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How to Punctuate a Poem

Although a poem's punctuation can take any form desired by the author, there are a few guidelines to help along those who are unsure. There are six basic forms of punctuation used in a poem: period, semicolon, comma, question mark, exclamation point and dash. With each different form of punctuation comes differing signals to the reader; being aware of the signals you as the author are giving the audience is key for conveying the desired tone and flow of the overall poem.

Use a period for a full stop. In poetic terms, a period that occurs at the end of the line is referred to as an end-stop. An end-stopped line calls for a definite pause in the recitation of the poem, a place to take a full breath before continuing to the next line. A period is the most complete stop afforded a poet; if used in the middle of a line, it creates a caesura, or an extended pause.

Create an extended, but not complete, stop with a semicolon. A semicolon links two shared ideas; in poetry, a semicolon means the reader should pause, but not take a complete breath, because the next line is directly tied to the one just read. Caesura can also be created with a semicolon.

Make a slight pause in the poem's forward movement with a comma. Commas are the weakest form of punctuation since a comma is not strong enough to hold a complete sentence.

Use a question mark or exclamation point for major emphasis. In poetry, these are some of the least often used punctuation marks, meaning they should be used only for special occasions.

Insert a dash when you need a pause that requires more emphasis than a comma but does not require a full stop.


Awesome info, thanks for sharing! This is extremely helpful to newbies.

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When I first started scribbling out my little rhymes about 9 years ago I didn't punctuate Anything. I figured a perfectly written poem would provide pauses and other thing by the masterful use of words and flow..........I sure was an arrogant writer back then to assume than I was among the few masters who could accomplish this lol. So my advice? Use punctuation just as you would if writing prose. This can actually help out in trying to attain good rhythm because I Still think we should ATTEMPT to write so as to have the pauses and stops occur in a natural manner.

Now I'll much behind this here tree while I have invective hurled at me by those who at least Think they know better lol.

I was interested to see that apparently Australians call a full stop a "period"; and an exclamation mark and exclamation point!. One lives and learns.

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