Poetry Colonoscopy?

I hoped that this Thanksgiving break I would write plenty of fiction and nonfiction. To finish my short story and my creative writing portfolio. But at this time, everything I see is poetry. I feel poetry. And I miss Travis, so I write him poetry.

I find that my poems long to turn on a colon. More than any other punctuation, the colon has the most power to change the way I read a sentence.

Colons are preceded by a phrase and the colon turns it into a label and generates the suspense: to what will that label be applied?

 

The poem I wrote yesterday had two colons. Can any punctuation mark generate so much drama while maintaining such subtlety?

 

In my favorite poem I’ve written, about dealing with a breakup while studying abroad in Peru, I use a colon that turns the phrase “I don’t want you, but I need you” into a noun I define as “the least healthy combination.” I always enjoy how the use of the colon groups that whole sentence into the name of one condition.

 

Talking about the colon also makes me think of the colon’s utility in conveying analogies. x:y::a:b (x is to y as a is to b).

 

At Thanksgiving dinner last night, my mom was talking about her recent colonoscopy. (You can’t blame her for bringing it up. I’ll admit it was remarkably more pleasant than the conversation that preceded it.) Now the word colon has a heavy association (for me) with something so much less lovely than my current favorite punctuation.

 

Some people use the em dash to do what I do with a colon, but more ambiguously. As I flipped through Tin House this morning, I saw these lines in a poem:

 

A burst of birds shooting up the morning–

a slow parting.

 

Is the burst also a slow parting? If so it’s doing the colon thing. Or is a slow parting interrupting the burst? Therein the ambiguity lies. I prefer the colon, although the em dash is more appealing to the eye. Except that I still don’t know how to make an em dash without just doing a double hyphen. I’ll go learn now.

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About Jacquelyn Barnes

Former English Literature and Writing major at Whitworth University. Spanish Language minor. Browne's Addition Resident. Editorial Assistant at Gray Dog Press. Interested in postcolonial, multicultural, and feminist theories. Former ski racer. Longboarder. Runner. Member of Vintage Faith Community Church (we have no building). Painter. Morning person. View all posts by Jacquelyn Barnes

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