You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
March 21, 2006
· Hindsight / Foresight / Eyesight ·
So what am I to make of this "one-step-forward, two-step-back" season? Seeing as T. S. Eliot says "April is the cruelest month," only A. R. Ammons's
I know here that June will always go with spring. Summer, anyone?Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
February 14, 2006
· This — Norwegian-Style — February 14th ·
Take, for instance, my This — By Accident — July 4th (wherein you may recall my concluding summer shed-cleaning tasks).
I thought today to revive their warm memory by turning things over to someone with much sharper language skills, William Shakespeare. Who better, in English, to ventriloquize — on this St. Valentine's Day — rhetorical things sufficiently "demonstrative"?
Tomorrow I just might, of course, be turning things over to more wintry chores — like log splitting.
They go, too, with still more stylish poetic tasks — themselves undemonstrative in "Norwegian-style."Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
June 22, 2005
· In Memoriam, John Lovas — Our Windhover ·
To mark his passing, I thought to share today — from what he thought his own "inspiration" — Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "The Windhover." In marking, with three rousing exclamations, what all those who have read A Writing Teacher's Blog saw in John, Hopkins shows us — students, colleagues, and fellow bloggers alike — what it really means to "take wing."
John Lovas, 1939 - 2005.Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
April 15, 2005
· Historical Drudge Report — Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary ·
So did Samuel Johnson after eight years of hard work mark himself aptly in his great Dictionary published on April 15, 1755. Though its appearance came late by six years, what's the difference, especially for those given to lasting work? For when it's done well, work can bring official or even officious credit-takers to account. Consider Johnson's way with Philip Stanhope (Lord Chesterfield):
You've got to admit, Johnson had style (Grub-Street honesty, I'd call it). But he was also attentive to what it takes to work truly in others' debt. Consider how he wrote of John Milton's Paradise Lost, considering that Johnson's dictionary was not our first:
Of such work, one sees no private or personal account taken just for itself, however much one sees the real measure of its judicious certainty. Maybe it's for this reason that Adam Kirsch, by chance writing in Slate in 2003, happily concluded with this thought:
*"I am not so lost in lexicography," Johnson also wrote, "as to forget that words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven."Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
January 17, 2005
· Whose Words These Are I Think I Know ·
I begin this way because, poetry notwithstanding here, my subject today is history — especially this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. We Americans celebrate it each January, of course. My own day I've spent preparing for a writing class tomorrow, one King has long figured in. Of interest has been a scholarly essay noting King's quoting of black clerics, but citing white, in My Pilgrimage to Non-Violence (Keith Miller, "Composing Martin Luther King, Jr." PMLA, January 1991).
Miller's claim is interesting. He explains how in borrowing from black preachers, King is not rightly to be charged, thoughtlessly, at least, with plagiarism. My students always take his essay to heart.
My purpose, however, is neither to commit nor commend such borrowing, but rather, in the interest of study, to inform solid, scholarly reading — which, as I tell my students, necessarily includes three key tasks:
Here I thought to note just the second, implicitly giving you the gist of Miller's essay. Fit to the task is an email I wrote Friday to a student who, down with an incipient cold, asked me for a short study update. Here is our exchange.
This short title, a classroom heuristic I use, will take the form tomorrow of "_____________, _____________, and the Idea of _________________." It helps my students inform their understandings of what I call an author's "conceptual topic." But tonight my topic is just bedtime, or, as Frost might say (echoing a prayerful rhyme), "Now I lay me down to sleep."Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
May 23, 2004
· Wing to Wing and Oar to Oar ·
Frost's three lead sentences are rather the real reason, however, for my marking the lovely phrase:
I say this because we are "Oar to Oar and Wing to Wing" with wedding preparations here. Just in case you've missed a word or two recently, the true radiance of my week's work can now best be seen off-line.
If "proper words in proper places" defines style, some words are best left unsaid.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
January 6, 2004
· Returned from California Sun to Washington Snow ·
Naturally, San Diego was everything I had hoped for, sunny days spent partially out-of-doors, romantic street-side dining on each of three nights there, and MLA sessions graced indoors with sparkling, occasionally stilted, literary wit and wisdom. The Modern Language Association chose well its 2003 Convention.
But 2004 has already begun with a blast of frigid air here, an icy spirit having bumped my three classes back two days now and making me think (bundled up in my fleece and Merino wool) only of Emerson's romantically compensatory take on
Though I like Emerson's point, sometimes I'd rather have Percy Bysshe Shelley's more famous line, one riding on the prophetic spirit of a single thought trumpeted at the end of Ode to the West Wind:
At least I'm glad to announce (from the local TV news) a warming wind now rising from the far South Pacific.Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
December 25, 2003
· A Saving Imagination: The MLA's "Necessary Angel" ·
I mention this because I'm off to one such "festive" occasion, the annual meeting, December 27 to 30, of the Modern Language Association in San Diego. This lavish professional conference annually draws thousands of teachers, readers, critics, and scholars who celebrate imaginative poetry, fiction, and drama in various forms of the critical-scholarly essay. You may ask how such folks add to the creative mix of such fare? Simply by sharing such loving "Festivals of Light" as wisely, generously, enthusiastically, and imaginatively as they can.
Naturally some will scoff at this view, saying with Scrooge, "Bah, Humbug," but even they are effectively open to the hope of "Peace on Earth, Good Will to All."
Why else would MLAers have chosen Christmas-time to say that poetry, fiction, and drama are among our age's saving human graces!Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
September 11, 2003
· "Earth" from Bryant Park to Ground Zero ·
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,
Today we all know Bryant at least got his personified abstractions right.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
September 2, 2003
· Brent, In Memoriam ·
around the rose
ring and weave
in threads of flight
trailing just behind
wrapped around the bush
sung in round,
like a fugue played
from a central line —
when a rose
You see what all who knew him well can still see in his absence, the rare presence of gifts gone but not forgotten.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
August 21, 2003
· Dem Bones — T. S. Eliot Style ·
and of the closing point in "Little Gidding,"
It took as its theme my son Suave's girlfriend's rearing aboard a 65-foot ketch, happily sailing on the theme, steadily, swiftly, and simply, through eight paragraphs toward "the challenges, the hard work, and the demands of excellent service" — "all three," Savvy says, "in my salty upbringing, possibly my genes, and probably my soul."
Having seen the essay take shape, I think Eliot's lines apply:
You might also try singing "Dem Bones" here.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
June 29, 2003
· Extreme Unction ·
I pressure-pumped shingle oil on my roof Saturday. Ugh! Talk about extreme unction and dirty hands! The experience was doubly compounded by Coppertone Sunblock #15, too. Even Dialectizer would have trouble doing justice to my "redneck."
Which is why I thought to share a short poem from Down Under. You'll appreciate Jeffrey Sears' aptly high umbrage — like mine, Saturday — at what he calls Rubbery Words.
Think of what modern petrochemicals have done for such substances today and you'll understand.
Meantime, I've a new category to start called "Diction."Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
March 20, 2003
· The Lone and Level Sands ·
Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
March 5, 2003
· Teach Us to Sit Still ·
Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
March 1, 2003
· Wilsonian Democracy, Finnish-Style: To the Finland Station ·
What interests me today, though, is Wilson's contrastive approach to utopianism. Tipping his philosopical hand by nodding to Giambattista Vico's The New Science, Wilson invokes early an intellectual figure bearing on my subtler, even deeper allusion: Finnish-Style Wilsonian Democracy. But what I've in mind, in the words of historian Paul Hazard, is a still deeper question:
What is significant here, of course, is the distinction between reason and imagination — between the political hardening of "state" arteries, as Vico would say, and the proper heartening of the "body politic." For Vico of course considered poetry, not dialectic (either material or otherwise), as the source of a people's unique national identity. That's the deeper idea underlying Edmund Wilson's book and the political emergence of another nation from Vladimir Lenin's storied 1917 trip: Finland.
Yesterday, February 28, was Finland's "Kalevala Day," the day Finns celebrate not the bloody start of their modern state, but their emergent, consciously democratic sense of national identity as prompted by a book of poems, Elias Lönnrot's Kalevala (1835). A compiled book of transcribed epic poems, Kalevala is called "The Finnish National Epic." Though I won't say what you can read about here, Lönnrot's significance to Finland's 1917 "regime change" and to its "nation building" before and after should not be underrated. To revise Shelley's great line, rather than being "unacknowledged legislators of the world," Finnish poets became — with Lönnrot's help — "the acknowledged legislators of a world."
Theirs, of course, is an an ongoing work, an unfinished work.Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)
February 18, 2003
· Compromising Style: Malcolm Cowley on Socspeak ·
I got to thinking about all this Friday though prudence begs me skirt specific circumstances, but I thought to share the literary generics. And who should come to my aid but Malcolm Cowley, the literary chronicler of "The Lost Generation." From 1948 to 1985 Cowley regularly advised The Viking Press and, in 1956, wrote an impressively witty piece called "Sociological Habit Patterns in Linguistic Transmogrification." I thought to share it today. Although I can represent it only partially, it is an instructive tale of "compromising style."
Perhaps it's well to recall that — as Robert Frost once said "belletristically" — "I was educated by degrees." What Frost really meant, etymologically, was, of course, "by degradation." You can bet Cowley knew the derivation. But I'm happy to report that Cowley himself turned to the grammatical rather than rhetorical implications of Socspeak, summarizing in his final paragraph the sort of "degradation" (or "transmogrification") grammar undergoes in Socspeak. It's a matter, you might note, of "conquered" parts of speech.
Today, alas, I feel "robust" enough — but a little "yoked and harnessed." I feel like a "February adjective" to an October post.
And tomorrow, I have jury duty.Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
December 30, 2002
· A Lost Eloquence ·
Muske-Dukes' recollection has put me in mind of my own father's example. Though he didn't get a high school education "on the prairie of North Dakota during the Great Depression," he did get, on the prairie in Alberta during World War I, schooling enough to make an elementary difference. I recall with delight his reciting Lowell's "The Vision of Sir Launfal" over his morning breakfast — this when his short-term memory from multi-infarct dementia was nil. During his last three years with us (till 88) Dad "quoted" just enough to make a good case for Muske-Dukes' larger implication, perhaps best expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in "Quotation and Originality":
Of course, Carol Muske-Dukes recommends here what Emerson only observes, that, indeed, "we all quote."Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)
November 20, 2002
· The First Grace of Style ·
Given the value of compression — Miss Moore's quote comes from Democritus — I thought to share an apparently true story from Harvard University, though I'm a bit doubtful. (Anyone who knows the story of "veritas" there should, of course, be a skeptic.) But regardless, the anecdote is amusing.
Alas, I don't have any A+ essays in the sets I'm reading today — at least by Hahvahd standards.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 28, 2002
· Metaphors \ Methods \ Models — Dirty-Hand Style ·
You may recall in Wetting a Line \ Whetting the Points that I first approved of Thoreau's view that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing. I still believe that, yet in Jacques Barzun "Takes On" Wayward Educationists, I confessed, I'm afraid — somewhat contradictorily — my regret in not literally "washing my hands" of educationists' styles. Now if you're like my philosophy students, you're likely asking with Martin Heidegger some question like this: "Hey, what gives?" since I ignored in Gardening and Writing the Point-Defiance Way how Marianne Binetti's style is, necessarily, if also insufficiently so, dirty-handed too. I mean: "How are you ever going to garden otherwise?"
So as not to be evasive, I'm going to go straight to right stuff on this question and cite Thomas DeQuincy, the great English writer and — in his treatise Style, published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1840-41 — a thoughtful student of style. DeQuincy focused on "pursuits" he thought "favorable to a culture of style" — that indeed "force[d]," he believed, "that culture . . . drawing much from our own proper selves, [but] little (if anything) from extraneous objects."
DeQuincy marks for us, it should be noted, an important philosophical difference, one drawing on a Kantian vocabulary implicitly tuned to such concepts as subjectively- and objectively-defined pursuits — that is, those drawn between ordinary common sense on the one hand, and modern science on the other: wherein a topic like "dirty hands" is considered metaphorically stylish in literature, but methodologically not in science. Although I admit it is a helpful distinction, I would add, too, it is indifferently spelled, in either case, "dirty hands" — and so may model, explicitly, like my italicized words, a slipperier, still more important truth.
My point turns on DeQuincy's common, but I think too-simplistic assumption that
Although initially tempting, DeQuincy's main assumption fails here since, though a scientist may of course find his point in matter, he must nonetheless communicate it still in words. Indeed, one of the most celebrated dirty-hand stories in history illustrates my point. Dr. Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis, the Hungarian discoverer of microbial pathogens, failed at first to report his discovery and so, for a time at least, lost public credit for it (although his discovery did happily save many lives, as anyone familiar with the story knows). But my real point lies deeper, for it can be argued that Dr. Semmelweis's reticence came not so much from his literary shyness as from a deep, subtle, stylishly philosophical understanding of the point of scientific discovery: namely, that it is less a matter of finding any "matter" as such than a "method" by which that matter's existence can be suggested but never proved per se (or an sich, as Kant would say).
What's called the Hempelian model of the scientific method explains as much. Attributed to philosopher Carl Hempel, it turns, simply, on the analysis of logical inference in scientific inquiry, wherein the results grasped by its research must rely on invalid formal arguments (on affirming the consequent, to be precise), yielding practical benefits but revealing theoretical traps, too. So whenever good scientists report results, they usually say: "The data suggest [but don't 'prove'] the matter in hand." So in a manner of speaking, we have, in such phrasing, scientific style modeled — though Semmelweis had it, of course, in the extreme.
In extremis, indeed, if you followed my link above, for you know he finally died of the "matter in hand." So in a manner of speaking, not only did he show that getting one's "hands" dirty knocks the "palaver" out of one's writing, but suggested, too, that not till we discover "'imaginary gardens with real toads in them'" — to borrow a different Marianne's words (Marianne Moore's in "Poetry") — can we ever hope to learn how to knock the "palaver" out of our lives. Perhaps that's the matter Thoreau also had in mind.Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
October 18, 2002
· T. G. I. Friday's Mourning ·
Today's title marks it as Friday's work, the work of mourning, I like to think, not of morning, of darkness, not sunshine, trouble, not peace. Thank God I have time today to consider it here.
I have in mind a particular poem written to acknowledge the loss by miscarriage last winter of a relative's child — Wren Marie — a girl who will never spread wings westward from Minnesota to see the rugged Washington Coast nor eastward ever to visit her grandparents in Rockville, Maryland, where, recently in the news, we have all mourned deaths even more terrible still.
"Flight Song for Wren Marie" is my daughter-in-law's poem, and when I wrote her last winter to mark its pointed achievement, I knew — as you should now — that it came from a woman whose own father took flight when she was just thirteen. As Yeats knew ("a terrible beauty is born"), poetry lives at the hard edges of experience, and people do too:
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Hindsight / Foresight / Eyesight
This — Norwegian-Style — February 14th
In Memoriam, John Lovas — Our Windhover
Historical Drudge Report — Samuel Johnson's 1755 Dictionary
Whose Words These Are I Think I Know
Wing to Wing and Oar to Oar
Returned from California Sun to Washington Snow
A Saving Imagination: The MLA's "Necessary Angel"
"Earth" from Bryant Park to Ground Zero
Brent, In Memoriam
Dem Bones — T. S. Eliot Style
The Lone and Level Sands
Teach Us to Sit Still
Wilsonian Democracy, Finnish-Style: To the Finland Station
Compromising Style: Malcolm Cowley on Socspeak
A Lost Eloquence
The First Grace of Style
Metaphors \ Methods \ Models — Dirty-Hand Style
T. G. I. Friday's Mourning
Figures & Tropes
Grammar & Syntax