Punctuation of Life and Death

When you lose someone,
the world warps:
a comma butterfly (settling
on a nettle) distorts –
flicks open wings to burnish,
only to crisp in the sun.

When you lose someone,
summer colours tarnish;
tastes and smells curdle
like mouldy blackberries
on a parched tongue,
and all the while you long

to hear their voice, comforting
like drowsy bees on a sunny afternoon…

Kim M. Russell, 2nd July 2018

Mum and Dad033 (2)

My response to dVerse Poets Pub Meeting the Bar: Punctuation and enjambment in poetry  also linked to Poets United Poetry Pantry

Björn is our host this week and he would like us to focus on punctuation in our poetry. He says that it took him many years and a course in creative writing to appreciate the importance of punctuation but he has grown to love the fact that it gives the reader a clear guideline not only to meaning but also to rhythm and intonation.

Björn has given an in-depth explanation of how we can use punctuation and enjambment in poetry; I agree with him that punctuation adds another dimension to line-breaks and enjambment. He also tells us that one of his favourite punctuation marks is the em-dash. Emily Dickinson liked to use the em-dash and he has given as an example her poem ‘I heard a Fly Buzz’. His other favourite is the ellipsis.

For the challenge today Björn wants us to use punctuation but we don’t have to use every single punctuation mark. He suggests reading our poems aloud to hear how punctuation changes the way we read it. For this prompt we can either punctuate an existing poem or write something entirely new.

This poem is for the seven year anniversary of my dad’s death on 6th August.

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83 thoughts on “Punctuation of Life and Death

    1. Thank you so much, Bjorn. I really value your comments. I just wish the editors of anthologies and judges of the competitions to which I have submitted poems were so appreciative!

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    1. Thank you so much, Linda. You’re right about the pain not fading. Just when I thought he had recovered from a coma, he went and fell down the stairs, and my mother, who had already been diagnosed with dementia, found him. It was a difficult time all round and it led to me retiring from teaching because of stress and illness. Now they are both gone and I miss calling them every day.

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  1. Many of us have been orphaned by life–and pain stays in our cells like herpes, re-emerging with its own agenda. I liked this piece a lot; its power trumped the punctuation.

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  2. Ah, Kim, I’m sorry for your troubles – I can’t think of a better way of putting it than that. There’s real grief in this poem. I think you use great skill here – I hardly noticed the variety of punctuation because it just did exactly what it needed to do. It let me get on with reading the poem. I did like the little touch of the comma butterfly.

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    1. Thank you so much, Sarah. Writing poetry is the only way I can get it out of my system. Ellen planned her weekend visit just right as she will be still be here on Monday morning when the anniversary will hit hardest and I will have little Lucas to keep me balanced.

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  3. Perfectly punctuated. And so much more than that: poignant and beautiful. The voice, I find, is one of the hardest things to recapture in memory – and to come across an old recording of one who had passed was startling and painful, part of the living person much more than a photo.

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  4. Yes. Lose steals colors and light and mirth and so many other things… for a while. Some of the things never come back as they used to be. They seem to change to fit our newly ripped hearts. Life pauses in unusual ways that make complete sense to our situation. We find ourselves adding periods to events we were once sure would last forever. Yes. Oh, yes.

    I really love what you did here… feel it all the way to my bones.

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  5. Because of your punctuation, stanza two is the swiftest–not letting those sour berries sit on the tongue too long! may grief be in moderation as we celebrate those we have lost. Beautiful poem.

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  6. Having been through that experience I so agree, you are no longer the same person with a part of you gone and you struggle to make up the whole being again but the longing for them never fades.

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  7. A lovely and poignant piece that, I think, so many would find emotive and heartrending ~ I know I did ~ Your decision to close with an ellipsis is powerful … haunting, even, as it speaks to a sadness that has no final end.

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    1. Thank you, Wendy, for your close reading. I think the ellipsis is often over-used or incorrectly used, and is mostly associated with a cliffhanger. I use it sparingly in poetry and see it as a subtle hint rather than a link to something else.

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  8. Lovingly crafted, Kim. When one writes about grief, the words can easily descend into self-pity, but that is not the case here. I like how you end the poem with an ellipsis, like the loved one is still very much in the heart.

    I am very poor and careless with punctuation in my writings, partly because i wanted to experiment writing without punctuation. Perhaps I have to rethink that. 🙂

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    1. Than you! I find that punctuation depends very much on the poem. I sometimes write without punctuation if the idea or theme is abstract and has no obvious boundaries, especially when I don’t use capital letters; when I write sonnets or other structured forms, I find that punctuation finds its way in anyway. And then there are the in-between poems…

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  9. So beautifully written. The feeling of longing and use of synesthesia in this poem is phenomenal. Makes me think of a verse in the Bible. “And he will wipe out every tear from their eye, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

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