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· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·

· Birthday-Baseball Triple Play ·

You might recall that two days ago was this site's first birthday. Last September, with Wetting the Line, Whetting the Points, I began my takes on style and have been at them since, happily and productively. I thought to add that it was my birthday Sunday, too, so I thought to celebrate with a John Updike passage triply fit to my also taking in the season's last Seattle Mariners' game.

So how did it go? Just great! The M's beat Oakland 9 - 3, Jamie Moyer collected his 21st win, and Edgar Martinez — "Poppy," as we call him — may have batted in his last game. "It doesn't get any better than that," as I told my son, but since I have seen Roger Clemens pitch his 300th, and read John Updike's Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu, I have known, of course, that occasionally it does.

Updike's great passage recounts Ted Williams' last time at bat. "Understand," Updike recalled of that magical September 28, 1960, "that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will," but this "was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future."

Updike's two paragraphs describing Williams' achievement are gems:

There it was [he writes]. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass, the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and vanished.

 · Hurriedly, Unsmiling, Head Down · Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs — hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted ''We want Ted'' for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he refused. Gods do not answer letters.

I told my daughter-in-law Sunday, "If Edgar hits a homer" — it was the bottom half of the 8th — "he's almost sure to retire. If he doesn't, certainly we'll know soon." And so we're waiting.

Forgive me, but stylistically and substantively, this is one 60-year-old "Poppy" speaking.

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· On Singular They ·

You know the problem: "Everyone has a right to their opinion." Arts & Letters Daily recently linked to an essay recording author Jjoan Ttabor Altieri's (really Joan Tabor Altieri's) gradual acceptance over thirty years of the singular pronoun "they." Everyone does, she thinks in Singular They: The Pronoun that Came in from the Cold, have a right to their opinion. Historically, I grant she's right.

But might Altieri agree that the here-analogical difference between "sense" and "reference" — or Sinn and Bedeutung as Gottlob Frege has taught generations of modern philosophers to think — also blunts her point? Let me explain.

It is true, of course, that "their" means everyone in the sense of a plural group, but might it be the case, too, that "everyone" still refers to the singular verb "has" as does the group's singular "opinion"? Although I grant such matters are trivial as matters grammatical, rhetorical, and logical always are, still, maybe they allow me to express yet another point.

It is that I will continue to remind my students that 1 ≠ 2. While I agree one should perhaps mark no more precision in English than our language allows, I am still allowed, as Frege reminds us — with respect to meaning and to reference — sometimes to be plural and sometimes singular.

Say, "Everyone has a right to an opinion."

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· Late Night Thoughts on New-World Illiterates, Tutored and Untutored ·

I've spent much of the past week preparing for the new year. If you're keen on academic rites, you already know my story. It began Monday with welcome-back meetings, moved to freshman advising Tuesday, turned Wednesday to two faculty meetings, returned to more advising Thursday, and lapsed today into some needed chores of copying and syllabi-shaping. There's beer and barbeque tonight, or, rather, there were, since I also had a wedding rehearsal to attend — which justifies my failure to make my subjects and verbs agree.

So at midnight I have thought to wed — shotgun-style — subjects and verbs, words and actions, of two obvious illiterates. They're not illiterates, of course, since they're quite able to write, but they don't write well. They are, alas, "Illiterates, Tutored and Untutored."

The first addressed our faculty meeting Wednesday afternoon from the lofty heights of Regional Accreditation, in a style mediated Microsoftly by the dominant abstractions called "Bullet Points." Dr. Power B. Point, you can call him, had this sentence to share on a slide entitled

The New World Order

Shifting societal values, attitudes, and expectations foster application of critical thinking skills in the form of questions regarding the relevance, significance, and efficacy of traditional measures (grades, certificates, degrees) as meaningful indicators of educational quality and institutional effectiveness.

Now there's a natural-born communicator. Actually, he's well-credentialed and degreed, "tutored" in the compromising and educationizing styles I abused in February and October. I can almost hear Malcolm Cowley say, "This dude's been adorned with laurel branches and flowering hegemonies," and Jacques Barzun, "Such is the educationist mind everywhere." Too bad Dr. Power Point's work hasn't been seen by Pootwattle and Smedley.

My next example is more difficult. It's the almost-Joycean musings of a semi-conscious girl on the realities of today's high schools. Included in a recent newspaper editorial — the editor threatens one day to print all his letters unedited — it marks not the sad arrogance of power but the sorry ignorance of technique, which is, of course, a bit more easily corrected. In any event, I give you

Ms. Molly Bloom

You see high school telivision shows when your little the drama's, Musicals, Chick filcks so much more. you wonder if thats what high school is realy going to be like wow i am aa cool kid i am in a pink ladys jacket on grese but thats not how it goes i thought it was that way when i was little. i think the people writning the scripts are aboustly mastaken high school isnt like that well besides the drama there are pros and cons of high school the only actuate people is all the dramma iam in many 'clicks' Semi preep, hicks, Friendly, Scrubs christian and more i really dont see them like that its just they way peopel dress and talk i have been in a few areument with one of my good frined now about __________ high school dril tean and ohter such as fighing over a boy man that was bad then people can lie to you and say this boy likes you and you will have your head stright up high thinking he does and the next day flift with him o boy howdy. The pros are the friends you get! . . .

Well, all I can say we get at "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" is this:

Maybe do nothing but "subvert" the one and "convert" the other?

That's A New-World Order.

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· "Earth" from Bryant Park to Ground Zero ·

I was moved to learn of Richard Drew's story two years ago today in New York. The AP photographer who chanced to take "The Falling Man" photograph at the World Trade Center, Drew began that fateful day at Bryant Park, rather preparing to shoot a maternity fashion show. What had Bryant Park to say to Ground Zero, I asked myself, earth to man, birth to death, maybe past to present? And then I answered, recalling two brief lines from a little-known Bryant poem in fact called "Earth":
 · William Cullen Bryant ·

O Earth! dost thou too sorrow for the past
Like man thy offspring? Do I hear thee mourn?

Bryant's meditation on the question, though in a style we'd today call unfashionable, ends on a note still apt to our circumstances. Mr. New York of the nineteenth century, Bryant queried his own country at last from a much larger perspective,

What then shall cleanse thy bosom, gentle Earth,
From all its painful memories of guilt?

and wrote,

My native Land of Groves! a newer page
In the great record of the world is thine;
Shall it be fairer? Fear, and friendly Hope,
And Envy, watch the issue, while the lines,
By which thou shalt be judged, are written down. William Cullen Bryant: Representative Selections, with Introduction, Bibliography, and Notes, ed. Tremaine McDowell, New York: The American Book Company, 1935, 77-80.

Today we all know Bryant at least got his personified abstractions right.

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· Brent, In Memoriam ·

Today with friends I marked the sad loss recently of a dear colleague and former student. He was possessed of the gift of poetry and had the added gift of teaching it well, always communicating his love not only of the arts of language to students but the arts of life's own shaping. At his service we heard read "After Apple Picking" and "Birches," two favorite Frost poems. But for me, caught more subtly in the twenty-four lines of one stylish sentence was Brent's own "Fugal Flight":

around the rose
ring and weave
in threads of flight
a cosmos
awash with
petal's color
trailing just behind
spring's redolence
wrapped around the bush
as pivot
for bees'
sweet songs
sung in round,
glancing off,
one another
like a fugue played
from a central line —
when a rose
flashes forth.

You see what all who knew him well can still see in his absence, the rare presence of gifts gone but not forgotten.

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