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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 are the traditional, the median, and the modern approaches. 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 each approach, the effects it can have on the reader, and the things to avoid in the styles of capitalization in poetry.

Last edited by Aley on Fri Jun 03, 2016 2:53 am, edited 8 times in total.
  





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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 or structure or when you're working in a word processor and it does it on its own. The style has been used for generations, so sometimes if you're working with Early Modern English, like Shakespearean English, it can be fun to write this way to get that antique feel.

The Effect on Readers


Most of the time, this hinders 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 track of the sentence. If the reader is well versed in ignoring beginning capitalization, they may 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 the readers guess whether the caps at the beginning is actually the beginning and then come up with some really cool effects. Rhythm and meter are going to be your friend when taking this approach, because getting a reader into the flow of the 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 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 its own natural style. The biggest thing is to allow the poem to express itself. This approach may not be the best fit for every poem.

When you begin with using this approach, don't default to it automatically - try to decide what purpose it will serve. 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 readers 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 following the usual rules of capitalization. This means when you use a period, you capitalize the next letter, and you capitalize 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


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 approach 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 also because it can be mistaken as being a Line Capitalized poem instead of a Sentence Capitalized poem. Some reviewers may think you 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 creates 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 readers don't miss the rhythm.

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





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non-capitalized


This is the newest approach to 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 approach, just like the others, has good and bad qualities to it.

Basically, regardless of punctuation, nothing is capitalized except maybe things like proper nouns, but that is at the discretion of the writer. Other times things will become capitalized if they are important, shouted, or need to pop out, but again, this is a stylistic choice.

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. These poems 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 approach is very good for writing in a stream of consciousness, where thoughts may or may not flow together easily, but can also be used for 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 to support the structure that is needed in the poem instead of depending on more punctuation to create connections between the ideas and images of the poem.

The Effect on the Readers


Often, readers will find this approach 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, readers 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 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, 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 its 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 or vice-versa. 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 it might make them think you have grammatical errors. Be careful to use this technique purposefully 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-coaster 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.

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
Penguin Attacks

Punctuation, No Capitals
desperate times desperate

Sentence Capitalized
The Thoughts of a Used Juice Box
Light from the Storm
Insomnia

Line Capitalized
Writing

Mix and Match/Alternative
Meditate
13

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

Please help me thank @Audy, @megsug, @fortis, @ReisePiecey, @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: Can't I Leave It Out? A New poet's Guide
ABCs of Punctuation in Poetry
Poetry and Punctuation
Pray Perpetuate Poetry Punctuation

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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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