The Ampersand & You – by Sparrow, Guest Blogger

Poets have been struggling with the ampersand since it was first invented in 1519.  Over the centuries, this graceful symbol has gone in and out of fashion like V-neck sweaters.

A conference, “Whither the Ampersand?”, last March at Northwestern University attempted to address this complex question.  “Allen Ginsberg used enough ampersands for the next three generations,” opined Lars Hattersley, professor at Millbrook College, in the opening session.  Three Beat poets had to be restrained from physically brutalizing him.

“For some reason, the academy has never quite embraced the ampersand, perhaps because of its commercial connotations, in phrases such as ‘Procter & Gamble,’ and ‘Crosby, Stills & Nash,'” observed Sandra Pottsby, a linguistics professor at St. Francis Xavier University.

Except for one Sharon Olds poem in 1998 (“The End Table”), no respectable poet has employed this antiquated punctuation mark in recent years.

“The ampersand, like the exclamation point, is a bitter danger — but also an opportunity,” remarked Peter Wolff, renowned sonneteer, at the final Northwestern cocktail party.

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