've been wearing while jumping rope in the frigid dawn; and by the way, I hope you've noticed all of the semicolons I've been using in this so-called sentence just to spite Richard Hugo; take that, Richard, some of us like them, so there, you'll have to lump it, I'll even use a boatload of comma splices if I feel like it; and the first word of Hopkins's poem "The Soldier" is


which sets me back on my heels every time I read it. The period after "Yes" is a shock and a stroke of courage, as if punctuating a word is unsheathing a sword. Yes.


Carlene said...

I am so glad you are tackling the issue of punctuation as both convention and invention; I am still puzzling over Komunyakaa's use of an ampersand. I think I get it, but I'm not always sure.

Laura LIbby said...

Oh,Hopkins. . .what a powerful way of describing the impact of that first word, Dawn. Yes. Emphatic and visceral.

Dawn Potter said...

Carlene: I'm citing you in the chapter. "Convention and invention." Love it.

And Laura: The weird thing about that word-punctuation combo is that it's the only one like it in the whole sonnet. The rest of the poem is all second-guessing and prevarication. So strange.