Capitalisation Controversy

Dear Readers,

As I write today, I feel like a dinosaur. I feel a little silly, and certainly a little antiquated.

The reason? I recently entered a poetry competition, which incidentally I didn’t win: no sour grapes here, just giving you some context. What concerned me were the judge’s comments regarding the capitalisation of the first word of each new line. As he so brutally put it: ‘This is not the 18th or 19th century and that old convention is passe.’

Queue shocked and highly embarrassed emoji: 😳 (I may be a dinosaur, but I still know how to use those 😁). There I was, blithely capitalising the first letter of every line of my poems, because I thought that was how poetry was writ!

It’s true that the poetry of 19th-century Romanticism often inspires me. I guess in the poems that I know and love best, it was normal practice to capitalise at the start of each line. But then I turned to the more contemporary poems I have come to know and love on WordPress, and sure enough – most don’t capitalise at the start of each line, especially with free verse, and I can certainly see the logic behind that. How embarrassing that I didn’t notice until I had it pointed out so starkly! To be fair, I don’t think it matters to me a huge great deal either way.

What’s the verdict?

Desperately hoping to cling to some form of credibility, I turned to Heaney, my favourite (almost) contemporary poet. To my relief, I found that he was capitalising at every new line. I’ll take that as vindication! But what do you, my fellow poets and poetry lovers, think?

Do you capitalise the first word of each line?
Does it irritate you when others do it?
I am preparing a manuscript and
hoping to get it published:
will my hopes be dashed
if I don’t remove all those pesky capitals?

My worst fear: have I been wandering around the blogosphere with my poetic skirt tucked into my knickers, and has no one had the nerve to tell me?

I leave you with a song which sums up exactly how I’m feeling at the moment:

Yours anachronistically,

41 thoughts on “Capitalisation Controversy

Add yours

  1. Soon you won’t be allowed to use the words lozenge, creosote or menagerie
    – they are offensive and outdated!
    Correct spelling, also, is frowned upon in some quarters. xx

      1. Hooray! 😊 another capitalisation fan! And thank you for the education – I didn’t even know there was a creosote bush!

  2. Hi Ingrid! I love your post! I have tried many forms of poetry and if this is your hearts desire go for it. Poetry is a deeper and difficult thing to publish. You can self publish you know. This may sound a bit arrogant but I know my work is good and I don’t need a publisher telling me how to express myself. I am who I am. The person you spoke of was full of themselves. But based on learning poetry by a renowned poet who holds a PhD from an accredited school in the USA I fear not! I have a story to tell and I will tell it my way. I am sorry that happened to you. Your work is great!!! Don’t worry πŸ˜‰

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words John! You should be confident in who you are as should I! I was just curious what the general consensus was, but in the end it will be my poetry my way!

  3. I hope the judge also gave you more substantial feedback than that. That does seem rather petty, and mean-spirited. I’ve noticed that many poems on blogs do capitalize the first letter of each line. Honestly, it does sort of annoy me because it makes each line seem like a new sentence whether it is or not–but I thought that was just me, and not any sort of convention of then or now. But, I’m hardly an expert! πŸ˜€ I’d say, do whatever appeals to you in how your poem looks on the page. Some poets like odd spacing, right? So, I think it’s the same thing–how it looks to you. For submissions to magazines though, perhaps see what the poems look like that have been published there and follow that guide, and the same thing for competitions and collections.

    1. Thank you for this great advice Merril. The feedback wasn’t aimed specifically at me: I just wondered if there was a particular consensus about how poetry should be punctuated. I agree with what you say about submissions: best to follow the editorial style of the particular publisher.

  4. I would use a capital, but I may be classed as “out-dated”. Nevertheless I would do what feels right. I also just like the look of the capital on the page, aesthetically it pleases me. It’s interesting though. Each to their own?

    1. It certainly is interesting: surely there can be no hard-and-fast rules with poetry, just changes in conventions and fashions I suppose.

  5. Bravo for submitting. πŸ‘πŸ» I enjoyed your post, especially the sarcasm. Sometimes I capitalize every first line and sometimes I do not. It depends on the poem. If the lines are a stand alone thought, I will capitalize each first line. I guess I am also antiquated.πŸ˜† I have just as many poems where I do not follow that convention. Most of the poems in my published chapbooks do not capitalize each line. My poem, “Pain Naturally,” has a fast pace and doesn’t employ any capitals. I guess what I am saying, is each poem I write is unique in its use of “rules” and conventions. Just like the ideas that show up, I love the process of the letting poem decide (rather than a fussy critic). However, if you want your poem to be selected, best to follow their expectations. I enjoy your creative writing – you have my vote! πŸ˜€

  6. Stay true to the essence of your poems in spite of the opinions of the judges πŸ™‚ I loved the fact that you attached the song β€œOut of time” at the end of your post. 😊

  7. Ingrid, I love whatever you do and I love the capatalization and all of your posts, poetry or not. Drink wine tonight and send him some grapes as he seems to be the one that is sour grapes. Dinosaurs also fly so you could make a little fly by in your dreams and remind him of that. Listen, I’m no a poet but I write what comes to me so what do I know;; but I know what I like and I am one of your fans. Keep inspiring!

    1. Thank you so much Cindy – this is what makes writing worthwhile to me – writing words which matter to other people, whether capitalised or not!

  8. We must both be old dinosaurs together because I didn’t know about that either. I’m know there is a trend called ‘lapslock’ where nothing is capitalised at all. I’m surprised people feel passionately enough about that though to speak so rudely about it!

    Anyway, this old dinosaur loves all of your poetry, caps or no caps!

  9. I had a similar experience after using capital letters. My peers found them distracting and, to my surprise, irritating. This put me at a loss because I couldn’t fathom being irritated by such a thing, and also because I wasn’t aware that a no-capitals-at-the-start-of-a-line was a thing. In the days that followed I found tons of poems, from Ashbery to who knows whom in issues of Poetry magazine, containing lines that started with capital letters. I wish people could lose themselves in the poems they read instead of inserting their own poetry-writing practices as a baseline for quality. But it’s all good. The main thing is that we are endeavoring to express ourselves creatively.

  10. Don’t give a stuff what rule books say
    I’ll do my DM thing
    Provided you still understand me

    Seriously, to me, the important thing is that
    you can take reader along on your journey
    not whether grammar/spelling follows ‘rules’
    which are really just opinions anyhow…..

  11. I came across this post today and I had just recently written a blog post about poetic license:

    The thing about poetry is that it is constantly evolving and that also means that we can return to older conventions if that is what we choose. Just like the music and fashion constantly goes “retro”.
    As a fellow poet I say, if your write how you want, that’s the way it should be.

  12. I rarely capitalize anything, but that’s a quirk of mine, and a personal decision. That you or others do, let alone cap the first letter, is your choice. To me it has no bearing on the flow, imagery, or energy you bring – your poems engage us, however the letters line up.

    There is a quirk in formatting caused by MS Word, you know – if a writer composes there, the first line after a hard break always capitalizes, and it’s an effort to undo that, before importing to WP. Not sure that has any bearing on you or others, but it may. ~

    1. Thank you! I write a lot of my poems in note form on my phone, and the notes feature always capitalises a new line. I import to WP then undo, but I agree that it doesn’t affect the quality of the poetry one way or other.

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