I’d like to use your poem Grace in the upcoming issue of _____. It’s a beautiful piece, but I would much prefer to spell out the word “and” throughout rather than using the “&.” How do you feel about this? We’re going to run it in either case, and we will, of course, respect your decision.
Ampersands: I love ‘em! I know that poems with ampersands are looked down on by the mainstream poetry establishment these days, and some readers may find them off-putting. But I like “&” because it is an ideograph, one of the few permitted in our otherwise alphabetic language, and so connects us more viscerally to the world of signs and tracks and omens.
In addition, “and” is one of my favorite words, because of the way it can bring disparate things together and lead the mind off in new directions, so I don’t mind calling attention to it.
That said, however, I’m very curious about your reasons for wanting to spell out all the “and”s in this poem. I’m not completely inflexible on this point.
As for ampersands, I guess I’m just one of those people that are put off by them in formal text. I find that they interrupt my concentration–and that I end up paying attention to the &, rather than focusing on the word it represents.
That said, your argument for using them was very nicely stated. And in the end, I’ll be fine with whatever decision you make.
What do you think? Is anyone else out there put off by ampersands in poems, or other text?
I find them curvy and sensuous – little women, almost. “&” could be a pictograph of a woman holding a child – not an inappropriate image, considering the fecundity of the word it represents, often replaced by a mere pause, a catch in the breath represented by a spermatozoal comma. To me, ampersands make a printed poem a bit more tactile, subconsciously recalling the link with calligraphy – and with my childhood, when I taught myself poetry and calligraphy together. I don’t remember when and I why I picked up the habit of using the ampersand for every “and” in my poems except at the beginnings of sentences, but it has become deeply engrained.
And being suspicious of any and all habits, I’m grateful to C. for making me question it. Does it really make sense to risk distracting the reader with this anachronism?
Some time ago, the redoubtable Languagehat gave his imprimatur to a page from Adobe that traces the history of the ampersand. I had known it came from a ligature for the Latin et (“and”). But I hadn’t realized that it still serves as a sort of touchstone for modern type designers, the one character where they can really let their imaginations roam.
There are many interesting variations of the ampersand, such as those created by the talented Ludovico degli Arrighi, the Renaissance writing master (fig. 8 ), and Robert Granjon, the gifted 16th century French type designer (fig. 9). The new Poetica typeface family, which was designed by Robert Slimbach of Adobe and based on Cancelleresca, the commercial writing hand used during the Italian Renaissance, offers a rich collection of 58 different ampersand characters (fig. 12).
Ampersand usage varies from language to language. In English and French text, the ampersand may be substituted for the words and and et, and both versions may be used in the same text. The German rule is to use the ampersand within formal or corporate titles made up of two separate names; according to present German composition rules, the ampersand may not be used in running text. In any language, the ampersand’s calligraphic qualities make it a compelling design element that can add visual appeal and personality to any page.
Some version of the ampersand appears in most languages that use a Roman script, so it gives any text that employs it a sort of window into the wider, polylingual universe. It is also an important element in many computer languages. Character entity references in HTML all begin with an ampersand, which further reinforces – in my mind at least – the connection between ampersands and the dream of a common language.
Ampersand image of “Humanist minuscule, 1453 A.D.” borrowed from the above-linked Adobe page.