Is It Acceptable To Ignore Rules of Written English When Writing Poetry?
Poetry comes under the genre of creative writing but does that mean that the "rules" of ordinary grammar and spelling shouldn't be adhered to when writing or creating poetry.
Where is the pride in creating a work of art, for that is what a poem should be, when it is sloppily written and does not meet the criteria which have historically been applied to written English. Spelling especially is a real problem with on-line writing.
I do have some sympathy with poems written so as to be in a spoken dialect or in a colloquial idiom, but this should be deliberately done and with a good reason.
The correct use of grammar is slightly different to correct spelling, I do believe it is important but as in all branches of creative thought, the breaking of the "rules" should be allowed BUT on the proviso that they are being broken deliberately. The writer / artist / musician must know the rules and how to apply them in order to break them to make a special point. Simply not bothering with rules of grammar is nothing short of lazy.
I intend to make a few points about the use of grammar in this article.
Spelling in Poetry
How Important Is It?
At school, I was taught how to spell correctly and find it hard to be "cool" (in the modern idiom) when I see obviously misspelled words. Today with spell checking software ubiquitously available everywhere, this should not happen. Of course we are all human and I have to admit that my typing is very limited especially when sitting for long periods at the computer keyboard but part of the business of being a writer should be a review of that which has been written. One of the reasons for this review should be to correct any typographical errors and bad spellings. There should be no excuse for poor spelling to my way of thinking.
Don't get me wrong, it does happen to me more often than it should, typos creep in often due to excitement at creating and committing the work to paper or the screen. Unfortunately, laziness is often a factor in not carrying out that editorial review. Maybe in the heat of the moment a mistake is not noticed but if the work is left for a day or two before reviewing or better yet, a third person can be found to undertake the task, a mistake or typographical error is then more likely to be found.
Of course, some errors will not be found by a spell checker, making it necessary for this review to be carried out. As an artist I know the value of coming back to a painting before deciding that it is finished and complete. I have no doubt that the same is true of any creative task.
The most common errors not found by spell checkers are using the wrong word entirely or using a word that sounds the same as the intended word, by definition a homonym. Simple examples of the latter are:-
to, two, too;
your, you're and
their and there.
All of which are classical examples which most people will have come across at school but often fail to use correctly when writing.
The photograph of the dictionaries here is my own work
Correct Grammar In Poetry
Is It Important?
I have separated spelling and poetry because I do think that they can be treated differently, correct spelling should be expected even though it is creative writing. I gave reasons for my view on this above.
I want to cover the use of some elements of grammar and further down I will present a list of references/ links for further study. The discussion here is a simplification and review of the contents of several of these references.
The structure of prose is based on sentences and correct punctuation is necessary in order to provide a skeleton upon which this structure can be hung and understood by all readers. Poetry on the other hand is structured according to the line. Punctuation will still help the reader to understand and read the poem as the writer expected when it was written. The use of commas and full stops will indicate where a short break is required or a breath may be taken. If the word order does not make it clear that a question is intended then a question mark is absolutely required.
This general principal should be applied to all punctuation; If it clarifies the readers understanding of the meaning or structure of the poem, then maybe it is best to use it. However, if it is used in one part of the poem, it should be carried through the whole poem. Consistency should be the watchword. So to reiterate, there is really no right or wrong, the rules of grammar are flexible and can be broken by the writer who is aware of what he is doing.
Here again, some writers do capitalise at the start of each line and some don't, considering it to be an archaic formalisation. But whichever you choose to do you must be consistent. A consideration is what the image of the poem should be saying. Does it look better with capitals at the start of each line. Poems with very short lines in particular may not be contenders for the use of capitalisation.
In English without the word endings, which serve in other languages to indicate the case of a noun (subject/object), word order has become standardised. Again a writer can be creative about this within certain limitations and the standard sentence structure, subject-verb-object (SVO), can be flexible. Understanding must be the arbiter of whether this can or should be done. The form of the verb will also have to be correctly assigned.
Perhaps not strictly grammar but the use of similes and metaphors should always be considered. The former is a direct comparison whilst the latter is an implied comparison. Both have their place in the language of poetry. Along the same lines, hyperbole is an over-stated exaggeration, which can be very useful to the writer.
In conclusion, grammar provides structure, which aids understanding and provides communication from the writer to the reader. Correct grammar should always be used unless the rules of grammar are consciously broken in order to make a point. Consistency must be applied throughout the poem.
Discussions On Spelling And Grammar In Poetry
I give here a list of references which I have obtained from a Google search on this topic. I have tried to review all of these and several more, from which I have distilled the arguments presented above. The one thing which this search has shown is that the use of corrrect grammar at least is down to personal inclinations. As long as the writer is aware of how to break the rules.
- The spell-checker poem
An example ( or many of them)of how mistakes can arise through the use of a spell checker. very well worth reading for the humour.
- Breaking grammar rules in poetry
A heated debate on the subject.
- Why correct grammar is important
A well argued case for the use of correct grammar.
- How grammar in poetry works
A short piece from a writer who believes that the structure of poetry creates its own grammar.
- Write Out Loud
A discussion thread on spelling and grammar.
- Using proper grammar in poetry
A well reasoned argument for good grammar or at least consistency.
Silent River - A Poem
One of my very earliest poems. A poem describing the last desperate act of a very sad man. Life has proven to be too much and he cannot find the answers he wants to life's crises.
I thankfully have never found myself in such a situation but I was inspired to write this, without understanding how it would turn out, by a painting hanging on my living room wall whilst I was at university. It was a painting of a river running through a block of high rise buildings. The lights from the windows were reflected in the water and heavily distorted. I sometimes wish that I had not written this but I did. Now I find it somehow soothes but terrifies me at the same time.
The image is an artwork of Ashness Bridge in the Lake District, UK; painted in pastels and photographed by myself
Cold, silent river,
How I long to be free.
You ask no questions,
Just roll on down to the sea.
Coloured lights reflect in your water,
I reflect in them too.
But I've so many questions,
I don't know what I must do.
Dark, flowing water,
How I yearn to be me.
How many times
Will it take to achieve?
I see my face in your mirror
But I don't hear my voice.
I long for eternity,
I'm left here with no choice.
Darkness stealing over me,
It's as cold as a night in July.
Stars fill the heavens,
At last, I am finally I.
I feel so uselessly able,
To do anything that I want.
Now my time's not my own anymore
But my mind is so happily bent.
By John Dyhouse
Poems By Artyfax
I hope that you will find time to read some of my poems which I have started to post in Squidoo lenses.
Poems On Endings And Lost Loves
This particular page is concerned with poems about endings, especially endings of relationships. It is the second in a series of lenses showcasing poetry tha...
A Poem: The Wind
I only very rarely write poetry. But this one happened pretty well organically after a major disaster which made the news around the world. In other words I ...
Poems On Attitudes To Life
Attitudes to life are often expressed in poetry. My early poems were often about life and attitudes to life of disturbed people. I have chosen this theme to ...
Other pages are less targeted. I have created one lens about poetry for children, using as examples two poems that I wrote for my youngest son at bedtime.
I have also included a page which describes several of my blogs, one of which is dedicated to recent poetry.
And finally for now, I started a lens which describes a project to write a poem-a-day. I had high hope of this when I started but did not really find that it helped me to have such a deadline. Read about it on my blog (above) or on the Squidoo page.
What Do You Think? - Spelling And Grammar, Are They Important?
I have presented a case above for the usage of correct grammar and especially spelling in poetry. I have left it open for grammar to be treated flexibly but only in the light of understanding that grammar. Do you agree? Or are you opposed to my views? Have your own say on this very personal subject.
Do you think that correct spelling and grammar is important?
Are you a writer, perhaps you knock out the odd poem or are you into writing poetry in a big way. Whichever is the case, I would welcome anything else that you would like to contribute in a reasoned way to this argument.
The time has come,
The hour is nigh
To let be known
That, which you decry.
Are you against,
Or are you for
The use of rules,
Come make a stand
For what you choose.
Share with us now
Let's hear your views.
A Place To Share Your Thoughts - On Spelling and Grammar in Poetry
Mark Tulin from Ventura, California on December 17, 2017:
Nice job presenting your case,thanks.
Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on August 25, 2017:
As someone who has been paid to write with correct spelling and grammar my entire adult life (and still has not always done it correctly), I can testify that the only people who don't value the rules of spelling and grammar are those who don't know them. When a writer ignores those rules, they lose their credibility. Yes, a writer can violate the rules when it serves a purpose in his/her work, but you take a risk - especially in doing it too often.
John Dyhouse (author) from UK on February 22, 2014:
@QuizSquid: I appreciate that there are times when a poet, just like an artist, may want to break the rules for his own reasons; thanks for the comment
QuizSquid on February 22, 2014:
When you break rules of grammar because you don't know the rules or you're sloppy, that's a problem. When you know the rules, and you break them for a reason, there's a place for that.
When Dylan Thomas wrote "Do not go gentle into that good night," he knew gentle is not an adverb, and that gently would have been the correct word. He also knew that it wouldn't have been nearly as strong. So he made the informed decision to break the rule.
Colin323 on January 08, 2014:
The prose writer can learn from the poet; for example, using similes and/or metaphors, and inclusion of words that appeal to the senses of the reader.
corinnephillips1 on November 19, 2013:
I like your poem above and the wind poem shows me how important it is to use correct grammer and spelling good poetry is truly a work of art that deserves the attention
Aunt-Mollie on May 03, 2013:
So glad to find another poet on Squidoo.
KimGiancaterino on May 12, 2012:
I enjoyed your poetry and the lens. I wrote a satirical lens on this very topic. After years of editing and doing live news graphics, mistakes jump out at me.
anonymous on May 11, 2012:
Congrats on being on the first page.
trendydad on May 10, 2012:
well written lens, thanks
jammarti on May 09, 2012:
Very informative lens. I learned a lot! :D
vBizeso on May 09, 2012:
vBizeso on May 09, 2012:
anonymous on May 08, 2012:
Lovely discussion! I think it's all about context. What works for one poem does not necessarily work for another. But you're absolutely right ... first learn what makes a foundation, then rearrange, build up from, tear away corners, etc. best of luck to you on your Squidoo writing journey!
John Dyhouse (author) from UK on May 07, 2012:
@goldenecho: Thanks again, I have made them consistent. Not sure if they are complete sentances but will double check at next update.
John Dyhouse (author) from UK on May 07, 2012:
@goldenecho: I did say that I make a lot of typos - try to proofread them out but.... Anyway thanks for pointing this out.
Gale from Texas on May 07, 2012:
You're welcoem to delete this comment once you read it: Noticed some more errors, and I point them out to be helpful, not to criticise (because these are the exact type of errors I struggle with myself). In the descriptions under your links listed in "Discussions On Spelling And Grammar In Poetry" sometimes you capitalize the first word, sometimes you don't; sometimes you end with a period, sometimes you don't. Either way would probably be fine...but you might want to go through the links and make them consistent (but oh dear, I just realized haven't checked my own links for consistency, so I'm probably the pot calling the kettle black! If you notice errors on my pages, please feel free to let me know.).
Gale from Texas on May 07, 2012:
Hate to point this out, but your title requires a question mark, since it begins with "Is." We all make typos sometimes. :-)
I think online there needs to be a distinctions between formal and informal writing. When people write a page for Squidoo or a webpage for a company or write an article online, they should check their grammar and spelling just as they would when submitting an article for publication offline. But when people write comments (like this one) or chat on instant messaging or post on facebook or a message board, it's informal and conversational: That type of writing I don't believe should have to be double checked. People should give each other some slack in informal writing just as we do in spoken conversation.
But I agree that in Poetry, anything outside of regular grammar should be deliberate.
Storytutor on May 06, 2012:
I agree with everything you say here. Communication is the goal. Grammar is the fundamental structure we understand. Anything that goes beyond the rules of grammar or spelling to communicate something more is far from ignorant of basic technique, but rather, includes them.
SteveKaye on May 04, 2012:
Mistakes can confuse the reader, leading to misunderstandings. There's a good reason why we have spelling and grammar. These rules facilitate accurate communication.
Fcuk Hub on May 03, 2012:
I didn't know s so difficult write a poem :)
SoniaCarew on May 03, 2012:
Congrats on the purple star!
Titia Geertman from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands on May 02, 2012:
You've written here all the things that I've learned in the years since I started to write my poetry in English. I'm convinced that I still make mistakes, but I'm trying hard to avoid it and I'm always grateful when people point them out to me.
I used to start each line with a capital and actually didn't use any puncuation , but I do that not anymore. Even in poems I use the normal punctuation that is needed and only start with a Capital when it's needed. Except in the traditional 5-7-5 haikus, there I use no capitals and no punctuation and sometimes also not in free verse. Thanks for sharing this useful lens.
Kim from Yonkers, NY on May 01, 2012:
I'm back I didn't get to read the whole lens before. I agree with punctuation in the poems as it helps the reader read by the rhythm you wrote it (if you don't note it at the bottom) Though I have seen some poems that do not use punctuation (or just sparingly) Spelling & Grammar while used in 'formal' story writing is at the writer discretion when it comes to poetry we all have our own styles. (like how some people write letters PROPERLY indenting when there's a new paragraph..usually meaning a new topic in the conversation & others just write one long 'paragraph' where you can never find where you left off &* have to mark it up.) I never have left out spelling or grammar for lazyness, usually I do it for a purpose (sometimes I make a mistake & just like the new spelling better, sometimes I do it on purpose) after I have finished my handwritten of a poem when I type it to file I also use a font that 'goes' with as a visual for the poem as well as colors & if I can find a picture. So I try to illustrate them as well there's are some that I haven't & I think maybe short of a sonnet I may have written at least one of each type of poem more or less
Kim from Yonkers, NY on May 01, 2012:
Great lens I have posted it to my Epic Ballad of Poetry in one of the featured lens sections
Roze LM on May 01, 2012:
Thank you, I have read your lens with pleasure. English is not my native language, and I love paying attention to the details of the language. Really nice!
writerkath on May 01, 2012:
I immediately thought of e.e. cummings when I first happened upon your lens! :) I've written poetry/song lyrics my entire life, so this was a fun read! Nice job - and nice poetry as well! I'd go so far as to say, "You're swell!" :) Cheers! Kath
allenwebstarme on May 01, 2012:
Worth reading lens, good points.
anonymous on April 30, 2012:
I choose the heart of the matter first of all
Which reaches my inner being with its call.
But beauty can be lost to one and all
If one trips over words "spelt" afoul!
A lesson wonderfully taught by you and very worthy of your purple star and front page honors. Man, I sure do struggle in the areas of grammar, spelling and punctuation. I was just at a lens of mine and corrected 10 typos that I hadn't seen before.