Shakespeare’s Macbeth declares “Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee! I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.” Illustration by Anna and Elena Balbusso

Glad to have you here, poets, as tonight we’ll be meeting the bar with poetic apostrophe.

I have to admit, the very first thought that popped up in my mind when considering the word ‘apostrophe’ was not the punctuation mark denoting possession or truncating two words. or even its use in literature as we’ll look at in a minute. My mind went to the Frank Zappa song, ‘Stinkfoot’ wherein someone asked Fido the dog about his conceptual continuity, and Fido replied, “It should be easy to see, the crux of the biscuit is the apostrophe.” No we don’t need to go mulling over that meaning for too long, having originated “in the dark, where all the fevers grow,” after all. However, in the context of tonight’s prompt, I am interested in the actual addressing of the pup—and of course in the pup’s answering back without his usual, “Arf! Arf!”

Poetic apostrophe is prevalent throughout our art form as it is simply an address to someone not present or to an abstract concept. Using apostrophe within a poem, or even a play or work of fiction, usually adds intrigue to the piece as the tone of voice will often change and become more dramatic. The speaker, or voice addressing the dead lover, say, or Love itself, for example, is not expecting a reply. But often, the reader senses an urgency, that if they are not spoken then the speaker will burst with longing, or joy, or love, or whatever overpowering emotion is driving this address out into the universe.
Here’s an example by Emily Dickinson:

Wild nights – Wild nights! (269)

Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
In thee!

Source: The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)

As you might tell, there is often an element of personification that goes along with apostrophe, starting with giving the inanimate object ears to hear soliloquy. Some poems are full addresses to the object or absence, as we saw above, but many poems only interject with apostrophe, as if a spotlight were shown for a moment onto the speaker as his gazed shifted somewhere other than to whom he’d just been addressing. In the poem below, there are different ways to interpret it, but it seems to me as if the speaker is asking himself the hard questions, and turning to his answer at the very end with an eight-word statement that would finally release him.

by Eric Pankey, from The Pear As One Example

What then but to give in,
Having felt the rush of the fugitive
Released as easily as a breath,
Having been burnished like beach glass,
Crushed and left whole,
Between spirit, between spear point
And forge? What then but rage
That when spent rages
As dogged surrender? Sweet,
Sweet anchor, how long
Your hook held.


Tonight, I challenge you to a two-part prompt.
1. Write a poem using apostrophe, and you can name your object/recipient, or choose to be more cryptic than declaring, “O Love…” for instance.
2. This part is optional, or you can skip the first part and just share this portion. Write a response from the perspective of your object/recipient, which will in essence also use apostrophe.

Illustration by David Calcano

When you have completed your poem, link it up to the widget below. Then go and read your fellow poets’ neurotic conversations with themselves, and add to the cacophony of voices with your own comments. Feel free to make even more noise in the comment section here too. Okay, I’m done. Who wants a drink?