Proofreading Poetry

May 16, 2022

Blank book open on a wooden table. Photo by MESSALA CIULLA on

Hey folks!

I want to dive into something I said a couple weeks ago a little more, about how proofreading sometimes deals with more suggestions than concretes when it comes to poetry.

Of course, you have structures like sonnets that follow set rules, where there’s less room for suggestion and more dealings with the concrete.

But then you have free verse, the style I work with more often than not, which will be what this post focuses on.

Let’s look at the stanza I wrote a few weeks ago (with a few tweaks) as an example:

he held my heart in his hands
then i watched it
as he walked away

Notice how there’s no punctuation? No capital letters? If that were a line in a novel or a paper, it would likely read:

He held my heart in his hands, then I watched it shatter as he walked away.

(As far as proofreading goes, anyway. It might need some light copy editing, but you get the idea.)

In this poem, I made the choice to forego convention. And a lot of free verse plays around with this: punctuation isn’t always necessary, but plays into aesthetic; capitalization becomes optional; etc. So how do you work with a proofreader, or how do you proofread your own work, for that matter, if there are no conventional conventions (yes, I went there) to follow?

Make your own!

Decide how you want to write your poems. It doesn’t need to be the same for each one. But when you make that decision, you can catch errors within a given piece.

For this poem, do you want any punctuation? No? Whoops, there’s a comma, let’s delete it.

What about that poem? Standard punctuation? This sentence works best with a semi-colon rather than a comma.

No capitalizing countries in your entire collection for a political position and theme? Microsoft Word made this one capital without you noticing, let’s fix that for you.

And so on. See how proofreading turns into a conversation?

Honestly, I enjoy this part of the process. It gives me an insight into the poet’s mind, or their vibe/aesthetic preferences. It’s fun to discover and discuss! And if all it is is an honest mistake, also fun. (I genuinely mean that.)

So have fun deciding your poems’ conventions! Play around! Make weird choices! Just fill me in when you ask me to proofread them 😛

Published by Kaila Desjardins

Freelance editor, fiction writer, proud nerd.

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