MOONLIGHT: NEW ZEALAND POEMS ON DEATH AND DYINGEditor:
2008. Contains previously published material.Pages:
As is my usual wont with poetry anthologies, this is very much a non-review.
When I read THIRD RAIL
, I noticed that the poems that meant the most to me were those that somehow related to death, grief or loss. I caught sight of MOONLIGHT not too long after that, and I knew it had to be my next venture into poetry.
I’m glad I borrowed it. I did indeed find it powerful, haunting, and very much worth my time.
I suppose I should tell you a little more about the individual poems--how impressed I was with the broad range and the variety of ways in which these poets deal with and write about death--but I feel like I’ve done all that before. I was
impressed with the collection. I did
find the poetry broad in range, and I appreciated the different ways each poet handled the subject matter. I was also pleased with the way Johnston organized the collection; each poem leads into the next in a deeply emotive manner.
But, most of all, MOONLIGHT got me thinking about the role punctuation plays in poetry.
My grade eleven English teacher was a big proponent of reading poetry aloud. She taught us to pay particular attention to punctuation so we’d know exactly how the poet intended each piece to sound. A line break, she insisted, was not an excuse for a pause. If there was no comma, we should carry on to the next line without taking a breath.
I stuck to this approach with the other two poetry anthologies, but I found it difficult to do so here. Many of these poets eschew punctuation altogether, or write in such a way that a line break does
seem to indicate a pause of some sort, even when there's no comma or full stop. Others seem to flit back and forth within the same poem; they decline to punctuate for a few lines (but still write in a manner that necessitates a pause), then begin to do so all in a rush, then stop again.
I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that I found this frustrating, but it did confuse me. It made me question what I’d been taught, and got me wondering whether there is
a set rule for punctuation in poetry. If the poet declines to punctuate, am I to read the poem in whatever manner I choose, placing the emphasis where I believe it belongs? Am I to rush through at a desperate pace in the assumption that the poet wants the poem experienced in a single breath (or as close to a single breath as I can manage)? If there’s a little punctuation, but not quite enough for the prose-lover in me, should I approach one part of the poem in one manner and the rest in another?
I must think on this for a while.