For One Lit Mag, What’s Between the Words is Most Important

MT. HOLYOKE, Mass. Pamela Wykoff is under pressure, and it shows in the furrows on her forehead as she races to meet a deadline for the winter issue of Punc, the only literary journal devoted exclusively to “transgressive punctuation.” “Punc attempts to free writers from the dead hand of punctuation rules,” she says with a grim determination that seems excessive for a bunch of little dots and curlicues. “I don’t like to be hemmed in by inverted commas–it triggers my claustrophobia.”

If you quote me, please don’t fence me in with inverted commas.

Wykoff exhales a sigh of satisfaction as she selects the final piece for publication, a poem in which a semicolon appears boldly out of place at the beginning of a line. “Editors say they want to be surprised by poetry,” she says, “then they take out the blue pencil if you put a # in the middle of a verb.”

The transgressive punctuation movement has gained adherents among a growing number of poets as young as nine, who chafe under hidebound rules that punctuation nerds, emboldened by such books as “Eats, Shoots & Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” seek to perpetuate. “Why exactly should I put a comma after the last word in a quote,” says third-grade poetess Amy Louise Nilburn as she looks over this reporter’s shoulder to make sure he is not punctuating his transcription of her remarks, “and why should I use quotation marks at all?”

Collision of words at punc poetry reading

Wykoff herself is a poet who places random punctuation marks–a virgule, a left parenthesis–“any where I damn well please,” she says. When this reporter points out that writers have rebelled in the past without forsaking punctuation as a helpful tool to guide the reader’s eye, she scoffs. “And where the hell did that get them?” she asks. “Nothing but a bigger printer’s bill on their self-published chapbooks for the question marks and periods.”

“Get the defibrillator–a man was just crushed by a semi-colon that fell off the top shelf.”

Industry sources confirm that punctuation drives up the cost of high-quality avant-garde literature, but insist upon it out of concern for readers’ safety. “Without punctuation, words tend to run off the page like quicksilver,” says Curtis Bascomb of Absurdist Poets Discount Supply House in Newton, Mass. “I saw a young girl scarred for life because some punc poet didn’t use a period at the end of a line the other night. You might as well drive around naked without a seatbelt wearing a babushka.”

Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”


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