Proofs! Punctuation! Forms!

by Sarah Corbett


I have finished what I hope will be the final set of proofs today for And She Was.  It’s wonderful to have both editor’s and publisher’s notes on the mss – how strange to say that I have never had this before … there’s what the writer desires and intends, but also the admission that sometimes, you’re just not that sure and would like a second – or third – opinion please. However, I am sick to death of making decisions about commas and capital letters and all the endless paraphernalia of print … it’s all starting blur and not make much sense …

Which brings me to one of the questions I was playing with when writing the verse-novel (or fiddling about with perhaps): punctuation, layout, capitalisation (to cap or not cap …), lineation, use of the page, sequencing and titles/sub-titles. Although this verse-novel takes on certain conventions of prose narrative – the use of dialogue, for example – it is not standard prose. I want it to look and feel like poetry on the page, even though the poem/s are carrying through a narrative, one with characters, a plot, setting, and therefore I’ve allowed myself great liberty to play with, do away with, punctuation, and create a variety of patterns and forms on the page.

I made one clear decision early on, which was that the poems Esther voices in Pinkie would have capitals at the beginning of each line. This was partly to differentiate the two voices visually (Iain’s poems follow the modern convention of only using capitals to start a sentence), but also to set up Esther’s voice as mythic and archetypal; the capitals make the reader ‘hear’ and speak the poem differently – in a heightened lyrical way, rather than in the conversational tone of Iain’s voice, so for example, in ‘Esther’s Bones’:

I make shadows:

Bird head, dog jaw, split hoof.

Maybe I”m a puppet made of hands.

I can be there and gone,

It’s a way of looking.

I’m down to zero,

Just the ghost ring.

However, later in Pinkie, Esther’s capitals are dropped. This is at the point at which she returns to Iain and their relationship is renewed:

rainbows in the kitchen

splitting prisms

of buttery sun; snow

crusts on the sill

(‘The Bond’)

But the distinction returns in the final poem of Pinkie, ‘Locket’, so that even though the two voices intertwine, this hints at a future separation.

Three poems prelude the book, ‘Nocturne in Three Movements’. These were written very recently, long after the first two books had been completed, and here I deliberately begin to do away with as much of the punctuation as possible. I think, if I was completely honest, I would say that most of this expresses something of my own grappling with punctuation (not that I don’t understand the rules, but that I don’t think that the rules always apply in the same way in poetry as they do in prose – or that they don’t have to, and this opens up a whole realm of possibility that is impossible to ignore). The first and third poems in ‘Nocturne’ relay not he white space of the page to provide the majority of the punctuation, and the middle poem hopes to create a breathless, headlong rush that asks a great deal of the reader’s ability to apply pauses, or to disregard them altogether:

and it was midsummer and they took off north

to the coast, the train running them through

the night like wolves trailing the scent of deer

in a forest of dreams until morning, a song

of sun and blackbird edging around the blinds.

(C Major)

Basically, where I could get away with leaving the punctuation out, I left it out I guess that at some point reader’s will tell me whether I have actually got away with it or not!


The four line, mostly unrhymed (any rhyme patterns are happy coincidences that hope to echo the rhyming quatrain rather than be a slave to it) stepped stanza (the ‘stepping’ doesn’t show up on the blog) of The Runner came very much of its own accord. It allowed for a great flexibility of line length, giving me the ability to manage, control and vary sentence length and pace, just as I would when writing prose. The lines originally started out very long, then got gradually shorter and shorter, but some of the sentences stayed long; other than where they are very short: often in the fourth line of the stanza, again a formal echo of the Ballad form.

tbc …