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The Power of Punctuation

The Power of Punctuation

Toni Morrison said, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” This punctuation day, I am thinking about how Black women writers use punctuation to do language their way, particularly, the poets. These women use punctuation to give tone to their voice, symphonically orchestrating for us how to read their thoughts.

Claudia Rankine, in a five-lined, untitled poem about a guy who “fits the description,” introduces each line with a capital letter. There is no separation of thought marked at the end of each line. Repetition works to bring them together.

Sonia Sanchez uses the backward slash to tell us about a high/yellow/black/girl in “To Anita.”

Commas are king for Warsan Shire in “Backwards.” Where another writer might choose shorter sentences completed by periods, her commas manipulate time, rewinding a life, erasing the loss of her dad.

Punctuation is a way to direct speech, a means of bringing clarity to written words. These women command the page with their ideas using everything available to them. Of course, they would not be relegated by a small, black dot or any of its comrades. No. They require these devices to fall in line, wherever they choose to place them, if they choose to give them a place at all. Punctuation can have its day, but when it comes to what these women have to say, it must acquiesce.


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