Poetry editing and punctuation

Poetry is a great form of self-expression. It is a special form of writing which allows you, the writer, to say or write practically anything with short lines, long lines, rhymes or in whatever style you want.

Although I don’t want to use the word “licence”, still I would say that poetry may also be considered your licence to express emotions in a language that you normally do not use in daily talk.

But like other forms of writing, the biggest problem with poetry writing is editing our own works. You are so “close to the event” that you are hardly in a position to edit your work. What is worse is that at times the “ego factor” comes into play that a writer would tend to say: “Don’t touch that. That’s my work. It’s already perfect as it is.”

As publisher of emanila, I have seen and read a number of poems submitted for publication and referred to me by Team Emanila for comment, for approval or simply for my entertainment.

The most common errors we notice in submitted works are:

Spelling errors – No question, these are best corrected by simply referring to a dictionary or online spell-checkers, especially for English poems.

Spacing – Lack of space between a period or a comma and the next character of the sentence on the same line. Again, this can easily be corrected by using an online spell-checker.

Grammatical errors – These are easy to correct. But again, we as writers sometimes forget that there are still conventions to observe when it comes to grammar.

The other error we notice is the improper and ineffective use of punctuation.

I know that punctuation in poetry is indeed a grey area. Others may even say that punctuation is part of a writing style and it is like an artwork. And no one can judge that an art is right or wrong.

But even artists look at their works with the critical eyes of an editor before they declare their works as finished. Would they not be also asking themselves: Why did they paint the way they did? What exactly are they trying to convey? Is the medium they are using the best way to convey emotions? I wonder how artists edit their works.

I wonder too how other writers, particularly members of our Writers Group, edit their works. Yes, it would be interesting to know what they think of punctuation in poetry.

Why punctuate? Why do you use punctuation? When do you use punctuation? Should titles have punctuations? When are the trailing dots most effective to use? Should you use a comma, period, colon or semi-colon? Or should the poem be left with out any punctuation? Or should formats, like: tabbing, line centering, line breaks, dropping, replace punctuation?

What do you think? Please share your thoughts.


  1. R Tanglao says

    Browsing over the latest entries in emanila’s poetry section, I saw a very good example of a poem by manonton dalan.

    Part of that poem, “it’s graduation day, we’re so happy” is:

    “tears flowing on my cheeks
    as i look each faces i know
    last day i see all of you
    some going away, some maybe

    i don’t know but i’m so happy
    my parents would be so proud
    i could scream really loud
    but i must hold it; i’m in tears”

    Except for the use of a comma and a semi-colon obviously to separate two ideas, I thought this is a very good example of a poem with almost no punctuations. Yet the emotions are expressed and a sense of finality is achieved at the end of the poem.

    Spelling and grammatical errors? Couldn’t find any.

    Thanks Romy for sharing with us your observations.

    • Mari ana says

      I believe in punctuations. The second line runs right into the third and makes no sense. A reader should not have to punctuate in his head. Most poets do not want to be bothered or they do not know how.

      Mari ana.

  2. rey bautista says

    proper use of punctuation
    i love to learn how to use
    it will rightly project the
    message i want to convey

  3. Pamela says

    It’s common sense that a piece of poetry or any writing for that matter should be edited, but, only a selected few has the privilege to write with proper syntax.

    In the World Wide Web where anyone of any class and pedigree can join and contribute their own works, there’s little to be done to filter out submissions that are clearly not acceptable.

    There’s only one solution to this: Place them all in their respective categories so that the best ones are given more attention and the lesser ones noted with a warning: “You need to improve”.

    Set up a little thread with links to tutorials and information for those who are willing to learn on their own and have a moderator to assist them when they need it.

    Then set up workshops, backed with donations from these very people who are serious about poetry. It has to come from their own pockets.

    This is my suggestion. Of course, I’ll understand if it’s “Too harsh and unrealistic” but this is the ONLY solution.

    People hate to be classified, but how can you achieve your goals if you don’t know where you’re standing?

    • Mari ana says

      I think this is a good idea. I know I am one with a lot of learning ahead of me. I am more than willing to learn. I do have a complaint. My complaint are the little poetry groups one joins and, submits their work. I see praise for terrible work. This is not helping, if one cannot be honest then their mouths should stay shut. I have stopped commenting.

      • says

        Thanks for the feedback, Mari ana. Continue what you think is right. Keep on commenting – even if your comments run against the general flow.

  4. emllavata says

    Sir Romy,

    Marami pong salamat.

    Dahil sa “post” sa itaas, nagkaroon tuloy ako ng “self-evaluation” sa kung paano ko ginagamit ng wasto ang mga bantas sa aking mga naisulat na tula.

    Sana po marami ang nakabasa sa tinuran n’yong pansin nang sa gayon pati ang ibang kapwa ko manunulat ay magkaroon din ng sariling pagsusuri.

    Gaya ng nabanggit po ninyo sa unahan:

    ” Poetry is a great form of self-expression. It is a special form of writing which allows you, the writer, to say or write practically anything with short lines, long lines, rhymes or in whatever style you want. …”

    May tsansa po na ang wastong pagbabantas ay ma-overlook o/at maging “exaggerated” ang pagkagamit.

    Kay, Bb. Pamela, alam ng bawat manunulat ang kaniyang katayuan, halos karamihan sa amin ay walang tsansa at pagkakataon na “maipakita sa madla ang aming gawa” kundi din sa pamamagitan ng emanilapoetry. At sa palagay ko ‘yun lang ang aming “goal”.

    Gayunpaman, sa aking palagay itinuturing ng maraming nakabasa na isang “constructive criticism” ang inyong tinuran. Salamat din po.

  5. Pacific Hernandez says


    I agree with you. Although poem writing is a different form of self-expression, very much different from essay writing, it should follow the rules of grammar and punctuation falls under its umbrella, specially lines and stanzas involving direct and indirect discourse.

    I have observed that even the works of great poets are not punctuated. I immitate this manner of writing but when direct and indirect discourses are involved, I punctuate.

    We could not expect hundred percent correctness but errors in this field should be in the minimum. Sometimes, correctness is sacrificed in favor of rhyme and meter.

    • Mari ana says

      Romy, there are also a lot of famous poets who do follow the rules of grammar and english punctuation. In fact I have a book here beside me and I cannot find one poet’s work that is not punctuated. I believe poets now who are not professional, use this form because they do not know how, or they feel it is more “creative”?

  6. says

    emllavata – Salamat naman at positibo ang dating ng mungkahi ni Pamela. Hindi naman tayo darating sa tagpo na magkakaroon ng isang kategorya na hindi maganda ang bunga sa tatanggap. Kagaya ng nabanggit ko rin sa ibang bahagi nitong blog na ito (ref: About), ang layunin ko ay makatulong sa iba (poets, software developers, etc.) upang maipakilala at maitanyag ang kanilang mga katha o gawa.

    Pacific Hernandez – Yes, I agree with you that all of us have our own comfort zone and our own writing styles. It does not matter whether these had been modelled after those of known greats. In fact, I have consistently encouraged our members to write in a style they are most comfortable with. This means that yes, we can break the rules to experiment new forms. But this means too that before we break rules, we should first be aware of the rules we are breaking. With knowledge of rules, we know whether we are in fact experimenting when under critique-ing. Who knows, the future might just be on the side of the adventurous.

  7. Rod Escobin - LBNHS says

    I really need an editor. Although I have a creative mind, sometimes I do commit mistakes particularly in grammar. This reminds me of Poet Ed Roa, he helped me in one of my poems. I’m getting better though, as I continue to practice this skill I do enjoy so much. Hail to all poets!

  8. says

    Rod – Thanks for the note. Happy to know that amongst our Writers Group, the spirit of sharing reigns.

    Ed – Thanks to you too for helping out.

  9. PenPen says

    I’m happy to read this article especially this kind of “spirit of sharing” and “friendly reminders” from Mr. Romy Cayabyab. This shall ONLY PROVE two things: that the “founder” and “The Site”–

    “Is One of The Finest” and This Site Is One of The Best!”

  10. says

    Hi, Romy,

    Thanks for this nice article. Nakakuha ako ng karagdagang ideya sa mga alintuntunin sa pagsulat ng tula.

    On R Tanglao’s first comment, the poem used punctuations properly but how about the word ‘i’. It should be capitalized.

  11. says

    @ Jack – Thanks for visiting and for the feedback. I agree capitalization is another interesting topic, especially in poetry. I’m looking for a guest blogger.

    Was it e.e.cummings who popularized lowercasing in poetry?

  12. Katrina says

    As a literary editor, I do agree. Punctuation editing is the hardest in poetry editing.

    I think the editor should decipher first what the poet is trying to say before editing the punctuations. I say this because if he just edit it in our own style, he can probably steal the writer’s ingenuity. If one piece is good enough in the editor’s standards, he should understand and place himself on the writer’s shoes first before deciding how to edit the poem. If he can do it, I think he must talk about it with the writer first as so to hear his side.

    But in the speed of this world today, I think he must just learn to empathize. Deeply empathize.

  13. says

    @Katrina – Thanks for sharing us your thoughts. Yes, I also agree with your statements 100 %. At emanilapoetry, we do have a number of members who experiment with the form and content of their poetry. Our advice to them (and I am repeating myself here) is that before they start experimenting, or “breaking rules” so to speak, they should first know the rules (punctuations, capitalization, and similar conventions). That way, we all know whether what they have created adds value. The last thing that we, editors and publishers, like to see are works not worth the space they are written on.

    • Mari ana says

      Creativity is hard to judge true. Do you think a lot of poets put too much creativity in their writing? Another topic. How do you feel about foul language in one’s work? I have read a lot of poetry where every other word needs to have a swear word in it. Is this coming from rap?

  14. Rolando Inton Cunanan says

    Agree ako kay Katrina regarding empathy when it comes to reviewing the poet’s punctuation placements or non-placement. Sabi ko nga, “among us, kindred souls in poetry, there is that silent bound that’s communicated non-verbally.”

  15. silentpoet says

    Marami na akong naisulat na tula at ako ay patuloy pang nagsusulat…
    Nais ko itong ibahagi at hingin ang inyong opinyon patungkol dito.
    Paano ko ito maibabahagi?

  16. mari ana biossat says

    Of course one should punctuate. If you read the poems from the best poets past and present you will see they do use commas and periods. It drives me crazy when a poem is left reading itself. Without the proper punctuation the writing runs off the cliff. It makes no sense at all. I do not think a poet should be left alone any more then a novelist should not use proper punctuation. Why does a poet get a free ride? I write blogs and poetry. I use punctuation very carefully. Most poets feel they are above this, they have over inflated egos. English rules should matter or the reading will be difficult and make no sense at all.

    • says

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing with us your thoughts, Mari Ana. I am interested in viewing your blogs and poetry. Please leave me your site URL.

  17. says

    I agree too with Katrina that punctuation editing (lalo na kung buong poem ipa edit) is the hardest in poetry.

    Unang-una kasi, hindi po natin alam ang konteksto ng isang likhang tula. Tanging ang manunulat lamang nito ang nakakaalam.

    Budding poets however, especially those who are making experiments should as Manong Romy says “know the rules” first before breaking it.

    Sumagi lang sa isip ko ang 4 na “rules” on writing or editing in general

    1. Ang bagong manunulat, dapat may teachable spirit.

    Naalala ko bigla si Francisco Balagtas na sumulat ng mga tanyag na obra. Hindi siya gumaling sa pagsusulat kung hindi siya nagpatulong kay Huseng Sisiw. Tuwing makakagawa siya ng tula, pina pa ayos niya ito sa kanya. (Siyempre lagi siyang may dalang sisiw na pambayad sa pagod ni Huse)

    2. Ang magagaling naman at mga bihasa na, dapat may willing heart na magturo sa mga baguhan.

    Mamamatay kasi ang ating mga nilikha kung wala man lang tayong naturuan kahit isa, libre man o may sisiw. In other words, we need to share the baton of our expertise.

    3. Huwag matakot magkamali, wag lang mahirati.

    Sa umpisa, wag masyadong conscious sa kalalabasan ng tula. Isulat lang ang lahat ng ideyang lumalabas saka ito pagtagni-tagniin. Itapon ang di kailangan, panatilihin ang dapat. Basahin ito nang hindi ikaw ang nagbabasa. Basahin uli. Baguhin. Iimbak muna tapos basahin uli. Para lang tayong gumawa ng adobo o alak, habang tumatagal lalong sumasarap.

    4. Punahin kung may mali, purihin naman kung tama. Ito ang daan ng paglago ng bawat isa sa larangang ito.

    Sa tingin ko po, isa ito sa mga goal ng blog na ito. Tama po ba Manong Romy?

    Happy writing to all !

  18. Anonymous says

    sir paki-rebisa naman po please?

    Sa tuwing masisilayan ko ang iyong larawan
    Kakaibang sigla ang aking nararamdaman
    kahit may panahon ako ay panglaw
    Ito’y naibsan kapag ikaw ang syang natanaw

    Habang ang oras ay nalipas,
    At ako ay manatiling abala,
    sa pag-kisap ng aking mata,
    ikaw ang syang naa-alala.
    Sinubukan ko ikaw ay kalimutan at iwasan,
    Subalit ito’y hindi ko makayanan
    Sapagkat ang makasama ka ay sya kong pinanabikan
    At nagnanais na ikaw ay mahagkan

    Ang mga mata mo ay pawang ligaya
    Na may handog ng pag-asa
    Sa wari ko’y kahalintulad mo ang isang bulaklak
    Na nag-papahiwatig ng pagka-galak
    At sa aking isipan ay nagkaroon ng rason
    Kung pwede lamang, ikaw ay maging inspirasyon?