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Capitalization in Poetry



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Aley says...



Capitalization in Poetry


There are multiple ways to work with capitalization in poetry. There is the traditional, the median, and the modern. For our sake, I will call them Capitalizing Lines, Capitalizing Sentences, and Non-Capitalized. In this resource I will go over the good things about the style, the effects it can have on the reader, and the things to avoid in the styles of capitalization in poetry.

Index

Capitalizing Lines
Capitalizing Sentences
Non-Capitalized
Alternative Capitalization
Examples
Last edited by Aley on Fri Jun 03, 2016 2:53 am, edited 8 times in total.
  





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Aley says...



Capitalizing Lines

This is probably the oldest method to dealing with capitalization in poetry. The method is simple, just capitalize the first letter of every line.

The Good

This system is useful when you're dealing with a poem that has a lot of rhythm, structure, or you're just working on Word and it does it on it's own. The style has been used for generations so sometimes if you're working with Middle English, like Shakespearean, it can be fun to write this way to get that antique feel.

The Effect on Readers

Most of the time this can hinder readers. When they see capitalized letters they immediately think it's the beginning of a sentence, so they stop reading through the lines to the punctuation or natural end of the lines. This can be a tricky thing if you're working with enjambment because they'd lose the sentence. If the reader is well versed in ignoring beginning capitalization, they may still be alright with reading the lines through on the first try, but it can be a tricky business.

You can use this to hide the beginnings of lines by making them guess whether the caps at the beginning is actually the beginning and then come up with some really cool effects, but rhythm and meter are going to be your friend because getting a reader into the flow of sentences is going to help them the most when trying to read through lines.

For novice writers beginning capitalization can be a really tempting thing to work with constantly because it is so automatic, but because most novices do use this style, it can make the readers assume they haven't read much modern poetry.

Things to Avoid

Each poem has it's own style that it naturally tends towards. The biggest thing is to allow the poem to express itself and this style may not be the best to do that with every poem.

When you begin with using this style, try to decide what your purpose is going to be for using in instead of just defaulting to it. Most older poems have end punctuation that makes stopping at the end of lines natural, and that is part of why it was successful. Today, when stopping at the end of a line can mean leaving the poem and not coming back to it, it's not necessarily a good thing. At the same time if you want them to stop and think about each and every line, you may want to have end punctuation and beginning line capitalization.

Last edited by Aley on Tue Apr 05, 2016 2:51 am, edited 4 times in total.
  





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Aley says...



Capitalizing Sentences

The more modern method of writing poems is to capitalize with the punctuation in the poem. This means when you use a period, you capitalize the next letter, proper nouns, and other things you would normally capitalize. This is probably the most common way to punctuate poetry because of the effect it has.

The Good

This style of capitalization allows for grammarians to enjoy the poems as much as the average Joe reader. While the average reader may not be able to read through a poem that is Line Capitalized, or non-capitalized, a poem that is capitalized like any other piece of literature is easy to grasp, and easy to read through the lines.

This style works well with just about any structure, tool or device in poetry, aside from conveying emotion with capitalization.

The Effect on the Readers

Most readers don't notice this style of capitalization when the punctuation lines up with the words. That being said, it is easier for them to sink into the poem's meaning, words, and oddities the poet has chosen to add to the poem.

This has a semi-formal response from readers as they are reading something that is following traditional grammar rules with which they are familiar.

Things to Avoid

With this form it's suggested to avoid end punctuation because, again, it can cause the reader to stop, but it can also be mistaken as being an Line Capitalized poem instead of a Sentence Capitalized poem, and some reviewers may think you just missed capitalizing the lines where you have a comma punctuation instead of a period.

While this is not always the case, and certainly something easy to ignore, having end punctuation in the poem also can create an even more formal, structured feeling which may or may not be desired.

The other thing to avoid is a lack of punctuation. If you avoid punctuation all together in the poem, then it is hard to get the capitals to match up with the sentences in the reader's mind. Tricky as it may be, it can be done to create sentences without punctuation at all, but this style of poem can be highly difficult to write well. It requires a lot of knowledge about sentence structure to make it work so the readers don't miss the reading rhythm.

Last edited by Aley on Tue Apr 05, 2016 2:52 am, edited 3 times in total.
  





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Aley says...



non-capitalized

This is the newest form of capitalization that has come about in poetry. There are some people who are completely against it, some who are absolutely for it, and then there are the middle folk. This form, just like the others, has good and bad qualities to it.

Basically, regardless of punctuation, nothing is capitalized aside from, maybe, in sentence punctuations that require capitalization like proper nouns, but that completely subject to the writer. Other times things will become capitalized if they are important, shouted, or need to pop out, but again, this is a stylistic design on the poem.

The Good

This style is really laid back and casual. It is the most casual style of these three, and while you can have punctuation, it is not required. They tend to be more free flowing and easier to read through whether they have line breaks in the middle of words, or at the end of sentences.

This style is very good for writing in a stream of conscience where the thoughts may or may not flow together easily, or just writing a normal poem.

With no punctuation, line breaks become super important as the things you choose to group together become more connected than if they were a complete thought. While working with line breaks can be tricky, it is a great thing to learn to help improve any poem.

With punctuation, it is suggested to use it minimally just to support the slight structure that is needed in the poem instead of depending on it to create connections between the poem.

The Effect on the Readers

Most of the time the readers will find this style the most relaxing to read once they get over the lack of capitalization. They will stop anticipating where sentences will end and that will make reading the poem a little easier and quicker. Sometimes, if the poem is heavy with alliteration and other poetic devices, they will have to read the poem multiple times to actually identify the words and their meanings instead of just listening to the sounds.

This can make a poem seem more like beat poetry, or spoken word because of the more natural lack of some grammatical devices. In other words, try it out, and read a lot of it yourself to see what you think. It's not for everyone.

Things to Avoid

Avoid jumping into this structure without reading poems written in it. The reason being that the effect needs to be understood before you can use it in a poem effectively. This style of poetry can be really fun to work with, and helpful, but it can also be difficult to get right and you might end up with poor grammar if you're not being careful. The more you read, the better you'll understand the line breaks, stanza usage, and page placement that goes into making the poem accessible without punctuation.

Last edited by Aley on Tue Apr 05, 2016 2:53 am, edited 4 times in total.
  





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Aley says...



Alternative Capitalization

Don't be afraid to mix and match the different styles to change the poem through the course. Poems about relaxing, or poems where emotions run high can sometimes really use going from a Non-Capitalized style, to a Line Capitalized style, vise verse. Depending on the mood, the tone, and the feelings you want to put in the poem, you can manipulate the style of capitalization to fit the situation.

The Effect on the Readers

This can sometimes confuse the reader if it's not done well, or make them think you have grammar errors. Be careful to use this technique as it flows instead of randomly.

The effect otherwise can make the reader tense, draw their attention, or even pull them into the emotions by showing off when the emotions are intense or less extreme like a roller costar with your capitalization.

Things to Avoid

Avoid changing the style too abruptly. If you do, you might startle the reader and make the poem feel disjointed instead of having the poem flow better by the lose control.

This is not a popular choice, because poems are so often about consistency in order to make unity, so using this all the time would be a bad idea, but it is not impossible to do, just like everything in poetry, so I put up this section for those adventurers among you.

Last edited by Aley on Fri Jun 03, 2016 2:53 am, edited 4 times in total.
  





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Wed May 21, 2014 7:55 pm
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Aley says...



Examples

Now that you've read about these things, check out some examples by our very own poets!

No Punctuation, No Capitals
http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work.php?id=102233

Punctuation, No Capitals
http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work.php?id=102456

Sentence Capitalized
http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work.php?id=100526
http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work.php?id=109626
http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work.php?id=106862

Line Capitalized
http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work.php?id=99700

Mix and Match
http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/work.php?id=101107
13

If you want more examples, check out some of the NaPo threads!

Please help me thank @Audy, @megsug, @fortis, @ReisePieciey, @Meshugenah, and @Auxiira for contributing their examples.

For more explanation on punctuation in poetry talked about in the Non-Capitalized section, see one of these articles below.
Punctuation&Poetry: New poet's guide (Can't I leave it out?)
http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/view ... 52&t=39518
http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/view ... 52&t=18791
http://www.youngwriterssociety.com/view ... 52&t=66150

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Mon Jul 28, 2014 4:14 am
ScarletDreams14 says...



Hey Aley, I like the idea of this but I find it slightly annoying when there isn't punctuation or capitalization especially in poems. I only focus on that and it's extremely difficult for me to pick out the sentences and know what to read. Also it strains my mind a little... maybe that's just me but It does bother me just a bit.
I recently criticized someone on this and now I feel horrible, because I really though they we're making a mistake. I hate making mistakes and I'd wish I would of read this sooner...

I really need to stay out of the poetry category.
ScarletDreams14



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and that is the legend of the potato...

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Mon Jul 28, 2014 6:13 am
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Rosendorn says...



@ScarletDreams14 It's okay! A lot of people are taught very rigid rules about poetry that all poets Must Follow (such as rhyme, a comma for every line break, and capitalization) then you get to YWS and... people don't follow these rules at all. You are by far not the first person to make that mistake.

For me, I have a few general rules for reviewing poetry:

1- If it's inconsistent, try to find a reason why or point it out. If half the I's are capitalized and half aren't, then there might be a reason or it might be random. Asking about it clears up any confusion and gives you a place to say "your meaning isn't really obvious, cause I had a hard time picking up on it."
2- If it makes the poem basically illegible (ie- the sentences run on for so long that you can't keep track of what's going on), then point out there needs to be some breaks because lack of punctuation is hard to read and needs to be handled carefully.
3- Frame the issue as being about the poet's choices, not what's "absolutely right" or "absolutely wrong". Poetry often has a lot of conscious choices involved in what's done and not done, therefore respecting the poet is important to remember when reviewing.

For me, poetry has every single little piece of writing be critical, from how you structure the poem visually to the grammar to the words themselves. Remembering how much thought goes into poetry helps you understand some of the weirder breaks in what's considered "conventional rules of writing".
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