Quarantined Without Punctuation

Brian Henry works really well with letting the reader insert their own pauses, comas, periods, semicolons, and whatever other kind of punctuation the see fit to insert into it. I really liked this because unlike a typical poem without punctuation, Henry starts to give little ‘hints’ in the poem of where he would break it off and also how it should be read with all of the repetition. I think that this is breaking free from a standard poem with no punctuation where the line ends at the end of the line and continues like that throughout the entire poem. Actaully Henry keeps a continuation of thought going on within the entire book and links it to the freedom of not having any punctuation. This can be seen in Quarantine / 5, Quarantine / 6, and Quarantine / 7.

“As close to death as she I asked her

how she felt if she were happy right now

at last knowing where she had been right

if being right brought joy if

it was in itself a virtue

if rightness could be a source of joy

without knowing one were right” (5)

As it can  be seen from 5, there is a different cut in the words once it comes to the word ‘joy’; the lines start pausing in the midst of the line with a sort of ‘hidden’ punctuation that you can just sense should be there. The same thing happens when Quarantine / 5 goes into Quarantine / 6 and then into Quarantine / 7.

“and then of course she died

not in her sleep but with her eyes open” (5)

“My wife died with her eyes open

but her eyes were not on me

when she died I was not there

when she died” (6)

“When she died I was at the river

though forbidden to leave for any reason

my throat a fleshy burn I left

the house to find water” (7)

The really interesting and cool thing about reading this kind of poetry that makes it a different elegy is that I could be reading this completely different then someone else who is reading this. It kind of puts the lines and the wording in the hands of the reader to interpret the way that they want to. For example, I read the exert from 6 a different way the very first time I read it then I did when I went back over the lines.

As to how this pertains to Structure & Surprise, I’m still not quite sure. The dialectal argument structure in this case might be between the reader and  Henry. The compromise, or the final part of the structure is the words on the page and the interpretation that the reader/Henry wants to take from it when the punctuation is removed.

2 Responses to “Quarantined Without Punctuation”

  1. cmdrquack Says:

    I agree that the lack of punctuation gives the reader a certain freedom to interpret wherever the grammar is ambiguous or confusing. I find I usually dislike when punctuation is removed because I find that it rarely adds anything successful to the poem. In the case of Quarantine it definitely feels appropriate, though. The freedom he expresses in breaking these rules I think my kind of mirror some of the insane things which the narrator seems to do throughout the piece, and one could think of insanity as a kind of freedom and lack of rules within the mind, so the parallel there makes the poem that much more effective.

  2. I agree too that the lack of punctuation gives the reader the ability to interpret the poem differently at where they would break lines, ideas, content, ect. I always thought that lack of punctuation in poetry was almost more in tune with the natural thought process, because when we think we don’t really think about where our thoughts are punctuated. We just express how we feel internally until those expressions stop. It’s like by leaving out punctuated lines, it gives him more liberty to delve into how his mind is actively working. Looking at Quarantine this way helps me to understand his connections better and where he is moving, even though, simultaneously, I don’t completely understand it because I’m not him. I’m really enjoying his work though and think the constant of little punctuation works well.

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