I received one of those magnetic poetry kits as a gift some time ago. It’s basically these small white refrigerator magnets, each with a different word on it. Now, the package says it’s supposed to cure writer’s block, but I find the whole thing a bit unsettling. For one, it has words like “prostitute,” “sex,” and “naked.” And I can’t tell you how many times the phrase “pleasure pickle” has shown up on my refrigerator. True, all these words have their place in the great lexicon of American language, but they don’t exactly stimulate me to create thought provoking prose.
Far worse than the risqué vocabulary (which is really more hilarious than offensive) is that the kit has no punctuation. I know, I know…I’m such a dork. Hear me out, though. Language, grammar, and punctuation are far from the stupor inducing lessons you remember from school. Truth be told, I’ve learned most of English skills by reading, not by doing lessons. With the risk of revealing what a true nerd I am, I’ll admit that over the years I have grown to enjoy the intricacies of a well-crafted sentence (not necessarily a long sentence).
In order for someone to understand what you’re trying to write, you have to use all these elements correctly and with purpose. Take the title of one of my favorite grammar books Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Notice the difference between that and the less dramatic “eats shoots & leaves.” Are we talking about a crazy murderer or a cute little panda? (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I apologize for getting too writery on you! You can skip this and just reread the dirty words in the first paragraph!)
That brings me back to the word magnets. Without punctuation, I find it hard to put the words together in a way that makes sense. “Pleasure pickle” aside, I don’t want someone reading my fridge and getting the wrong idea! I want to create sentences that really mean something. Sentences that may even move people to laugh, cry, cringe, or yell. Who knows, one day my sentences might even inspire someone to get off the couch and do something better with her life.