Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Emily Dickinson

Bad Punctuation Rules


Bad Punctuation Rules

Image Courtesy of Svilen Milev ~ http://efffective.com

There’s been quite a bit written about what’s “right” or “wrong” on this blog

And, quite recently, I’ve used and defended a situation of punctuation that I feel strongly about.

Here are two takes on that situation (with my opinions):

John told me, “I will never end a sentence that way!”

That’s the way the “rules” say it should be punctuated

But, “John told me” isn’t the kind of beginning that demands an exclamation mark at the end

So the “rules” left out a period (“full stop” for some of you).

Here’s what I think is the logical way to punctuate that sentence:

John told me, “I will never end a sentence that way!”.

That may look “horribly wrong” to some of you; but, I believe that’s only because we’ve had the “rules” “forcing” us to accept the first example

Of course, it could be rewritten to avoid such a shockingly logical ending:

John nearly screamed at me when he told me he’d never end a sentence with a period outside the quotes.

Kind of loses something that way, in my humble opinion

Then there’s my dear friend Emily Dickinson.

She would write a bit —

With a breath taken —

And continue…

I used to think that all the dashes in her poetry were just her asserting her emotions—then, I found out lots of folks in the USA were doing the same thing, back in the late 1800s.

Now it’s time to reveal what got me on to talking about punctuation today.

The Guardian has an article called, Sats tests will harm next generation of writers, says Society of Authors.

A few excerpts:

“Children’s authors are warning that the ‘restrictive’ way children in England are being taught writing in school will affect the next generation of novelists, biographers and poets.”

“…members of the Society of Authors…condemn current government policy on the teaching of writing and grammar. They say the government has intervened too far and that ‘the resultant teaching no longer reflects what writing really does’.”

Some folks are probably choking over the way I punctuated that last excerpt’s end (check out the article to see the original sentence).

One more pertinent excerpt:

“As year 6 children [10 & 11 year-olds] sit their Sats tests this week – including spelling, punctuation and grammar – the authors say that when the Department for Education introduces new terminology for grammatical structure, such as ‘fronted adverbs’, and insists that exclamation marks can only end sentences starting with ‘what’ or ‘how’, it risks ‘alienating, confusing and demoralising children with restrictions on language just at the time when they need to be excited by the possibilities’.”

Just as an interesting point of international punctuation confusion—the article, in a UK newspaper, said, “including spelling, punctuation and grammar”; yet, most often, I believe, in the USA, it would “properly” be, “including spelling, punctuation, and grammar”—one extra little comma

Regular readers of this blog know I’ve been a maverick all my life—I really wasn’t so much confused or demoralized by punctuation or grammatical rules—I just changed them to suit my own logical priorities—though, there was enough other stuff that did confuse and demoralize me

And, concerning what the UK government’s Department of Education said about exclamation marks, do read this wonderfully authorly article.

Finally, for the link-clickers out there, here’s a somewhat related article—A Better Way to Read
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13 to 19-Year-Olds Writing #Poetry !


Teen Poetry MOOC

Teen Poetry MOOC

Normally, I do a re-blog on Thursdays…

However, since yesterday I published a post about Emily Dickinson and also received an email from the International Writing Program at The University of Iowa about a free course in poetry writing, I must jump in and spread the word :-)

If you’re 13-19 years old… Well, I should let the IWP tell their own story:

#Flashwrite Teen Poetry MOOC

March 30-May 3, 2016: The IWP will offer its first MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) designed exclusively for teenage students. Writers age 13-19 are invited to write new poems and to share and discuss their work with fellow writers around the world. No writing experience is necessary: this MOOC will welcome new writers and challenge experienced poets. This MOOC will be taught here on NovoEd, a website for creative collaborative learning. Registration is free!

And, there’s this:

Early College Credit Opportunity

Students who complete this #Flashwrite MOOC may continue on to take an optional #Flashwrite Workshop for University of Iowa undergraduate credit.

May 16-June 13, 2016: Students who complete the #Flashwrite MOOC may enroll in an optional University of Iowa #Flashwrite Teen Poetry Workshop for one university credit. Each online workshop will be taught by a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with a substantial teaching and publication record and will be limited to 15 students. Enrollment requirements: completion of the #Flashwrite Teen Poetry MOOC and payment of a $398 USD tuition fee.

For more info, Go Here


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Why Is Some #Poetry So Hard to Understand?


Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson

I have two Most Favorite (“secular”) authors.

One writes fiction, the other wrote poetry.

Some might say the poet wrote fiction

C. J. Cherryh is my Most Favorite fiction author—and, she can be very hard for some folks to understand

Emily Dickinson is my Most Favorite poet—and, she can be very hard for some folks to understand

I find her much harder to understand than Cherryh—yet, I read her, over and over

If you should try to read her poetry, do, if at all possible, get The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson as it’s the most comprehensive and authoritative one out there.

I should add that many fans of Cherryh and Dickinson love them in spite of all the effort it can take to understand them

But, this post is more about Ms. Dickinson so I’ll give you my short-form reasons for why poetry (and, hers in particular) can be hard to understand.

First, here’s an example poem:

You cannot put a Fire out —
A Thing that can ignite
Can go, itself, without a Fan —
Upon the slowest Night —

You cannot fold a Flood —
And put it in a Drawer —
Because the Winds would find it out —
And tell your Cedar Floor —

It may appear simplistic to you…

It may seem nonsensical…

If you read it more than once, it may strike you as deeper than you first thought…

One hint at deeper meaning is that certain things are given qualities they don’t have in a mundane world.

Wind talking to the floor, for instance

When things like this happen in poetry, you can tell that the poet isn’t just talking mundanely—they’re using words in unique ways—they’re making words do two or three things at once

So, finally, my short-form reasons for why poetry can be hard to understand:

Poetry (the “best” poetry) is meant to be more than it seems.

Words are used in ways that defy strict rationality.

We’re challenged to think beyond the obvious and learn deep Truths about Life…

These reasons are more than likely why poetry never sells as well as genre-fiction—folks don’t seem to want to work hard to find deep Truths

I was prompted to write this post because of a new book about Emily, A Loaded Gun ~ Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century.

And, I found out about the book by reading a post at Longreads,
A Loaded Gun: The Real Emily Dickinson ~ She was less like a recluse, more like a bomb going off.

Just a few excerpts (the Longreads post is actually an excerpt from the new book…):

“…Emily Dickinson was not just ‘one more madwoman in the attic’, but rather a messianic modernist, a performance artist, a seductress, and ‘a woman maddened with rage—against a culture that had no place for a woman with her own fiercely independent mind and will’.”

“’She was the articulate inarticulate’, that lone voice out of the Puritan wilderness….her letters are every bit as bewildering as the poems, perhaps even more so…We soon come to realize that’s she’s wearing an assortment of masks—sometimes she’s Cleopatra and an insignificant mouse in the same letter.”

“The brutality of this belle of Amherst would stop a truck.”

“It’s as if she had a storm inside her head, an illumination, like a wizard or a mathematical genius.”

There is still much conjecture about Emily (and this book certainly raises many speculations).

We may never know the truth about her, except for the Utter Truths she wove into her poetry

A few more excerpts:

“I believe she suffered horrendously as a woman; dream brides drift in and out of her poems like a continual nightmare—yet she did not want to be ‘Bridalled’.”

“I believe that her rebellion against the culture of nineteenth-century Amherst was of another kind. She was promiscuous in her own fashion, deceiving everyone around her with the sly masks she wore. She was faithful to no one but her dog. Her white dress was one more bit of camouflage, to safeguard the witchery of her craft.”

“She wasn’t one more madwoman in the attic. She was the mistress of her own interior time and space…”

And, even though I have my own proof that she was extremely spiritual and even extraordinarily religious (so many folks really don’t know the meanings of spiritual and religious…), I’ll share one more quote that, for me, nails it for who this woman was:

“She met her first real antagonist, Mary Lyon, within the school’s walls. Lyon was a formidable foe. The founder and headmistress of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, Lyon came from a much humbler background than the poet and believed in educating rich and poor alike as female soldiers in Christ. But no matter how wily she was, the headmistress in the severe white bonnet couldn’t get Dickinson to profess her faith, couldn’t rescue her soul. Emily Dickinson was one of the few ‘unsaved’ seminarians. The battle was less about God and the Devil than about two women with strong wills, one of them a sixteen-year-old girl whose father was almost as tyrannical as Mary Lyon. None of Lyon’s little Christian soldiers could persuade the poet. She learned whatever she wanted to learn, and discarded all the rest.”

If I’ve encouraged just one other person to dive into the Worlds created by Emily Dickinson, my life has more worth………
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“…A Riddle Wrapped In A Mystery Inside An Enigma.”


That quote in the title comes from Winston Churchill—“Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

But, this post isn’t about Churchill or Russia

It’s about a new archive site of the writings of Emily Dickinson.

In many ways, Emily, in her life and in her poetry, was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

I’ve been reading her poetry for many years and my well-used edition of her poems, though well-bound, has loose pages

Some of her poetry infuses me with immediate Light—some has been slowly dawning in meaning—some remains impenetrable

I’ll include two of my favorite poems at the end of this post.

From the Emily Dickinson Museum site:

“Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst at the Homestead on December 10, 1830. Her quiet life was infused with a creative energy that produced almost 1800 poems and a profusion of vibrant letters.

“Her lively Childhood and Youth were filled with schooling, reading, explorations of nature, religious activities, significant friendships, and several key encounters with poetry. Her most intense Writing Years consumed the decade of her late 20s and early 30s; during that time she composed almost 1100 poems. She made few attempts to publish her work, choosing instead to share them privately with family and friends. In her Later Years Dickinson increasingly withdrew from public life. Her garden, her family (especially her brother’s family at The Evergreens) and close friends, and health concerns occupied her.

“With a few exceptions, her poetry remained virtually unpublished until after she died on May 15, 1886. After her death, her poems and life story were brought to the attention of the wider world through the competing efforts of family members and intimates.”

The “virtually unpublished” nature of her poetry means there were only 13 pieces of her writing published in her lifetime

And, all the early publications of her work saw editors changing punctuation and even words to make her work conform to their expectations of what poetry should be

From the new Emily Dickinson Archive:

“Emily Dickinson Archive (EDA) provides high-resolution images of manuscripts of Dickinson’s poetry, along with transcriptions and annotations from selected historical and scholarly editions. This first release focuses on gathering images of those poems included in The Poems of Emily Dickinson: Variorum Edition, edited by R. W. Franklin These manuscripts vary from ‘scraps’ written on envelope flaps and pieces of wrapping paper; to drafts; to finished poems sent to friends or copied into the manuscript books called ‘fascicles’.”

A few of the nicest features of the site are the ability to keep a notes page for yourself, create your own reading list of poems, and download the images of Emily’s manuscripts.

The archive site links out to the Emily Dickinson Lexicon.

From that site:

“The Emily Dickinson Lexicon (EDL) is a comprehensive dictionary of over 9,275 words and variants found in the collected poems. Visitors to the website may search the lexicon to view alphabetical entries that consist of a headword with its inflected forms, part of speech, etymology, webplay, and definitions

“Her ‘loved Philology’ presents a close-knit diction that she crafted with allusions, ambiguity, antithesis, circumlocution, definitions, figures, idioms, kennings, metaphors, neologisms, polysemy, puns, symbols, and synonymy.”

That site also has the complete Noah Webster 1844 American Dictionary of the English Language.

N.B.: None of Emily’s works bore her signature

Here are two of my favorite poems by this astonishing individual:

While it is alive
Until Death touches it
While it and I lap one Air
Dwell in one Blood
Under one Sacrament
Show me Division can split or pare—

Love is like Life—merely longer
Love is like Death, during the Grave
Love is the Fellow of the Resurrection
Scooping up the Dust and chanting “Live”!

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There is a solitude of space
A solitude of sea
A solitude of death, but these
Society shall be
Compared with that profounder site
That polar privacy
A soul admitted to itself —
Finite infinity.

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National Punctuation Day ~ I Missed It, #@/%#* … !


Yep, me, a published author, missed National Punctuation Day—for the last nine years!!

Who knew?

Why didn’t we all get a letter from some official?

At least, our publishers or editors or agents could have alerted us!

Now, let us prepare for next September 24th (those of us in the U.S.A.—other countries may adopt it, too…).

I found a guest post on the Missouri State Teachers Association WebSite (and, there just might be a punctuation mistake in their title?) by Jeff Rubin, who “has written and designed more than 1,800 company newsletters since starting his newsletter publishing firm” and is the Founder of the official Day (probably some missing punctuation in that description…)—he says:

“I started National Punctuation Day in 2004 because I was concerned that our language skills are declining. Test scores confirm my suspicions. A study in 2007 by California State University-East Bay revealed that nearly 60 percent of incoming freshmen needed remedial English classes. Nationwide, 28 percent of incoming college freshmen enrolled in remedial classes, according to a 2004 report by the National Center for Education Statistics. This is unconscionable.

“We’re losing more of our language every year. There was an article in the San Francisco Chronicle last year in which parents questioned the need to teach their children how to spell. Unbelievable! With this attitude, it won’t be ‘no child left behind’, but rather ‘all children left behind’.”

By the way, Since I was quoting Jeff, I had to use “s around his words, but he used “s in his sentences, so I had to change his “s to ‘s (double quote to single quote) to abide by the rules of punctuation.

Also, I “broke” a rule of punctuation because the end of his last sentence, according to the rules should have been, rather ‘all children left behind.'”, and I put, rather ‘all children left behind’.”

I feel the single quote mark after the last word belongs before the period since its use is to close the quote; then, the double quote closes the full quote of the full sentence

The rule that all quote marks Must follow all other punctuation at the end of a sentence is not a rule of literary clarity—it arose when typesetters, in the days of lead type and wooden frames, found that, if the punctuation (thinner) was outside the quote (fatter), it would fall out of the frame—it’s just a mechanical rule and can safely be broken by literary mavericks :-)

Then, there’s my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, who threw out nearly all normal punctuation and replaced it with dashes of various lengths. From Dashing Genius: Emily Dickinson and the Punctuation of Cognition :

“Edith Wylder analyzed thirty poetry manuscripts…and identified 221 irregular notations, further classified as angular slants, reversed slants, horizontal marks, and curved marks. After an admittedly rough mathematical calculation, I estimate over seven thousand dash-like notations in Dickinson’s holographs. In a videotaped interview, poet Adrienne Rich recalls: ‘I’ll never forget the shock of opening the second edition of the poems in which the dashes had been restored and getting a sense of a whole new reading of the poetry, a whole new voice’;  the resulting typography seemed ‘much more jagged, much more personal, much more original, much more uncontainable than I had ever thought her to be.'”

You can visit the official National Punctuation Day WebSite and find all sorts of curious and fun stuff about these sometimes pesky, sometimes critical marks.

And, The Atlantic Wire has two cool posts about punctuation:

Writers’ Favorite Punctuation Marks

The Imagined Lives of Punctuation Marks
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