I’ve long suspected I lean on em dashes too heavily in my poems. I blame Emily Dickinson. OK, that’s very weak. I blame myself and my love of Emily Dickinson’s em dashed line endings, for in Emily’s hands the em dash is sublimely enigmatic.
Witness, a few lines from one of her most well-known poems, Because I could not stop for Death (1863):
Because I could not stop for Death— He kindly stopped for me— The Carriage held but just Ourselves— And Immortality.
After all those pauses and hesitant gaps, the final full stop is a killer. It hurts but I think I have to strafe my entire manuscript of gratuitous em dashes. Kill my darling little dashes. Create that oblique ending some other way. OK, I can deal with that. But what I’m still coming to terms with is my now revealed fondness for commas, as evidenced by the picture, below. My current manuscript run through Clive Thompson’s incredibly cool punctuation machine. No words. Commas galore. Quite a few question marks, a couple of lovely ampersands and a dollar sign. But very few parentheticals, so, on balance, not all bad…