“A Brief Guide to Punctuation” by Gray

Whewee I’ve been absent for a bit, for which I apologize. I’ll do my best to get back in the habit of daily posting this week, and to start it out I wanted to update y’all on my poetry-related activities of late.

While I’m working in the local elementary school and teen center for my year with AmeriCorps, I’ve made it my goal to start up regular poetry workshops in both locations. At the elementary school the workshop will likely be more of a poetry club to give interested students the opportunity to share their favorite poets and explore their own creativity. I anticipate this to go well as I’ve already had several inquiries about it and have been able to recruit one eager girl to help me start the thing up by starting a petition of sorts which I can use to prove student interest. When I brought this idea up to her, her response was absolutely delightful: “I’d do anything for poetry!” Sure enough, she decided it was taking me too long to print out the actual petition sheet and she made a little booklet of her own and has started the process of getting interested students to sign up.

One of the things I need to do in preparation is collect some poems and poets of my own who I can share with the kids in the workshops. I started off with a selection of (age appropriate) short poems from Rupi Kaur. These are gentle, inspiring, and empowering, so I thought it would be a great start for a group of kids which, based on the list of interested parties so far, will be largely girls.


Today I turned to my own small collection of chapbooks and poetry collections purchased from poets at the Eugene Poetry Slam at Tsunami Books (which, woefully, will be soon going out of business after over twenty years).

The first one I grabbed to read also happens to be the first one I purchased at a slam, a rather small chapbooks by a poet who goes simply by Gray. I remember his performance at Tsunami clearly — seeing in person his poem Life in Reverse was indescribably powerful. Upon the passionately spoken description of manufacturing heroine back into poppies to be scattered in immense rolling fields, my friend and I turned to each other with tears in our eyes, both silently saying the same thing: “Wow.”

Returning to his work has been an absolute delight, though I recall thumbing through his chapbook the next day and thinking, “These are meant to be heard, not read.” It wasn’t as powerful or exciting to read them so near to having actually heard Gray performing his poetry – it was like trying to get a kid to eat an apple after they’ve already had apple pie.

Reading his poetry now, however, I found it just as moving and powerful on the page as it was spoken and in person. Not only that, but this particular chapbook, “A Brief Guide to Punctuation,” actually incorporates the rules of a variety of punctuation marks into both the narratives and structures of the poems in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and powerful. Among my favorite poems in this chapbook is ” , ” which I would be delighted to share with my workshops were it not for the fact that it’s maybe a tad outside of the age range I’m working with:

*A comma is used to set off quoted material that is the grammatical object of an active verb of speaking or writing:

When a man of considerably larger physique
accused me of “fucking is ex-girlfriend” I replied
“tell you what, point out your current girlfriend
and I’ll fuck her too.” He did not point her out.

Despite the fact that many of the poems aren’t exactly appropriate for the age group I’m working with, either because of language or content, there are a number that are appropriate, beautiful, and powerful which I will have the immense pleasure of introducing to the kids in both workshops (should I get them off the ground) including ” * “, ” ! “, “( ) part 1” and “( ) part 2″ and ” . ”

It’s an amazing chapbook, and it makes me sad that I don’t have more of his work on my shelves. I’m not sure where to even begin tracking down his chapbooks to purchase and suspect that they may only be available at his readings, but I highly recommend snagging one or two or three if ever you get the chance.



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