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A Crash Course in Punctuation  

It was John's first day on the job, to place road signs. That should be easy enough. Look at the map, find its position, and set it in.

The first surprise was that his supervisor, Paul, would accompany him. So much for thinking he could take his time.

Both of them crawled into the utility-truck cab, his supervisor driving.

"You follow the map and tell me where to stop."

"Okay," John said.

The map was a maze of dots, some red, some yellow, some white, others green. Still, he'd seen road signs for as long as he could remember, not that he always paid attention to them, but that was another story.

The first one was a stop-sign for the corner of Elm and Birch. John opened the door and walked around to the truck bed. The red octagonal signs were stacked nearest to the back end and he pulled one out.

"Wait a minute," he hollered. "This one has a dot in the middle of it. All of them do. What's going on?"

"They're periods, for the ends of blocks, sentences, complete thoughts, stanzas. Guideposts for the readers to know it's a complete thought."

John finished installing the sign, crawled back in, and Paul drove onward.

"What's next?" Paul asked.

"A speed limit sign."

They stopped midway down a block, and John stepped out to find the sign. This time, he wouldn't be surprised by what he found. The stack of familiar white signs lay along the left side of the truck bed.

"A comma," John said. "But why here?"

"Why do you think?"

"To slow down? There's a period coming up?"

"Close. How about to guide the driver to slow down enough to understand the words, enough of a pause to separate lists of items, thoughts, phrases?"

"Got it," he said. He completed the sign and returned to the cab to pick up the map. This would be a grammar lesson. Okay, whatever.

Paul continued driving toward downtown, and John studied the map.

"Oh," he said, "Yield sign coming up at the intersection."

Paul pulled over and turned the emergency stop lights on, and John stepped out again. This was going to be a long day. He opened up the back door to look for the yellow sign. This pile was smaller than the others, and he pulled one out, a single dash-sign. Underneath it was one with an ellipsis.

"Boss, this makes no sense at all," he said.

"How many yield signs did we bring?"

"A couple. Not many."

"Why do you think that?"

"They're to slow readers down, but not completely. To have them pause to pay attention."

"Right. The dash-sign indicates a separate but important idea. And the ellipses. Well, those have two meanings: to indicate part of a quotation isn't quoted, and to show that a character has lost his train of thought or paused in midstream."

"My kids text them all the time. So, what do those mean?"

"Nothing," Paul said. "If you don't know what they mean, how can they possibly mean anything?"

John installed the dash-sign, and they were on their way, Paul barreling along at 35 mph, and then he screeched to a stop at the stop sign.

John glanced at the map. He'd been sightseeing, reading along and enjoying all the metaphors in the descriptions, forgetting what he was doing. Again. "Sorry," he said. "We need two signs back a ways on this block." The one, the comma, would be easy to find, but the other one was a question mark. He set the speed limit sign in the ground, and then walked back to the truck for a brown recreation sign.

"I give up," he exclaimed. "So, I use a question mark?"  

"What is it pointing out?"

"A hiking trail up ahead."


"Got it. The reader will ponder whether or not to follow it. So, when do we use the exclamation point?"

"Rarely. I've heard some people say one or two for a novel, which works out to about one every twenty miles. That's about right," Paul said.

"But what if the characters are particularly excitable?"

"That's telling, don't you think?"

John set the last sign. It had taken all day, but it had been a successful day all in all, even though he'd messed up a few times.

This doesn't cover everything to know about punctuation, but perhaps it'll provide a few guiding posts for driving the writing roads.  

Looking for answers regarding your MFA Certificate or have other questions about WVU?

Submit them to our new 'This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.' column 


How do I know whether I've left enough feedback in a classroom? How can I keep track of my comments?

In the classroom, take a look at the list of posts. Then focus on the individual topics. Note whether the topic line has a grey flag at the right-hand side. If there isn't one, you haven't left a comment yet. This is a quick way of seeing which posts you've left responses on without having to open each post and check.

Another way to keep track of your feedback is with the 'Favorite' button.

When you've finished your feedback or comment and clicked on 'Submit' - scroll to the top or bottom of the post you'll see three buttons. 

Click on the Favorite button. Back in the classroom, in addition to the grey flag, you'll also see a Yellow Star to the right of the post. 





Is there a place on the site where I can find a complete list of courses?   There used to be, I think, but I can't seem to find it anymore.

I don’t believe that there is one on the member's site. There is a complete list of classes under “FORUM”

However, if you go to: > Click on ENTER > Click on MFA  > There you'll see a list of MFA Program Information links.

The second link down is called: “MFA Courses” – It takes you to the landing page where you'll find a list of all the MFA Classes along with Course descriptions and difficulty levels. (It is updated yearly and may not have the most recent classes listed)  




I'm in my second year of the MFA Fiction program, and I am taking a poetry class. Can I apply this course to my certificate? What about Nonfiction classes? Would they be electives?  

Regardless of which certificate you signed up for, all classes with “MFA” or “L” can be counted for credit. If you are signed up for any of the Fiction certificates, the Poetry and Nonfiction classes can be counted as either Electives or Foundation courses





For the MFA program, what is independent study?  What does that entail?

In an Independent Study, you create your own course on a topic of your choice, working in concert with your adviser.

The scope of independent study can be broad or deep but the extent of your engagement with the topic should be of sufficient amount to equal a standard course. 

You can choose either an 8-week or 16-week course.

The overall word count will vary but works out to roughly 1500 words per week.

This can be divided in a number of ways – for instance: three 3,000 word papers and a 15,000 word final paper for a 16-week course.


You can find the Independent Study Course Page HERE  




Where can I access information about the MFA program?

All of the info regarding the MFA Program can be found under MENU > SUPPORT

On the support page, in the left-hand column, you’ll find the MFA Program PDF, both Fiction and Nonfiction worksheet examples with a copy to print off and keep your own records, and a Master Reading list. 

If you have other questions regarding your certificate, contact your Adviser   




Do I need a bachelor’s degree in order to get an MFA and WVU?

No. The MFA program is open to all WVU members at no extra cost. It is a work-at-your-own-pace program.

The certificate is for personal use only. It does not qualify the student to teach at the college level.


MFA Program Certificate Requirements

Credits are given when course requirements are met. This includes completing all assignments and class participation. Giving feedback is a key part of the learning process, and each class has its own quantity and quality requirements for exchanging feedback with fellow students. Unless a facilitator specifies otherwise, a minimum of 4 feedback responses per assignment is required to qualify for credits. If the class has less than 4 students, then give each student feedback.   



I keep getting notifications from the classes I've already taken. How do I unsubscribe from them?

When you start each course, you're told to subscribe to it so you're notified whenever someone else posts. After you finish the course, you can unsubscribe. If you don't, you'll receive notifications when the class is given again.

To unsubscribe from those notifications, go to the main classroom page for the class and click on unsubscribe. If the course had weekly classrooms, you'll need to unsubscribe from each weekly room as well. 

If you find you are still receiving notifications, or if you need to unsubscribe from multiple classes, there's an easier way to do it:

Go to the Greyed out tabs above your profile picture on any page. Click on PROFILE >

On the next page, you will see another set of tabs below and to the right of your avatar.


On the next pg. is a list of all the classes you've ever subscribed to. To the far right is a checkbox.

Click each checkbox and scroll to the bottom (The page is divided into two sections you probably want to check them all) At the bottom is a dropdown box that says "Choose Ac" click on that and then on Unsubscribe from selected.

Ta-dah! No more notifications



Letter from the Editor

 Karen Barr


This issue, rather than posting how-to’s, I want to talk about January. The month of transformation.

For many, the holiday season is marked by indulgence. We eat, drink, celebrate, and spend to excess, appeasing our guilt with the assertion that it’s a once a year occurrence. We become kinder, compassionate, more lenient with ourselves and with others. Once the gifts are unwrapped and the boxes hauled to the curb, we begin taking stock of our lives, what we accomplished throughout the year. Which goals were met, which weren’t, what we’re grateful for, what we would prefer to leave behind. We spend the final moments of our trip around the sun reminiscing about the past and offering toasts peppered with promises for a better future.

When the first day of the new year dawns, as with the flip of a switch, our tolerance and generosity are replaced by a harsh taskmaster – New Year’s Resolutions. We become physical, mental, and emotional hostages of our envisioned future selves as we begin making our list of demands.

Mandates to lose dead weight, whether it's from our relationships, our possessions, or our own bodies. 
Obligations to increase our endurance, production, grades, education, income, social skills, mental or physical abilities. 
Orders to stop smoking, drinking, eating sweets, swearing, biting our nails, spending so much time on social media, television, video games. 
Directives to read more, write more, exercise more, clean more, connect more, travel more, acquire more, donate more, be more environmentally responsible, become more assertive, save more money, spend more time with our kids, spouse, pets, get more organized, become more independent, make more friends, more money, pray more, volunteer more.


My challenge to you in 2019 is to let go of the pressure that comes with this kind of More or Less mentality. None of these goals is wrong in and of itself. But it’s easy to see how quickly they can consume our joy. I’m not suggesting that your resolution should be to ‘become more joyful.’ I have a hard time envisioning how you would tick ‘increased levels of joyfulness’ off your to-do list. Nor am I saying that you give up on trying to improve yourself or your lot in life.

What I am saying is that there are kinder, less restrictive ways to go about it.


There are two elements that I have found not only help me achieve my goals but allow me to enjoy the process.  They are gratitude and acceptance and they go hand in hand, as you can’t really have one without the other.


Let’s start with acceptance. To some, the word might have negative connotations. It might signify defeat or weakness. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth for it takes great courage and strength to practice true acceptance.

I accept for instance, that at my age, I will probably never climb Mt. Everest. (If I had even the slightest desire to climb mountainous terrain in a white-out blizzard with frostbitten fingers and toes, sleeping in a canopy that hangs off the side of a cliff at night, which I do not, thank you anyway. But even if I did have that desire, I don’t look at that as a negative. I look at it as I may possibly live longer by not climbing a 29,000-foot mountain.)

I also accept that no matter how much makeup I wear, what style of clothing I put on or how much modern ‘slang’ I use, I will not pass as twenty-seven anymore. And I’m okay with that. I’ve accepted the fact that I am now part of the ‘older’ generation. But more importantly, I realize that I still, at times, have feelings of inadequacy, or anger, or frustration at no longer being a part of the generation that “moves the world.”

I still have days when I look in the mirror and lament over the girl I used to be. I have moments when I feel hatred or disgust toward the stranger looking back at me.  And that’s okay too! It’s natural to desire youth. It’s hard to watch your skin wrinkle, your hair and nails become brittle, your once perfect figure spread and widen. What’s unnatural is to try to deny those feelings. To berate ourselves for having them, or deny that they exist.


So, acceptance, as we’re looking at it, means treating ourselves as valid and whole. The focus is on accepting our thoughts, emotions, feelings, and bodily sensations. Things that are beyond our control. Acceptance is saying it is ‘OK’ to think what you think, to feel what you feel, when you think and feel them. It’s a compassionate stance. This kind of acceptance is a powerful place from which to make behavioral changes.


One of the reasons that so many New Year’s resolutions fall by the wayside is that they are based on insecurity and approval from outside sources. We feel a need to conform to the world’s view of perfection rather than our own. Another reason for failure is when we're trying to face change, we are confronted by negative memories or emotions from past experiences. Learning to acknowledge them, to tell yourself it’s OK to have those thoughts and emotions is the first step toward change.

Saying “no, it’s not ok to have those thoughts or feelings” is limiting. It is a non-compassionate stance. It suggests that something about you is broken or invalid, that it must be ‘fixed’ before you can accept yourself for who you are.


The next time you make a decision to change for the better, practice telling yourself that it’s OK to feel resistance. Embrace it. You’ll be amazed at how quickly that resistance subsides.



The second thing I mentioned was gratitude. I know. You’ve heard it before. But there’s one little word that is connected to gratitude and I can almost guarantee that if you use that word daily, in multiple situations, it will change your entire outlook on life. It will change the way you look at ‘change.’

That word is, Get.

You can use it for nearly anything, any situation. But we’re going to use it mostly to replace those negative words like, “have.” For instance, “I get to get out of bed today,” shows an entirely different attitude toward life than “I have to get out of bed today.”

“I have to eat healthy food” is replaced by “I get to eat this healthy food.”  “I have to go to work today” is replaced by “I get to go to work today.” “I get to exercise today” instead of “I have to exercise today.”

Using the word Get, even in those times when you’re feeling wronged or persecuted, can change how you feel about that persecution.

Do you see how this works? Gratitude is a state if mind. And I’ll be the first to admit that there are plenty of situations that arise in life where I feel less than grateful when I’m going through them. But it’s also a feeling and remembering to use that little three-letter word can make all the difference in how you feel about yourself and the world around you. By looking at even the most difficult situation as a chance to show the world who you are and what you’re made of, you’ll slowly begin to see everything in life as an opportunity instead of a hardship.


Acceptance and gratitude. Two fundamental practices that will enable you to not only attain your goals in the coming year but allow you to do so in a less demanding and more constructive way.

I hope you find these tools useful in transforming 2019 into your most productive and joyful year yet.


Karen Barr
Editor in Chief



Introducing WVU MFA Poetry Courses


by Brigitte Whiting



WVU now offers a Poetry MFA-Certificate. Everyone is invited to take these poetry MFA courses: fiction and nonfiction writers, and poets; beginning, intermediate, and advanced writers; whether you’ve written numerous poems or the thought of writing poetry both interests and scares you.


 None of the courses call for digging into the obscure themes you were expected to find in high school and college English literature courses. And you’ll never be asked to write esoteric, old-fashioned, or intellectual and inaccessible poetry. You’ll write, instead, of your experiences and feelings, on what is important to you. 


 You’ll read a lot of poetry; some you’ll like, others you won’t, and that’s okay. You’ll read books by excellent poets who share what they’ve learned and who want to help you with, as one of them puts it, “that silly, absurd, maddening, futile, enormously rewarding activity: writing poems.”


There’s no question that writing poetry is challenging and fascinating. Sometimes the words will seem to land on the page apart from you. Other times, you’ll wonder just exactly how you’re going to do a prompt but if you stick with it, you’ll be surprised to find that you can, in fact, write poems.


Writing poetry requires paying attention to words and the sounds of words. You won’t be looking for the fanciest word but the right word. The simpler word is often more evocative than something long and esoteric. You’ll discover what the narratives and meanings are in those experiences you can’t forget. And writing poetry can help you become a better writer regardless of your genre.


 Step into this perhaps strange world of writing poetry with a sense of wonder and curiosity and you may find that you’ll want to keep writing poems, because they’re difficult, because they tug at your heart, and make you think and feel, because writing them is challenging and enjoyable.



Where to Start?


If you’re an absolute beginner, MFA350 is a sixteen-week comprehensive course that will help get you started. If you’re not ready to take such a long course, the MFA365–MFA369 series can be taken in any order and you’ll end up writing a variety of poems—the courses in this series are either five or six weeks long.


 If you’re just starting the Poetry MFA program, the ideal would be to begin with MFA350 and then take MFA351. If you’re an intermediate or advanced poet and not pursuing the Poetry MFA, you’ll find those two courses useful.


Except for the two courses that have prerequisites, MFA351 and MFA352, you can take the MFA poetry courses, including the ones in series, in any order.


The MFA Poetry courses, MFA3xx’s, also count as credits toward any of the Certificates.


I hope you’ll consider joining us.



Courses for Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Writers


MFA350 is a sixteen-week Core course based upon Mary Oliver’s book, A Poetry Handbook. The language of prose and poetry seem to be half a world apart. Yet, the craft and structures overlap. Each uses mere words to paint scenes, to craft stories and thoughts so they feel alive and reach into the reader's heart. This course is intended to help all writers—whether beginning or intermediate or advanced, fiction, nonfiction or poets—better understand the whys and hows of using words.  



MFA355 and MFA356 are each eight-week Core courses that use THE MAKING OF A POEM: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms. These can be taken in any order. They cover the history and development of the traditional poetic forms, from villanelles to ballads to sonnets and sestinas. Each week focuses on one structure and requires writing a poem using that form.



MFA366–MFA369 include four Foundation courses, each either five or six weeks long. They can be taken in any order and use Steve Kowit’s In the Palm of Your Hand, Second Edition: A Poet’s Portable Workshop. Each course includes notes on craft, examples of model poems, and exercises as ways to encourage you in beginning to shape your own experience, language, and insights into poetry.



MFA375–MFA382 is a series of eight two-week Foundation courses that uses the Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry. These focus on reading and writing prose poetry and can be taken in any order.



Courses with Prerequisites


MFA351 is an eight-week core course based on Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual. Because it’s focused on revising previous poems, it has a prerequisite of having taken at least one other poetry course, ideally MFA350. The goal is to remake poems that will better reach other people and touch their hearts.



MFA352 is an eight-week core course that uses The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo. It requires having completed several poetry courses, whether core or foundation, but preferably MFA350 and MFA351. This course focuses on playful and profound insights into the mysteries of literary creation. Discover a balance between writing mundane or perplexing poetry.


This month we’re going to cover some of the formatting questions I receive most often. Much of this information might be old news to those who’ve been with us for years, but hopefully, it will benefit the newer members and could be a great refresher for all.

First, the emoji board. (Far right on the formatting bar)  I’ve heard from a number of people that they can no longer use emoji’s as it freezes their computer. Since a recent update, the emoji board operates differently. Now when you click on the emoji it opens a module above the text box. You must choose your emoji (click) – then right below the line of emoji’s there is a greyed out box. To the far right of your screen, in that greyed area, you’ll see “CLOSE MODULE” You must click that to close the emoji box before you can continue.

Problem solved! ☺


Now let’s take a look at the formatting bar at the top of all forum text boxes.



 We’ll cover these options one at a time.


First is BOLD. There are two ways to use this feature. One is by highlighting or selecting the text you want bolded, the clicking on B in the formatting bar.

You’ll notice it inserts the ‘html code’ which includes an opening bracket and a closing bracket. Like this:

[b] your text [/b]  This code can also be inserted into your text in the word processor you use to write your responses prior to copying and pasting it to the forum box.

The exact same process is used for “I” Italics – [i] your text [/i] and “U” Underline – [u] your text [/u].

(NOTE: There is never a space between the components in an html bracketed code. The spaces in my examples are only there to show you the code itself instead of its result)

Next on the list is the Strikethrough feature. It can be used when you make a boo-boo error or when leaving feedback and you want to show alternatives to the writer. For example example in this sentence.


Then we come to Subscript and Superscript. Subscripts and superscripts are perhaps most often used in formulas, mathematical expressions, and specifications of chemical compounds and isotopes, but have many other uses as well. Superscripts are used for the standard abbreviations for service mark ℠ and trademark ™. The signs for copyright © and registered trademark ® are also sometimes superscripted, depending on the use of a word or the typeface.


Both low and high superscripts can be used to indicate the presence of a footnote in a document, like this5 or thisxi.  Html is much the same here [sub] your text [/sub] gives you This is your text  and  [sup] your text [/sup] gives you This is your text


Next on the bar is the large “A” – this is for Size It will make your text larger or smaller. You’ll notice that these also have an HTML code. [size=5] your text [/size]

Here we’ll notice the HTML changes slightly. It uses the = (equal sign) This is a common denominator used when there is a choice of options for the code to perform. With size, our forum can go from 1 to 5 with each number getting progressively bigger.

[size=1] your text [/size] compared to [size=3] your text [/size] or even  [size=5] your text [/size]


The final format option in the first section is Color, represented by the box of colored cubes. Colors can be used for a number of things but most often they are used when leaving feedback in the classroom so the author can distinguish your comments from the original text.

Again we have a choice of colors so the html would read [color=red] your text [/color] =blue, =green etc.


Let’s move on to the 2nd box of formatting options.


The first (left side) of this section is Bulleted List. This has a less obvious code.

Here’s what this will look like in your text box:





And here’s what it looks like once you’ve added your text and hit Preview or Submit:

  • your text 1
  • your text 2

To break this down, the “ul” is called the Parent. The “li” is called the child.

[ul id="parent"]

  [li id="child"]I'm a child of parent![/li]


So for a longer bulleted list, you would just copy the   [li] [/li] for each additional item on your list. OR you can use the “List Item”  *––  (third item in this section of the bar) which will insert [li][/li] another opening and closing “child” where you'll add another line in your bulleted list – this can be used as many times as needed to complete your list

Then the closing bracket will end the list. [/ul]



The next item on the bar is a Numbered List. It works in the same way but the opening (parent) element is slightly different. A numbered list looks like this:








And here’s your result:

  1. Bob
  2. Carol
  3. Ted
  4. Alice


The fourth element in this section is the Horizontal Line. [hr]  This will add a line all the way across your page. (Notice it does not have a closing element)


The last three items in this section are Alignment

[left] your text [/left]

[center] your text [/center]

[right] your text [/right]

Simple, right?


One important rule on these types of formatting. Certain elements must be done in the correct order for them to display correctly.


Some have no specific order. So this: [u][i][b]bob[/b][/i][/u] will give you the same results as this: [b][i][u]Bob[/u][/i][/b] – However, notice that the closing brackets must always follow the same order as the opening brackets. If you added Underline first, (as in my 2nd example above), then you must end the Underline first at the end of your text. Then italics, then bold (working from the inside - out) 


But when it comes to adding Alignment elements, there is an order that must be followed.



[color=blue][size=5][b]Bob[/b][/size][/color]  and  [size=5][color=blue][b] Bob[/b][/color][/size] will both give you the same result


And even [u][color=blue][b][size=5] Bob[/size][/b][/color][/u] will still give you


Even though we’ve mixed up the order of the elements added.

But when it comes to adding the alignment, this: [center][u][color=blue][b][size=5] Bob[/size][/b][/color][/u][/center] (correct) will give you:



But this order, [color=blue][b][center] Bob[/center][/b][/color] will give you this:



The Alignment must always be the final step.


Whew! Confused yet? :blink:


Okay, let’s move on to the rest of the formatting bar. We’re going to cover just a few of the most used options from here.

The fourth section contains starting from the left: Quote  - Code – Table - Spoiler – and two others that are rarely needed in the classroom. For now, let’s look at Quote & Spoiler


The Quote tag is a great choice when you want to insert text that is not your own. It looks like this: [quote] Your text  [/quote] basically, it will just separate the text inside from the rest of the text on the page by offsetting it and turning it into italics.

This is my text

This is my quoted text

The Spoiler Alert button is a good one to use if you’re going to add information from a book or movie that others may not have seen. It gives readers the option of not readings further if they don’t want to spoil the book or movie. This is what it looks like on the page:


And here’s the result:

Warning: Spoiler! 
[ Click to hide ]
This movie is about time-traveling Lizards and the Denver Airport

This is how it reads if you add your text inside the brackets.

It’s better to just add the opening and closing brackets, hit return a couple of times, then continue with your post. So it would read like this:

Warning: Spoiler! [ Click to hide ]

This movie is about time-traveling Lizards and the Denver Airport

That way people have a chance to hide your text before they can read it.



Well, that’s enough for one lesson. I hope you found it useful. Next time we’ll cover adding Links, Images, and Videos to your posts.