The Cummings and goings of punctuation

When I turned 13, my sister decided it was time to introduce me to the wonder that is E.E. Cummings through a collection of his most famous poems. Before I knew it, I started falling in love with his writing, one misplaced parenthesis at a time. But, as most loves tend to do, this newfound passion led me to question something I had believed in for most of my life: the all-encompassing importance of correct punctuation.

We’ve all seen the occasional Internet post about the damage a misplaced comma can do, and most of us have probably experienced the uncomfortable jokes that follow a text to a group chat saying that you “have two hours to kill someone come help please.” Growing up as a lover of grammar, I was always completely convinced that punctuation was an integral part of the written word and that without it, too much could get lost in translation.

But with my collection of E.E. Cummings’ poems came the realization that meaning can be created through the absence of rules, too. Seemingly random colons, a complete absence of periods and the generous use of parentheses signified not only Cummings’ fondness for poetic license but also his understanding that poetry is as much a visual experience as it is a syntactical one. His work showed me that rules are often broken for a reason, and since my 13th birthday, I have spent more than a few nights under the covers, flashlight in hand, trying to figure out what those reasons may be.

While this may not be the best realization for a copy editor at The Daily Californian to take to heart, it’s one that completely changed this particular copy editor’s understanding of the importance of punctuation. Thanks to E.E. Cummings, the next time I read a story, I’ll be sure to ponder the deeper meaning accompanying a writer’s absent comma before I put it back where it rightly belongs.

Contact Alya Lamba at [email protected].