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February 2012

When I read that the poet Thomas Lux had died last month, I immediately had a rush of memories of a week I had spent in a workshop he taught in Provincetown.

The design of his sessions was that we would devote an extended block of time on a deep reading of one of each participant's poems. If it was your poem being discussed, you sat quietly, took notes and did not react to the praise, criticism and misunderstandings of the readers. It was a great experience, both being a reader and having your poem get a morning or afternoon of attention.

We talked about "the voice you hear when you read silently" and how
It is your voice
saying, for example, the word "barn"
that the writer wrote
but the "barn" you say
is a barn you know or knew.

And that barn that Tom wrote is the dairy barn of his childhood, and it is not the barn that I knew as a visitor coming to a place to ride horses.

I saw Lux again a few times at several biannual Dodge Poetry Festivals, and he was always said he remembered me. I doubted that, but it was nice of him to say it. I asked him at one of the festivals why his Newest Issue seemed to all be one stanza. He said that he needed a really good reason these days to break a line and especially to make a new stanza. He was opposed to you making a poem with stanzas of say 4 lines each just to have a poem with that form. He was opposed to poetry becoming "prose with line breaks."

One of Tom's most popular poems is "I Love You Sweatheart." It is pure Lux - witty, wise, funny and all those thing comes through on the page and especially when Tom read the poem aloud. (Check out the video of him reading this poem below.) I used that poem for a prompt here on "stupid love" and I checked the archive and discovered that I used Lux poems five more times as models for prompts:  "what sustains you," "never born," "foreign words," "daughters," and a shared prompt on "fruits."

This month I chose his poem "Virgule" as our model. This ode to the  /  was one of the poems he read to our group that summer.

I am sure that Lux liked the word "virgule" for its foreign and exotic sound and because most people don't know the "proper" word and call it a slash (as with the "back slash/forward slash" of our computer age - which I divide here with a virgule). The ellipsis is another mark that is often unidentified and often misused (especially by poets). Tom would like having us think about how we use each punctuation mark in our writing for this prompt.

It will require some creativity and wit on your part to do this month's prompt, which is a poem about a mark of punctuation or punctuation itself.

I am broadening the choices beyond the ones we use most commonly in English. You can use the tilde  " " (which has a new life beyond Spanish as a separator between a quote and its source) and all those other German, French and other languages' exotic marks. How about that the French comma is called une virgule?

For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog


all the missing punctuation marks
decided to join forces with all the
missing socks. they met in a dryer
at the laundromat next to the bodega last
friday night at midnight sharp. it was a
melting pot of polyester, cotton, periods,
question marks, all flailing about, fluffing,
wrinkling, melting, some uttering
profanities, others caught up in the rhythm.

Marie A. Mennuto-Rovello


WORKED TEXT SO UNICAL AND miniscule intermixed
printers sorted type into upper and lower cases now we
hit the shift and enter keys and paragraphs abound ¶

Robert Miller


On the way to German class my posture
was always slightly straighter, my rucksack
slightly heavier with Dieter and Petra inside dialoguing
about Bratwurst and Goethe and Turkish guest workers.
I could recite “Der Erlkoenig” by heart and my r’s
were perfect drum rolls. Nancy Baum sat in the seat in front of me
and pretended not to hear when I whispered: Ich liebe dich
into her umlaut: that pair of moles on her left earlobe.
I thought it sounded romantic, Germanic, productive
as a cough. Frau Spier thought so too, for she asked me
to repeat it for the benefit of the whole class. Nancy’s
earlobes blushed then, and her umlaut looked
like two watermelon seeds. Later that semester
I translated one of Rilke’s sonnets to Orpheus,
the one about the tree and the ear. My translation
employed an umlaut where no previous translator
had ever thought to. I thought it was brilliant, subtle,
Orphic. I published it in our high school lit mag
and waited. I waited twenty years. Then, suddenly,
there she was in front of me again, with her back to me
at the reunion, lifting a mixed drink to her lips with a slender
ringless hand at the bar, the umlaut right where I’d left it.
I whispered: Ich liebe dich, and she turned around, the wall
finally down, smiling a smile as wide as East and West.

Paul Hostovsky


This little star with its ancient roots extending into the night sky
born of printers’ need to mark a date of birth on a feudal family tree
they used seven arms shooting from the center and tipped with a teardrop
but born in Greece two thousand year ago as a mark, asteriskos,
by someone proofreading Homeric poetry to mark duplicate lines.
* Take note here
Computer scientists and mathematicians will say “star” as in an A* search algorithm
and in English we like five-pointed stars when the typeface has no feet
but six points on serif type. You might use 4, 5, 6 or 8 when making them by hand.
Asterisks chuckle at rules and usage guides.
A character for censorship, a wildcard, sign of multiplication, 61* for a homerun record,
pointing to a footnote, 3 in a row centered on a page to divide a section.
On my first typewriter, I used them as a bullet in an unordered list, and now
1 of 2 characters on our ubiquitous phone keypads to pound and star our way through menus.
Long ago, three forming a triangle were an asterism – a group of stars –
floating on a page of text like a little constellation,
a Summer Triangle of bright Altair, Deneb, and Vega, the brightest star in Lyra -
that lyre of Orpheus that could drown out the Sirens as a reader proofed the Odyssey.

Ken Ronkowitz


katherine / james
she likes the way that sounds
slash, like a whip of wind, like
a smack of skin
slash, sudden and strong
it’s definitively there
or it’s definitively not

he had carved it with a knife
into the molding of their motel room,
drunk on whiskey, drunk on
avoiding the police for four days straight
intoxication / deliverance

what an idiotic way to get caught, she had told him
exasperatedly, dryly, worriedly
and it was, but still
katherine / james
she had liked the way that looked

it’s called a virgule, he whispers to her
it’s three am but she can’t
forget that it’s another midnight in manhattan
12am / 3am
she laughs into his once broken
ribs, at his useless english degree
at empty facts that won’t hold up in a gunfight
at the way she loves him
even after manhattan

anyway, ampersands don’t belong here
in this sixty dollar a night motel
in southern nevada
ampersands are for television sitcoms
for grocery lists and run-on sentences
for law firms, bookstores, family-owned supermarkets
for wedding invitations
like the ones they had sent out
before manhattan

and besides all this
it wasn’t like she’d held the gun, too
katherine / james
not a bond, a choice
she still likes it when she wakes up

Abe Collins


Oh Tilde-tilde, avez vous ces’t France preference
No senor, je preference ces’t Española
Down here in the land of manana we eat pan campo,
Take a cane pole to the Nueces and Sabinal,
Prefer a horse over a motorbike and speak proper English,
Broken Spanish , yet speaking French is miniscule in these parts…….
Buenos Dias, we love Hatch chilies and Rellenos, not many recall the largeness of The Republic of Texas or know her great grand-Daughters….
We still go to the New, New Mexico, take my son to Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron’, photograph Bison and pick fresh sage….
We hike the Muey Bonito Cimarron Canyon full of Aspen, pines and take in the breath of Heaven, turquoise sky, solace, ancient breath of life , listen, the rivers waters sing like crystal chimes …the children are counting trout……
Some of us are French Indios, some of us are French-Spanish
Some of us are Heinz and love all the cultural mish-mash of foods and laughter and learning and life...
I could name my horse Tilde or Tilda but my buckskin mare prefers Topaz
Smokey topaz looks beautiful gleaming in the sun…trotting along the canyons rim.
My family is staunch on education and in living with Earth’s enchanting grace
A combination not much admired by Science, yet our hearts are happy …..
The Creator has blessed us all here in the Lands of Manana, mind, body, spirit and
We must care for the 4 legged Beings we share the Earth with……
Oh, for the want of extra beautiful sounds in the Tilde, such is the sphere of music.
They say music is the universal language of the soul, I believe so, it’s indelible mark accents the essence of language in any tongue ,
universal…like a waltz or circle dance….
Tilde, my Senoritas and Senors ~ Madame et Monsieur,
I shall ride my Caballo~ into the Sunset, her name is Topaz.

Elaine LaVonne Burgess


I fell for her at first sight
her ripe figure
plump as peaches

she's the soul of brevity

yet possessed also
of a certain


Ama Bolton


It’s the laughter of Desmond Tutu,
Those who slaughtered his people;
Or the smile of the Dalai Lama,
About his body’s inevitable decline)
Is irrelevant.

Ron Yazinski


Can you feel me? I’m not finished. I have barely begun.
Can you see it in my eyes? Didn’t think so.
That’s why I…you don’t deserve it.
The shrill of my ache is mine.
Hidden in concrete. You had your chance.
Ometre doesn’t fill the gap.
Neither do you…ellipsis
Smile without…

Carol Raymonds


The poet of Amherst-the Universe
knew the value of a dash –
twig in the current we call life – so
the flit of a thought
parts – a skein of phrase
on either side – breaking chains
of therefores
strict logic she doesn’t
bother to or dare explain –
but lets a fly
light on living water’s surface
and look!
a fish darts not dashes –
ripples sky and stream with no
sound of ripping – part of the parting
reconnecting current.

Taylor Graham


(an apostrophic poem)

As if it were some ritual
punctuation for my thoughts
I peered down into your mini-irises
ditto and ditto all day.

Purple as Clytemnestra's stockings
were they at first, and it pained me
to see them turn an ashen grey
shriveling into commas
each leaf finishing
a forward slash

I never did find the name
of a yellow on a colour chart
that could do justice
to the exclamatory splash
of vibrancy that spills out
onto the petals of certain
varieties, but when that too
faded to dun, I snapped what then
looked like a question mark
and sighed...wondering how
many days would go by
until tiny dark toes wriggled
from their pale green slippers
into the desk lamp light
and sing me again their songs
of parenthetical spring.

Timea Deinhardt


The Dash – also called an em dash
Not to be confused with the en dash
(Think ranges such as 2008-2016)
Ahh, the good ol’ days – but I digress
The Dash – also not to be confused with the hyphen
In the hi-tech world, hyphens come and hyphens go
Email and e-commerce have long renounced their hyphens
And the “micros” and “bios” have handed out pink slips as well
Out with the hyphen; off with its head – progress calls for it
Much like The Devil, the Dung Beetle and The Donald
No one messes with The Dash!
The Dash emphasizes and separates – yet still connects
Able to take the place of colons, commas and parentheses
The Dash is a fun, versatile, free spirit
At times you might even say, well – dashing
It has a sense of flair, a bit of the dramatic
It puts the James Dean punk in punctuation
Contemporarily speaking – it is the world’s most interesting punctuation mark
Yet, the Dash is informal, never stodgy or fussy
Not to be overworked, but there when you need it
If Lassie had a litter mate it would be the quick and spunky Dash
Dash – the life of the party, the punch line’s best friend
The period ends the show; the dash extends it
Unlike the possessive apostrophe, it is a secure mark
Comfortable with or without its spaces
Causing no “to-hyphenate or not-to-hyphenate” confusion
The Dash knows its master well
Flowing from the writer’s pen at just the right moments
Showing breaks in thought and shifts in tone
Unlike the exclamation or question mark
It asks for nothing – yet packs a punch
Now there’s an idea ….
The Dash – Punctuation’s First Super Hero
More favored than the formal bullet, more powerful than the colon
Able to bridge two independent clauses with a single short line
Less theatrical than the exclamation mark, bolder than the semi colon
Strong, informal, relaxed – part Gable, part Kent
It’s The Dash!

Terri J. Guttilla