Beyond PR

Apr 08, 2013

Grammar Hammer: Poetic Justice

April is National Poetry Month, so I thought I would take a break from my regularly scheduled grammatical opinions to take a look at grammar rules within poetry.

Grammar rules are often bent in creative writing. Creative writing can be less formal. Use sentence fragments. Stream of consciousness thoughts. Trying to communicate your message.   Example:

Poetry, by Catherine Spicer, Grammar Hammer

a medium that strains

my meager brains

and is not my forte.

My opinion of poetry is very similar to my opinion of music. I am a great appreciator of music. I love all kinds of music. When I’m not solving grammatical crises for clients and working on the editorial desk at PR Newswire, I’m usually playing the flute. The ensemble I play in will often tackle very contemporary pieces of music. I was trained on Bach and Mozart, so I’ve had to do a lot of listening to contemporary music to try to understand it. Music of the Renaissance had really specific structure – themes and phrases that were very methodical. It’s instantly pleasing to the ear. Contemporary music for the flute has a lot more to do with sound effects you can produce with the flute and extended techniques. It’s not always easy to hear (or play). But, I can really appreciate it. I feel the same way about poetry.

So how does grammar factor into poetry? Some poets flagrantly ignore and openly mock the rules of grammar. Read anything by e.e. cummings – he was well-known for breaking grammar rules. He wanted you to stop and think about what he wrote and search for a deeper meaning.  Personally, I like to read poems that are more symbolic in language; poems that make me think about something in a different light.

Not all poets are like e.e. cummings. Many poets will have neatly bundled sentences and proper capitalizations. Poetry, as a medium, appeals to the rebellious nature in a writer. Poets can take words and punctuation and change their spelling, their meaning, or just use them for decorations.

Like any creative expression, poetry needs to have some strongly established roots. Ignoring grammar rules in poetry because you don’t know them could be tricky. Chances are, your lack of grammar knowledge will be obvious and your attempt to conceal it in creative poetry will probably be unsuccessful.

My grammatical tip when it comes to poetry?  You need to know the rules before you can break them. Here’s a great example and one of my favorite poems, by Langston Hughes.

As I Grew Older

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun–
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky–
The wall.
I am black.
I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

Have a grammar rule you’d like me to explore? Drop me a line at

Author Catherine Spicer is a manager of customer content services at PR Newswire.

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