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white cover with pink and red dotsClowning, Roxy Dunn

Eyewear, 2016   £5.00

The power of Capital Letters

Capitals work hard in this collection. This is partly because there is virtually no punctuation in any of the poems, so line breaks and capital letters (and the occasional word or phrase in italics) are the only visual signs to help the reader know how to read, how to sound the poems in the head.

The publisher’s house style capitalises the title of each poem so that a first quick glance at the pamphlet gives a sense of uniformity, but each poem has its own unique relationship with capital letters. The poems in Clowning invite the reader into an idiosyncratic world where the poet’s priorities and subjects are indicated, illuminated and orchestrated by capital letters.

Capitals for acronyms, initial capitals for names of individuals, places, festivals, publications, months, drinks, seasons and even materials, are used liberally, sometimes beyond what might be thought the ‘normal’ application of capitals (‘Spring’ is not usually capitalised and neither is ‘Lycra’). So we know straightaway that the poet wants us to notice and consider capitalised words carefully.

More than simply drawing attention to words, capitalisation plays a part in defining the rhythm of a line (as in ‘Clowning’ and ‘Bastille Day’) or in signposting the subject of a poem (‘Bad Joint’), or sometimes, as in ‘Sunday Morning Apocalypse’ — where the first line is dominated by the opening acronym in capitals ISIS — in setting the tone for the entire piece. In ‘Snow’ the capital P of Prague focuses the ear on other key ‘P’s that follow: my great-aunt’s polio / how hard she pinched us.

Capitals sometimes also work to herald new phrases or sentences, and since there are no full stops, the effect is to subtly change the way the reader hears the cadence of the sentence or phrase just finished. This aspect of capitalisation is used deftly and playfully; no two poems do the same thing.

It seems significant that in the first poem in the pamphlet ‘Airbus A321’, the only capital is the personal pronoun the capital ‘I’, setting out the collection’s manifesto with clarity and wit.

Clare Best