people who are nice enough to publish me, the writing process

Making a poem better one punctuation mark at a time

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had a poem published in FourW 21 late last year, a kind of self-aggrandising rap-style litany poem thing. It was a pleasure to be published by such a delightful bunch of Waggans, but the editorial exchanges I had with editor David Gilbey were even more valuable and engaging.

It’s not often that a poem is accepted by a journal and then subjected to such a rigorous editorial process. So many times journal publication is a simple thanks/no thanks dichotomy. When the rare opportunity for collaboration and formal discussion presents itself alongside an acceptance, I’m ten times more excited by the former than the latter.

For some the following might just be a pedantic back-and-forth about punctuation marks, but for me this kind of thing is one of the fundamental aspects of writing poetry. Thanks to David for letting me reproduce our correspondence here.

From: adam ford
Sent: 13/8/2010, 8:47 PM
To: Treble, Sandra
Subject: Re: fourW twenty-one

Hi Sandra,

Fabulous news – thanks so much. I’ve been trying to find a home for this poem for a while now. Your acceptance is a lovely counter to a rejection I had just yesterday.

It hasn’t been accepted anywhere else to date.

Since submitting I’ve revised the poem slightly, swapping ampersands into it and adding a line to the early part of the poem. I’ve made adjustments to your proof accordingly – hope that’s okay. I’ve also added a bit to my bio – just my blog address, if that’s okay.

Both are attached. Let me know if you need anythign else.




From: David Gilbey
Sent: 16/08/10 5:22 PM
To: Adam Ford
Subject: Re: fourW twenty-one

Hi Adam,

Thanks for your reply to Sandra and I’m delighted we can publish ‘Are we there yet?’ The changes you’ve suggested look fine to me. Just two things:

1)     Do you want/need the full stop at the end of the line ‘…unwreck your life.’? It’s the only place in the poem you use one and, while I thought at first it was a good thing to mark a dramatic gesture of (rejected) finality, I think you could omit it – and let the lineation do the pause/punctuation work, as you do elsewhere.

2)     Do you want a dash after ‘these rhythms’, before ‘I supersede them all’ – I think it would be appropriate.

Your bio is fine, though we don’t usually include the writer’s blog address (on the grounds that a simple name search usually brings this up pretty soon) – so I hope you don’t mind if we omit this.




From: adam ford
Sent: 16/8/2010 9:00 PM
To: David Gilbey
Subject: Re: fourW twenty-one

Hi david,

Thanks for your email – it’s prompted another look over the poem, so here’s my response to your suggestions and a couple more things to boot.

1. Yes, well spotted – I’ve removed that full-stop, which was simply an oversight. There’s also an egregious comma at the end of line 31 (after “tetrameters”) that I have eliminated.

2. No thankyou – no dash after “these rhythms”. I see where you’re coming from, but I think it implies a rhythm that I don’t want to imply – to my mind there’s  no pause between “rhythm” and “I supersede”.

3. I’ve also changed  the dash in line 33 to a comma to maintain some consistency with the decision I’ve outlined in point 2.

4. For good measure I changed the dash in line 19 to a colon, which seems to satisfy me more somehow.

Thanks so much for this – you have a very exacting eye and I have benefited greatly from it. Again, I’m dead chuffed to have this poem in print.

Happy for there to be no web address in the bio. I thought that might be why it wasn’t there in the version you sent me.

Final revised version attached.

Thanks again for allowing so much mucking around at this late stage.

Adam Ford


From: David Gilbey
Sent: 17/08/10 10:32 AM
To: Adam Ford
Subject: Re: fourW twenty-one

Hi Adam,

Thanks for your response and comments – I think that some of these so-called ‘little’ details are often important in poems. I’m happy with all of your points. One thing that struck me as I was glancing through your final version was that the comma in line 22 seems unnecessary:

right into your mind, & in no time

The ampersand seems such a strong marker/break (more so than simply ‘and’) I’d be inclined to delete it.

What do you think?



From: Adam Ford
Sent: 17/8/2010 1:28 PM
To: David Gilbey
Subject: Re: fourW twenty-one

Hi David,

Wow this is exactly the can of worms that opens up when you go down to the punctuation level. It’s been a very long time since I had the luxury of taking my time with an edit, and I’ve become a little lax (I might also invoke the old “don’t proofread your own work” maxim here, but I don’t want to pass the buck too much). Thank you so much for spotting that comma. It, too, is egregious. Please do delete it.

The ampersands were a late adjustment tot he poem, and achieved via search and replace, which is why that comma’s still there. I probably put it there originally when the ampersands were all “ands” and didn’t notice it when the ampersands went in automatically. I flatter myself that I would have noticed if I had done the and/& switch manually.

Thanks again,



From: David Gilbey
Sent: 17/08/10 2:32 PM
To: Adam Ford
Subject: Re: fourW twenty-one

Thanks Adam,




4 thoughts on “Making a poem better one punctuation mark at a time”

  1. Hey Adam,

    nice post, I had a simila experience with FourW and know what you mean about the pleasure of a good punctiation edit. You’re right though, about it perhaps seeming pedantic, or in my case, ripe for some (good-natured) parody! ;-)) But then, Oscar Wilde got there first: “I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out. Congrats on the poem.

    1. Thanks Davey, and congrats on yours too. always nice bunking with you on the pages of a journal. Love the Wilde quote as well. I usually evoke the Ezra Pound dash/colon anecdote when it comes to poems and punctuation, so that one will allow me to mix things up a bit.

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