On Reading / On Writing / Poetry / The English Teacher / The Social Network

Crimes & Misdemeanors

I’m a bit of a grammarian. Just a bit, though. I confess my use of commas can be rather haphazard. And, while I probably shouldn’t, I rather admire a good sentence fragment and use them whenever I want. ( see sentence #2 ) I can barely abide a run-on sentence though a longer-than-strictly-necessary sentence does my writer’s / reader’s mind no end of good. Grammar matters, of course; thus, I attend to the grammar matters by knowing the rules, sort of, and following them, mostly, and breaking them when it suits me. I can “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous” grammatical misdemeanors, for these can be fixed. Revision, revision, revision. Proofread. Edit. Do it right. The end. Which, now I think of it, might be the absolutely worst way to ever end any piece of writing. Really. Can’t readers just see that the words stop? When no more words are forthcoming, one would think that ‘the end’ has arrived. No real need to announce it, methinks.

But what about poetic expressions? Can the grammatical rules be broken? Can the words mean more than what we first encounter? Can a twenty-first century blogger effectively use a sixteenth century ‘methinks’? Can Emily Dickinson insert dashes into her poems in cutting edge fashion? Can Lewis Carroll trick us into thinking ‘brillig,’ ‘frabjous’ and ‘uffish’ (to name but a few) are actual words? Can these and other language crimes be withstood?

Yes!!! A thousand times yes. Because of the words. The ideas. The understandings. Because of the rhythm and images. Because of the heartbreak in a line like this: “Or felt love or pond ice / give way underfoot” Because of the feel of irony — sharp, sassy, wise. Because, O! Poetry — you just make us better than we were before we encountered you. And for that, we forgive you your petty grammarian crimes & misdemeanors.

Have a taste of irony, word play and the homage to the grammatical here, in Paul Violi’s

Appeal to the Grammarians

We, the naturally hopeful,

Need a simple sign

For the myriad ways we’re capsized.

We who love precise language

Need a finer way to convey

Disappointment and perplexity.

For speechlessness and all its inflections,

For up-ended expectations,

For every time we’re ambushed

By trivial or stupefying irony,

For pure incredulity, we need

The inverted exclamation point.

For the dropped smile, the limp handshake,

For whoever has just unwrapped a dumb gift

Or taken the first sip of a flat beer,

Or felt love or pond ice

Give way underfoot, we deserve it.

We need it for the air pocket, the scratch shot,

The child whose ball doesn’t bounce back,

The flat tire at journey’s outset,

The odyssey that ends up in Weehawken.

But mainly because I need it – here and now

As I sit outside the Caffe Reggio

Staring at my espresso and cannoli

After this middle-aged couple

Came strolling by and he suddenly

Veered and sneezed all over my table

And she said to him, “See, that’s why

I don’t like to eat outside.”


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