Lucille Clifton’s [Lack of] Punctuation

October 28, 2010

I never thought that a general lack of punctuation would make the grammar-fueled part of my brain crave it this much.

Lucille Clifton’s miserly use of punctuation throughout Blessing the Boats becomes much more meaningful to the audience, not just as devices to make the poems “correct,” but to allow or dispel ambiguity.  Her use of line breaks, indentation, and a straight-forward, story-telling tone allows for plenty of ambiguity in phrases that crave punctuation. The meaning of a line can be completely reconstructed by the assumption of her implied commas or periods. Poems like “Lumpectomy Eve” showcase this ambiguous lack of formal punctuation; but, it could be argued that Clifton replaces this formal punctuation with atypical spacing, line breaks, and indentation. The delicate possible interpretations of the third and fourth stanzas of “Lumpectomy Eve” would be ruined by traditional spacing and commas. (I would reproduce the lines here, but I don’t think I could do accurate justice to their format.)

Was anyone else shocked by the impact of Clifton’s punctuation-light poems?

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