The Origin of the Exclamation Mark

This entry is part 2 of 34 in the series Small World


A gasper, a screamer,
a dog’s cock, say
the old type-setters,
frozen at point.
But it’s older than
type, old as a dried
stalk trembling on
the way to earth,
a mud-dauber tube
like a tuneless flute,
the trail of a slug
down the moss face
of a cliff, a severed
finger packed in ice,
a No. 2 pencil pocked
with toothmarks, a
snake made of sand,
a microphone hung
from the ceiling,
the fossilized thigh-
bone of an extinct
sauropod, a string
of drilled shells
used in lieu of
money, or a
gas flare on
an oil field
at night.

says: the word
joy written vertically,
in Latin, a big letter I
balancing on a
full belly.

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9 Replies to “The Origin of the Exclamation Mark”

  1. I was wondering how this might appear on mobile devices — I don’t have a good handle on which preserve formatting and which don’t. It seems you and Larry are of opposite minds about the closing image, which is of no help to me whatsoever. :) But thanks to both of you for commenting.

  2. balancing on a
    full gut

    perhaps also might work. Great fun, especially “a severed finger/packed in ice” and the wonderful gas flare.

  3. A perfect ideograph, this further limns the “experience” of an exclamation point. The images as well as its image on the page (an ideographic aspiration appreciated on a sensory-impresionistic level) is itself the objectified experience, or the poem. e.e.cummings used this device successfully in “1 (a”.

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