3 minutes reading time (653 words)

Are Your Modifiers Dangling?

My reading window last month brought more poems than ever before. So 159 poets sent work. I can't read and respond to more than 1000 poems a month and stay sane, so I was at my limit.

But the challenge remains interesting, not least in the way trends change noticeably from one window to the next. So here are some trends I observed during the window. I've mentioned many of them before, but not all.

(I am aware I have a number of bees in my bonnet. It's inescapable. You get over-sensitized to things.)

  1. There were an unprecedented number of poems formatted in double spacing (often because Microsoft Word may double-space each time you hit the 'return' or 'enter' key). I strongly suspect some people think this is what 'poem' text is suppose to look like.
  2. I have seen the most ever poems with zero punctuation, though the poet may make an exception in the case of a dash, a question mark or an ellipsis. So actually there is punctuation but no commas or full stops.
  3. Punctuation-less poems in stanza form but with a capital letter at the start of the first word of each stanza. Gaps may be used to suggest pauses.
  4. 'So' or 'such' used as intensifiers.
  5. Poems that switch verb tense somewhere in the middle. Most poems these days are in the present tense. We have forgotten that this is a fashion. Once they were mostly in the past tense.
  6. Insertion of the phrase 'I think of', sneaking in even more often than 'I remember'.
  7. Prose poems formatted in very wide blocks, long LONG lines.
  8. Line breaks allowed to substitute for commas.
  9. Punny titles.
  10. 'As' used too often (my most unfavourite word, because of its grisly sound and the fact it can mean three things)
  11. Lists of nouns, but no 'and' before the last one.
  12. Metaphors that create an unfortunate mental image if you take them literally.
  13. Some poets have favourite shapes, so each poem looks rather like the one before (even though it may be about something completely different) eg long and thin, or short and fat.
  14. Enjambing every stanza.
  15. Whilst, amidst (but not amongst).
  16. Not heft this time, and only one shards, but quite a bit of musk and citalopram.
  17. Pantoums (loads): it's the new villanelle.
  18. 'After' poems (I need to blog about this separately because there is no consistency in what people mean by 'after' and it really does get confusing).
  19. The single sentence poem that gets its syntactical knickers in a twist in the middle.
  20. Long sentences with difficult syntax, often with the key verb and subject delayed and maybe three or four line breaks to negotiate before things start to make sense.
  21. That thing called a 'dangling modifier' is an arch culprit in poems. If your modifiers are dangling, I'd say you have a problem.
  22. Anaphora poems, by which I mean poems that start each stanza or each line with the same word or phrase (the 'Because' poem is a familiar example). This can be powerful. This can be powerful, of course. This can be powerful in the right poem. But you can have too much of a powerful thing.
  23. Sentences starting with a verb but subject implied: I am seeing this more and more. She goes to the cupboard. Takes out a cup. Thinks of a bad sonnet. (Is this actually a variation on 'leaning verbs'?)
  24. The ampersand is back, judicious use in some poems, rather than a consistent stylistic feature.
  25. Poems that can only work inside the space of an A4 page.
  26. The single most common problem: unintended obscurity. The poem is behaving as though it's obvious what's going on but the reader is mystified. This is quite different from deliberate obscurity, which can be compelling.

If any of the points above are obscure, it was unintentional. Sometimes you just can't see how difficult you're being.


THE WINDOW IS CLOSING
 

Comments 12

Helena Nelson on Sunday, 11 August 2019 15:23

Excellent idea, Peter. I nominate you to write the course. It needn't be long....

Excellent idea, Peter. I nominate you to write the course. It needn't be long....
Guest - pdaniels on Sunday, 11 August 2019 17:27

Oh no, now what have I started...

Oh no, now what have I started...
Guest - Mary Thomson on Sunday, 11 August 2019 19:42

Oh Nell, I fear for your mental health! Please take a month long spa break on a Greek island, or at least a long bath and 12 hour sleep, x

Oh Nell, I fear for your mental health! Please take a month long spa break on a Greek island, or at least a long bath and 12 hour sleep, x
Fokkina McDonnell on Sunday, 11 August 2019 20:33

Dear Nell
Thank you for that list of trends, especially your thoughts about prose poems.

Dear Nell Thank you for that list of trends, especially your thoughts about prose poems.
Guest - Rachael Clyne on Monday, 12 August 2019 13:13

Thanks for your detailed punctuation and grammar nuggets.

Thanks for your detailed punctuation and grammar nuggets.
Guest - Tim Love on Wednesday, 14 August 2019 08:22

I like these lists. Many of these bees are in my bonnet too. I think "After" and anaphora poems might be the results of NaPoWriMo exercises - how to write poems when you've nothing to write about. And I'm not surprised that there's a more flexible (inconsistent?) approach to punctuation. McMillan's "Physical" is part of a bigger trend. Even in prose, non-standard punctuation is on the increase - especially when dealing with speech. Re layout - I wonder if page layout's becoming affected by screen-layout issues. After all, people read more HTML-formatted poems than precise, paper-based formats.

I like these lists. Many of these bees are in my bonnet too. I think "After" and anaphora poems might be the results of NaPoWriMo exercises - how to write poems when you've nothing to write about. And I'm not surprised that there's a more flexible (inconsistent?) approach to punctuation. McMillan's "Physical" is part of a bigger trend. Even in prose, non-standard punctuation is on the increase - especially when dealing with speech. Re layout - I wonder if page layout's becoming affected by screen-layout issues. After all, people read more HTML-formatted poems than precise, paper-based formats.
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Monday, 26 August 2019