27 thoughts on ““On Punctuation” on Writer’s Almanac, Oct. 15

    1. HC Palmer

      Now, I must buy more books! Yours!
      I’ll shelf them next to Gary Snyder’s, B H Fairchild’s, Virginia Hamilton Adair’s and Szymborska’s…… (Jim Harrison’s are on the shelf below)
      I sure would like Mr. Keeler to read one of my poems on NPR some foggy morning, just after sunrise, when my old mind is most alert–then, I could say and chuckle with satisfaction, “I wish I had written that!”
      HC Palmer

  1. Steve Straight

    Hi, Elizabeth.

    I loved your poem today. Love the energy of it.

    Coincidentally, I published a poem on punctuation last year in the journal for two-year-college English teachers (which is what I do in Connecticut). I thought you might get a kick out of someone else playing with the same subject, because I sure did yours.

    All the best,
    Steve Straight


    Do not place a period
    where God has placed a comma.
    ––Gracie Allen

    Seeing the giant banner in front of the church,
    I think of all the punctuation marks
    that litter the field of my mind:

    commas, yes, indicating that life goes on,
    or must, and I might make some sense of it
    around the next bend;

    semicolons winking between endless pairs
    of diametrical truths that cancel each other out;

    ellipses to represent all the things I used to know
    but now I can’t recall;

    quotation marks, as I try
    to enlist the wisdom of others;

    the dash, for all life’s punchlines and surprises, yes,
    but more often in a pair, just loud parentheses
    forever qualifying some point that others find so clear;

    the apostrophe for all I possess,
    or taking the place of all I no longer need;

    the teasing caret–more information
    has just arrived, sir;

    the colon, promising that what comes next will follow
    what has come before, only a myth, the dots more often
    like the edge of a cliff;

    and sometimes just when I think I have life figured out,
    have found some great truth, there is
    the asterisk, noting the exception or the flaw;

    and so perhaps it all comes down to the question mark,
    that shepherd’s crook that grazes all my doubts and fears
    on hillsides studded with rocks, but in among the flock
    curiosity as well, the greatest impulse after love, and
    by its side hope, that the exclamation point will come.

    1. Elizabeth Austen

      Hi, Steve – thanks for your message and your poem.It’s always fun to see how others interpret the personalities of punctuation — you managed to include quite a few more marks than I did. Interesting that we both end with the exclamation point and the question mark.
      Be well,

  2. Fenbeast

    Heard the poem en route to my job as a web site managing editor, and loved it! My job requires me to follow the rules to the letter, but your characterizations really spoke to my word-nerd’s heart. Thank you!

    1. Elizabeth Austen

      Word-nerds unite! Thanks for your message. This poem originally came about in reaction to pressure I was getting in a writers’ workshop to be more traditional in my use of punctuation in my poems — rules which I follow in my day job as a writer for Seattle Children’s Hospital — but poems just seem to invite a livelier interpretation of those tools…. Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. patti robinson

    I heard G Keillor’s reading at 6:45 this a.m. and thought WOW. I wish I had had THAT poem when I was a high school English teacher. 😉 Is there a place on the internet where I can download it? It’s just so perfect! Love the way you describe the ellipsis and the “sexy” ending with the question mark. Made me want to run home and look at one! Thank you for such clever fun.

  4. Christine Whitlock

    “On Punctuation,” made my day hearing it read on the Writer’s Almanac this morning! Just like this fall weather, it was so refreshing and comedic. Thank you for such a wonderful work.

  5. paola

    I heard your poem on NPR this morning and laughed all the way to work…immediately sent in to my friend and teacher Clive Matson, another crazy child wordsmith
    but then I found Morning Poem and was moved!

    It resonated the way Martha Grahams “Only one of you…and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.” did for me…so thank you, Molta Grazie!!!

    1. Elizabeth Austen

      Hi, Paola– I love that Martha Graham quote too. I’m very glad to know that “This Morning” resonated for you. Thanks for writing!

  6. Diana Widdows

    I get the daily writers almanac email and frequently save poems that I like or think I may go back to in the future. Today was different in that I spent most of my morning reading about you, finding your other poems online, and ordering your book. Please put me on your email list as I would love to attend a reading some time. Thank you for providing me with such a good start to my day!

  7. Danial

    Hi, Elizabeth. I also heard your poem on the Writer’s Almanac and enjoyed it. I’m delighted to see all the positive feedback you’ve received on your website!

    Best of luck,

  8. Dear Elizabeth,
    I am the newsletter editor for the PPW Window, the newsletter for the Panhandle Professional Writers, who meet in Amarillo, Texas. Could I have permission to reprint your poem in our November newsletter.
    I loved how Garrison Keillor read it, and by the YIPPEE I was ready to track down your books as a devoted follower!

    1. Elizabeth Austen

      Hi, Bobette – my apologies for the slow reply – sure, you’re welcome to print the poem in your newsletter – thanks for asking!

  9. I heard your poem on my way to present at a conference in Orlando. I nearly wrecked jotting down your name, but it was well worth the risk. Clever, profound, sexy and wry – the highlight of my drive!

    (i have thing for parentheses and ellipses myself…)

  10. Hi Elizabeth,

    I’m a Seattle writer, waving hello. I love “On Punctuation” — love love love, because it’s gorgeous in itself and because it resonates so deeply with me. Always lovely to recognize oneself in someone else’s work, no?

    I’d like to blog about it, and wonder if I may reprint the poem in my post? I’ve seen it on other blogs around the intarwebs; but it seems rude not to ask your permission, and so if you prefer, I can link to The Writer’s Almanac instead.

    Wishing you a day of ellipses and exclamations, of possibilities and glee.

  11. Hello Elizabeth,

    Fabulous! I’m totally with you on punctuation. Just this morning I wrote a paragraph which I see has one sentence containing five elipses and ending in five question marks – there are way more questions in life than we care to admit. Every time I set something off in dashes – parentheses are so…well, parenthetical – or express my astonishment with an exclamation point (or three), I remember your poem and feel so vindicated. Thank you.


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