Capitalization In Poetry

This is a subject that can be interpreted widely, and one on which I will expect much criticism, response, and opinionated reasoning.

As is commonly known, the poetic art form started out as an oral tradition. This created a catch twenty-two, as nothing is capitalized in the spoken word. This may send shudders through the spines of grammar gods, but never fear because capitalization stems from the necessity to emphasize particular words or phrases on paper that were accented by the speaker that the stories were taken from. All of the thought, timing, and organization in stories was done with singer's voice; the full stop of the period, the pause of the comma, the excitement of the exclamation point, and the emphasis of the capital.

Based on the establishment of the poetic form as noted above, it is inherent that punctuation and capitalization in poetry varied as much as the poet that wrote, or sung it. Because of these varieties, it is common place for editors and publishers not to look for the following of specific guidelines, but for them to look for a standard formatting within the artist’s works. This way of looking at an author's works was brought about by E. E. Cummings at a time when there was a formatting standard being developed. It was he that aided in stopping that trend.

Once again, not to dash the spirits of the grammar loving, it is necessary to point out that there has been a recent movement amongst publishers to bring about a standard for poetry known as "modern usage."

Modern usage, as I understand it, can be set to seven standards for capitalization:
Capitalize the first word of a sentence. (This applies even if the start of the sentence is in the middle of the line.)
Capitalize the first letter in every line of a poem. (This applies even if the first letter is not the start of a new sentence.)
Capitalize the major words in a title.
Capitalize proper nouns (names), including adjectives derived from proper nouns.
Capitalize personal titles (President, Reverend, Captain, Mr., and Mrs.) only when they refer to the person or place.
Capitalize major words in abbreviations.

As a last word, I include a quote from Stephen Willhite, Editor for the CAMBIO Journal.

"Poetry has undergone a transformation in its known existence, and this can be said of the poetry in cultures world-wide, which more than any other art form encapsulates and epitomizes the metamorphosis of human creativity. This encompasses a lot, (like the entire history of humanity) however with regard to this article, it is enough to realize poetry has gone from a rigid and socially-managed use of language (in terms of authority), to a melee of words confined only by the imaginations of the poets themselves."

Perhaps it is best left to the imagination of the author?

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