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Write without punctuation

When you’re working on a poem, try taking out punctuation, and see what you’re left with.

Another approach is to try writing without punctuation as an exercise in free writing, as a warm-up, or to generate ideas.

It’s invariably surprising how removing punctuation loosens up the writing and opens up possibilities, in terms of syntax, meaning and direction of the writing.

Or just take out full stops. Removing the closure that full stops provide really calls into question their use in a poem.

The lack of punctuation can lead to syntactic ambiguity, de-stabilising the poem and drawing in the reader.

By all means put the punctuation back in at a later stage – chances are, though, that it won’t be exactly the same punctuation; the poem will have changed.

Of course the decision about whether to use punctuation, or how to use it, is a question of a writer’s poetic. The absence of conventional punctuation in a poem by Tom Raworth or Harriet Tarlo is part of the point. And the ending of Frank O’Hara’s ‘The Day Lady Died’ is a brilliant example of how the sparing use of punctuation can add to the power of a poem.

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