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Poetry, Is Correct Spelling And Grammar Important?

Updated on July 11, 2014

Is It Acceptable To Ignore Rules of Written English When Writing Poetry?

Poetry comes under the genre of creative writing but does that mean that the "rules" of ordinary grammar and spelling shouldn't be adhered to when writing or creating poetry.

Where is the pride in creating a work of art, for that is what a poem should be, when it is sloppily written and does not meet the criteria which have historically been applied to written English. Spelling especially is a real problem with on-line writing.

I do have some sympathy with poems written so as to be in a spoken dialect or in a colloquial idiom, but this should be deliberately done and with a good reason.

The correct use of grammar is slightly different to correct spelling, I do believe it is important but as in all branches of creative thought, the breaking of the "rules" should be allowed BUT on the proviso that they are being broken deliberately. The writer / artist / musician must know the rules and how to apply them in order to break them to make a special point. Simply not bothering with rules of grammar is nothing short of lazy.

I intend to make a few points about the use of grammar in this article.

The image is in the public domain

dictionaries books reference
dictionaries books reference

Spelling in Poetry

How Important Is It?

At school, I was taught how to spell correctly and find it hard to be "cool" (in the modern idiom) when I see obviously misspelled words. Today with spell checking software ubiquitously available everywhere, this should not happen. Of course we are all human and I have to admit that my typing is very limited especially when sitting for long periods at the computer keyboard but part of the business of being a writer should be a review of that which has been written. One of the reasons for this review should be to correct any typographical errors and bad spellings. There should be no excuse for poor spelling to my way of thinking.

Don't get me wrong, it does happen to me more often than it should, typos creep in often due to excitement at creating and committing the work to paper or the screen. Unfortunately, laziness is often a factor in not carrying out that editorial review. Maybe in the heat of the moment a mistake is not noticed but if the work is left for a day or two before reviewing or better yet, a third person can be found to undertake the task, a mistake or typographical error is then more likely to be found.

Of course, some errors will not be found by a spell checker, making it necessary for this review to be carried out. As an artist I know the value of coming back to a painting before deciding that it is finished and complete. I have no doubt that the same is true of any creative task.

The most common errors not found by spell checkers are using the wrong word entirely or using a word that sounds the same as the intended word, by definition a homonym. Simple examples of the latter are:-

to, two, too;

your, you're and

their and there.

All of which are classical examples which most people will have come across at school but often fail to use correctly when writing.

The photograph of the dictionaries here is my own work

handwriting italic
handwriting italic

Correct Grammar In Poetry

Is It Important?

I have separated spelling and poetry because I do think that they can be treated differently, correct spelling should be expected even though it is creative writing. I gave reasons for my view on this above.

I want to cover the use of some elements of grammar and further down I will present a list of references/ links for further study. The discussion here is a simplification and review of the contents of several of these references.

Punctuation:

The structure of prose is based on sentences and correct punctuation is necessary in order to provide a skeleton upon which this structure can be hung and understood by all readers. Poetry on the other hand is structured according to the line. Punctuation will still help the reader to understand and read the poem as the writer expected when it was written. The use of commas and full stops will indicate where a short break is required or a breath may be taken. If the word order does not make it clear that a question is intended then a question mark is absolutely required.

This general principal should be applied to all punctuation; If it clarifies the readers understanding of the meaning or structure of the poem, then maybe it is best to use it. However, if it is used in one part of the poem, it should be carried through the whole poem. Consistency should be the watchword. So to reiterate, there is really no right or wrong, the rules of grammar are flexible and can be broken by the writer who is aware of what he is doing.

Capitalisation:

Here again, some writers do capitalise at the start of each line and some don't, considering it to be an archaic formalisation. But whichever you choose to do you must be consistent. A consideration is what the image of the poem should be saying. Does it look better with capitals at the start of each line. Poems with very short lines in particular may not be contenders for the use of capitalisation.

Sentence Structure:

In English without the word endings, which serve in other languages to indicate the case of a noun (subject/object), word order has become standardised. Again a writer can be creative about this within certain limitations and the standard sentence structure, subject-verb-object (SVO), can be flexible. Understanding must be the arbiter of whether this can or should be done. The form of the verb will also have to be correctly assigned.

Comparisons:

Perhaps not strictly grammar but the use of similes and metaphors should always be considered. The former is a direct comparison whilst the latter is an implied comparison. Both have their place in the language of poetry. Along the same lines, hyperbole is an over-stated exaggeration, which can be very useful to the writer.

In conclusion, grammar provides structure, which aids understanding and provides communication from the writer to the reader. Correct grammar should always be used unless the rules of grammar are consciously broken in order to make a point. Consistency must be applied throughout the poem.

This image is in the public domain

Discussions On Spelling And Grammar In Poetry

I give here a list of references which I have obtained from a Google search on this topic. I have tried to review all of these and several more, from which I have distilled the arguments presented above. The one thing which this search has shown is that the use of corrrect grammar at least is down to personal inclinations. As long as the writer is aware of how to break the rules.

ashness bridge pastels
ashness bridge pastels

Silent River - A Poem

By Artyfax

One of my very earliest poems. A poem describing the last desperate act of a very sad man. Life has proven to be too much and he cannot find the answers he wants to life's crises.

I thankfully have never found myself in such a situation but I was inspired to write this, without understanding how it would turn out, by a painting hanging on my living room wall whilst I was at university. It was a painting of a river running through a block of high rise buildings. The lights from the windows were reflected in the water and heavily distorted. I sometimes wish that I had not written this but I did. Now I find it somehow soothes but terrifies me at the same time.

The image is an artwork of Ashness Bridge in the Lake District, UK; painted in pastels and photographed by myself

Silent River

Cold, silent river,

How I long to be free.

You ask no questions,

Just roll on down to the sea.

Coloured lights reflect in your water,

I reflect in them too.

But I've so many questions,

I don't know what I must do.

Dark, flowing water,

How I yearn to be me.

How many times

Will it take to achieve?

I see my face in your mirror

But I don't hear my voice.

I long for eternity,

I'm left here with no choice.

Darkness stealing over me,

It's as cold as a night in July.

Stars fill the heavens,

At last, I am finally I.

I feel so uselessly able,

To do anything that I want.

Now my time's not my own anymore

But my mind is so happily bent.

By John Dyhouse

Poems By Artyfax

I hope that you will find time to read some of my poems which I have started to post in Squidoo lenses.

Poems On Endings And Lost Loves
This particular page is concerned with poems about endings, especially endings of relationships. It is the second in a series of lenses showcasing poetry tha...

A Poem: The Wind
I only very rarely write poetry. But this one happened pretty well organically after a major disaster which made the news around the world. In other words I ...

Poems On Attitudes To Life
Attitudes to life are often expressed in poetry. My early poems were often about life and attitudes to life of disturbed people. I have chosen this theme to ...



Other pages are less targeted. I have created one lens about poetry for children, using as examples two poems that I wrote for my youngest son at bedtime.

I have also included a page which describes several of my blogs, one of which is dedicated to recent poetry.

And finally for now, I started a lens which describes a project to write a poem-a-day. I had high hope of this when I started but did not really find that it helped me to have such a deadline. Read about it on my blog (above) or on the Squidoo page.

What Do You Think? - Spelling And Grammar, Are They Important?

I have presented a case above for the usage of correct grammar and especially spelling in poetry. I have left it open for grammar to be treated flexibly but only in the light of understanding that grammar. Do you agree? Or are you opposed to my views? Have your own say on this very personal subject.

Do you think that correct spelling and grammar is important?

Yes, absolutely so!

Yes, absolutely so!

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    • Justin 4 months ago

      This whole argument is saying that those from poorer neighborhoods or from less reputable education systems will never write great poetry. Which is whole heartedly false.

    • Justin 4 months ago

      This whole argument is saying that those from poorer neighborhoods or from less reputable education systems will never write great poetry. Which is whole heartedly false.

    • John Dyhouse 3 years ago from UK

      @joseph-sottile-16: A first draft is private. However unless there is a good reason; speech or the whole thing in dialect, I do feel correct grammar and spelling is important in published work.

      Of course a lot of modern (?) poetry does not depend on sentence construction and there is a reason for, say, lack of punctuation there. I have written this sort of poetry myself. I think my argument relates to traditional poetry.

    • joseph-sottile-16 3 years ago

      Of course spelling and grammar is important, but not on the first draft.

    • Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      Unless you are writing in the voice of an illiterate person or child then the spelling should be accurate.

    • Aunt-Mollie 4 years ago

      Correct spelling and grammar are important in any form of writing, and poetry is no exception.

    • KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      I'm always appalled when I make a mistake. My grade school teachers were very strict.

    • Dana Marie 5 years ago from St. Peters, MO

      VERY IMPORTANT otherwise it deters it's literal meaning

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      Very important.

    • melissiaoliver 5 years ago

      I think it's extremely important! Even in poetry, a mis-spelled word or grammatical errors should only be there if it is meant deliberately. If a poem was full of spelling or grammatical errors, I would probably spend my time obsessing over them, rather than trying to discern a deeper meaning in the poem.

    • jammarti 5 years ago

      Yes! Sometimes, especially when we send SMS, we usually type in shortcut and when asked for the spelling, we forget how the word is spelled. (I'm guilty in this case) :)

    • Gale 5 years ago from Texas

      Oh, I'm very mixed on this! I do believe that lack of spelling or grammer in poetry should only be done deliberately.

      I like many poems that play with grammer, like the e.e. cummings poems. I do believe that in free verse you can do without punctuation as the lines of the poems can substitute for punctuation. I've done without punctuation in my poems because I felt like the punctuation got in the way of the look of the poem on the page. Since poets do forgo grammar purposefully and meaningfully, when grammar is mis-used accidentally the reader can mistake it for deliberate misuse and attach meaning to it that wasn't intended. So while the thought counts, bad grammar can interfere with how that thought comes across. Also, it can distract the reader and break up the flow of the poem.

      However, I've found some poems written in a second language that had grammatical mistakes that were probably not deliberate, but because they were in the authentic voice of the author didn't detract from the poem. I think the difference there is that the poem mimics the way the author actually spoke. Poems with grammatical "mistakes" which mimic a spoken dialect don't bother me as they reflect the culture of the author.

    • SteveKaye 5 years ago

      Verbal mistakes cheapen art.

    • writerkath 5 years ago

      At first, I was inclined to vote "No..." but then my mind wandered to today's trend in writing as though one were texting. And I realized that it drives me nuts. So, I decided to go with preserving correct spelling and grammar after all! :)

    • anonymous 5 years ago

      Spelling is important, wish I was better at it but I am improving some along the way, it just doesn't come naturally to me.

    • Leah J. Hileman 5 years ago from East Berlin, PA, USA

      Words in their proper context and usage have great power. Words used carelessly, strewn about in aimless fashion, do not serve their purpose. They are symbols, as are punctuation marks. Grammar and syntax provide structural framework for communicating the meaning or words. Since poetry seeks to convey meaning with words, the rules should apply--unless the breaking of the rules somehow serves the poet's message artistically.

    • Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Yes, sir, they are important. I think writers (anyone calling himself a writer) of poetry or prose should master these skills to be taken seriously.

    No, it's the thought that counts with poetry!

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      • mizrae 5 years ago

        I would like to say yes, as I am a firm believer in educating oneself on the proper spelling of words...yet, freedom of speech is just that. Should one be restricted from writing or expressing oneself, releasing frustrations or terrors for lack of spelling skills? NO.

      • RachelDillin 5 years ago

        It depends. If it is to the point where it is impossible to read or understand because of the bad spelling and grammar then yes. However, artistic license is fine as long as people can understand the poem.

      • Michelle 5 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

        While the use of "text speak" in everyday communications irritates me, I don't believe we can impose the rules of grammar and spelling upon artists. When you look beyond the surface of this issue, you see that art must be left as the artist created it for it to have the meaning the artist intended.

        The poetry of deep south slaves would not have nearly the impact had it been converted to the "proper" English of their masters. The work of the beat generation that drove much of the '60s Civil Rights movement would have had little impact if we had insisted on the rules of grammar to take them seriously.

        We can't change another's craft to suit our own, modern sensibilities. If you don't like poetry that is not perfectly grammatical with proper spelling and proper punctuation, then don't read poetry that isn't.

      • Kim 5 years ago from Yonkers, NY

        Poetry is a free form with no rules (except to the architecture of the poem Sonnets, haiku etc) some make sense some do not and with certain types of poetry some may change the spelling so that it goes along with their theme and so on. Its one reason I love poetry there are no rules and in some cases grammar may be tossed out as well. I'm usually decent at spelling (other than those usually mistaken words) but I love making up new ways of spelling words not to mention what sometimes I think is a word I made up) There's poems that are so free form are they even really sentences or just words strewn on a page? You may not understand it (I have one friend that writes that some of the stuff he does blows my mind I have to read it a second time for it to make sense.) I hate misspelling unless its on purpose (but you never really can tell) as far as letters go & usually I always try & 'help' when I notice an error. For poetry however unless you a making some form of formal poem like a sonnet I wouldn't bother with grammar. (unless it just flows out proper) check out my Epic Ballad of Poetry for some of my own poems.

      Are you a writer, perhaps you knock out the odd poem or are you into writing poetry in a big way. Whichever is the case, I would welcome anything else that you would like to contribute in a reasoned way to this argument.

      The time has come,

      The hour is nigh

      To let be known

      That, which you decry.

      Are you against,

      Or are you for

      The use of rules,

      for evermore?

      Come make a stand

      For what you choose.

      Share with us now

      Let's hear your views.

      A Place To Share Your Thoughts - On Spelling and Grammar in Poetry

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          I choose the heart of the matter first of all

          Which reaches my inner being with its call.

          But beauty can be lost to one and all

          If one trips over words "spelt" afoul!

          A lesson wonderfully taught by you and very worthy of your purple star and front page honors. Man, I sure do struggle in the areas of grammar, spelling and punctuation. I was just at a lens of mine and corrected 10 typos that I hadn't seen before.

        • allenwebstarme profile image

          allenwebstarme 5 years ago

          Worth reading lens, good points.

        • writerkath profile image

          writerkath 5 years ago

          I immediately thought of e.e. cummings when I first happened upon your lens! :) I've written poetry/song lyrics my entire life, so this was a fun read! Nice job - and nice poetry as well! I'd go so far as to say, "You're swell!" :) Cheers! Kath

        • Roze LM profile image

          Roze LM 5 years ago

          Thank you, I have read your lens with pleasure. English is not my native language, and I love paying attention to the details of the language. Really nice!

        • Zodiacimmortal profile image

          Kim 5 years ago from Yonkers, NY

          Great lens I have posted it to my Epic Ballad of Poetry in one of the featured lens sections

        • Zodiacimmortal profile image

          Kim 5 years ago from Yonkers, NY

          I'm back I didn't get to read the whole lens before. I agree with punctuation in the poems as it helps the reader read by the rhythm you wrote it (if you don't note it at the bottom) Though I have seen some poems that do not use punctuation (or just sparingly) Spelling & Grammar while used in 'formal' story writing is at the writer discretion when it comes to poetry we all have our own styles. (like how some people write letters PROPERLY indenting when there's a new paragraph..usually meaning a new topic in the conversation & others just write one long 'paragraph' where you can never find where you left off &* have to mark it up.) I never have left out spelling or grammar for lazyness, usually I do it for a purpose (sometimes I make a mistake & just like the new spelling better, sometimes I do it on purpose) after I have finished my handwritten of a poem when I type it to file I also use a font that 'goes' with as a visual for the poem as well as colors & if I can find a picture. So I try to illustrate them as well there's are some that I haven't & I think maybe short of a sonnet I may have written at least one of each type of poem more or less

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          SoniaCarew 5 years ago

          Congrats on the purple star!

        • Fcuk Hub profile image

          Fcuk Hub 5 years ago

          I didn't know s so difficult write a poem :)

        • profile image

          SteveKaye 5 years ago

          Mistakes can confuse the reader, leading to misunderstandings. There's a good reason why we have spelling and grammar. These rules facilitate accurate communication.

        • profile image

          Storytutor 5 years ago

          I agree with everything you say here. Communication is the goal. Grammar is the fundamental structure we understand. Anything that goes beyond the rules of grammar or spelling to communicate something more is far from ignorant of basic technique, but rather, includes them.

        • goldenecho profile image

          Gale 5 years ago from Texas

          Hate to point this out, but your title requires a question mark, since it begins with "Is." We all make typos sometimes. :-)

          I think online there needs to be a distinctions between formal and informal writing. When people write a page for Squidoo or a webpage for a company or write an article online, they should check their grammar and spelling just as they would when submitting an article for publication offline. But when people write comments (like this one) or chat on instant messaging or post on facebook or a message board, it's informal and conversational: That type of writing I don't believe should have to be double checked. People should give each other some slack in informal writing just as we do in spoken conversation.

          But I agree that in Poetry, anything outside of regular grammar should be deliberate.

        • goldenecho profile image

          Gale 5 years ago from Texas

          You're welcoem to delete this comment once you read it: Noticed some more errors, and I point them out to be helpful, not to criticise (because these are the exact type of errors I struggle with myself). In the descriptions under your links listed in "Discussions On Spelling And Grammar In Poetry" sometimes you capitalize the first word, sometimes you don't; sometimes you end with a period, sometimes you don't. Either way would probably be fine...but you might want to go through the links and make them consistent (but oh dear, I just realized haven't checked my own links for consistency, so I'm probably the pot calling the kettle black! If you notice errors on my pages, please feel free to let me know.).

        • John Dyhouse profile image
          Author

          John Dyhouse 5 years ago from UK

          @goldenecho: I did say that I make a lot of typos - try to proofread them out but.... Anyway thanks for pointing this out.

        • John Dyhouse profile image
          Author

          John Dyhouse 5 years ago from UK

          @goldenecho: Thanks again, I have made them consistent. Not sure if they are complete sentances but will double check at next update.

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          vBizeso 5 years ago

          Good lens...

        • profile image

          vBizeso 5 years ago

          Good lens...

        • profile image

          jammarti 5 years ago

          Very informative lens. I learned a lot! :D

        • profile image

          trendydad 5 years ago

          well written lens, thanks

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          anonymous 5 years ago

          Congrats on being on the first page.

        • KimGiancaterino profile image

          KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

          I enjoyed your poetry and the lens. I wrote a satirical lens on this very topic. After years of editing and doing live news graphics, mistakes jump out at me.

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          Aunt-Mollie 4 years ago

          So glad to find another poet on Squidoo.

        • corinnephillips1 profile image

          corinnephillips1 3 years ago

          I like your poem above and the wind poem shows me how important it is to use correct grammer and spelling good poetry is truly a work of art that deserves the attention

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          Colin323 3 years ago

          The prose writer can learn from the poet; for example, using similes and/or metaphors, and inclusion of words that appeal to the senses of the reader.

        • QuizSquid profile image

          QuizSquid 3 years ago

          When you break rules of grammar because you don't know the rules or you're sloppy, that's a problem. When you know the rules, and you break them for a reason, there's a place for that.

          When Dylan Thomas wrote "Do not go gentle into that good night," he knew gentle is not an adverb, and that gently would have been the correct word. He also knew that it wouldn't have been nearly as strong. So he made the informed decision to break the rule.

          Good choice!

        • John Dyhouse profile image
          Author

          John Dyhouse 3 years ago from UK

          @QuizSquid: I appreciate that there are times when a poet, just like an artist, may want to break the rules for his own reasons; thanks for the comment

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