Subscribe to The Chicago Manual of Style Online
Hyphens, En Dashes, Em Dashes
Q. Are poets allowed poetic license to do practically anything with punctuation? I ask this in view of a poem by Emily Dickinson that seems to use the em dash in bewildering and inscrutable ways.
A. Yes, poets are pretty much allowed to do as they please. In my experience, they are sometimes even offended by editing, believing that their misspellings and inconsistencies are inspired, if not intentional. Of course, if poetry is idiosyncratic to the point of being annoying, nobody will want to buy it, so there’s some motivation for restraint in the first place.