Posted 5 Jun 2014

in News

How to read a poem consisting only of punctuation?

Poetry without words

A question set in a Cambridge exam


Of the many things we see and tweet on @poetryzoo, some things just tantalise. This is a Cambridge English Literature exam question, brought to our attention by the BBC. The students were asked to write about a poem which has no words, only punctuation.

It transpires that the poem is called ‘Tipp-Ex Sonate’ by the South African writer and musician Andre Letoit, aka ‘Koos Kombuis’. The BBC piece (link) has a professor go through some of the artier interpretations.

We are told the poem is a protest against censorship which opens up a gap between art and reality as censorship is a refutation; a denial of the intention of the poet. Moreover, censorship presupposes that the words of the poet are sufficiently powerful to be worth censoring! If this was an actual Tipp-exed document, this poem would cry out for an erasure of the erasure, a reconstruction of the text; as art, it points us to the possible significance of poetry as a medium of power.

Here’s hoping the nervous students thought of all that during the heat of exams. What do you think?

And, of course, what’s going to happen if  Andre is asked to do a reading of his work …

by The PoetryZoo Keeper