Posts Tagged poems

Notes And Commentary, Part 2

Here are a few commentaries and observations designed to fill this space with words.  These are especially directed toward those of my readers who are writers.

Which of the two constructions do you prefer?   1) I’m ten years older than him.  Or: 2) I’m ten years older than he is.

The quote, “A [fill in your work] is never finished, only abandoned,” has been attributed to several writers.  The poet Paul Valery is credited with, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”  Graham Green said, “It,”—referring to a novel—”is never finished, only abandoned.”  The novelist E. M. Forster said, “A work of art is never finished.  It is merely abandoned.”  I’ve even quoted it myself without giving proper attribution, usually referring to novels, rather than poems.  And I’ve come to believe the truth in that quotation (whoever you feel is the real author).  I’ve just completed a serious revision of the third installment of my sci-fi novels (it’s called “Warrior,” but hasn’t been published yet).  The revisions filled in quite a number of plot holes, and smoothed out some awkward phrasing here and there.  Now all that is left is to print out the novel (the first time that novel has been printed) and read it in the “paper” stage (see last week’s blog) and read it out loud.  And then make whatever changes I feel are necessary.  All of that won’t be a simple matter by any means, but it will insure that the novel will be in a reasonably good state, ready for beta readers or critique groups.  Yet, based on my experiences with the first two novels, both of which have gone through that “print/read/out loud” phase, small touch-ups will always be possible at any time.  It’s true, the novels are never finished; you can always make changes.  I just have to be willing to drop them and let them go.  And not obsess over small things.

If you have a character in your writing who is angry, and you need to show intense outrage/passion/displeasure/hatred, and you are writing in the 3rd person point-of-view, which way do you like to express it?  By having the angry person be the POV character and present to the reader directly his/her feelings ?  Or by having the character be not the POV character and letting him/her—and by extension, the reader—view it from a distance?  It can be done either way, of course, but does it seem to fit your style of writing better one way or the other?  Generally I stick with the indirect way: presenting the anger of someone directly in their head seems too much like telling, not showing.

In this day and age of climate change when storms are getting more and more powerful, and forest fires burn more and more square miles, I’ve noticed that people caught up in these events tend to use a curious method of comparison to try and describe how they sound or feel.  Frequently that comparison is to a “freight train.”  Most frequently, this is the object of comparison for tornadoes, but it has also been applied to land/mudslides, and even hurricanes.  But I’m curious, do most people really know what a freight train sounds like?  I’d almost be willing to bet that most don’t.  I’ve heard a few freight trains in my life, and though I’ve never heard a tornado, I really wonder if the two sound alike.  Anybody know?  In this day of long trains pulled by large-horsepower diesel engines, the sound is more of a growl of low pitch and high.  I suppose that back in the 1940’s and 1950’s when large steam engines pulled long trains of coal out of the Appalachian coal fields of Kentucky and West Virginia, and they had to literally pound the rails to get it over the mountains, it could have had a terrible rumbling feel, especially considering the power in the exhaust of the mighty engines and the shaking of the ground if you stood too close.  But diesels don’t do that much any more.  They seem to glide along; there’s no pounding and no heavy exhaust.  I wonder if a tornado or mudslide really sounds like that.  Anyone have any idea?

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The Power Of Words

During this Christmas season, I listen—along with everybody else—to all the Christmas music that’s played on the radio and at the malls, and as always it brings back memories of all sorts of Christmases past.  But this year, for the first time, I’ve begun to hear the music and the words, slightly differently.  I’m beginning to recognize the power, or better the penetrance, of the words in our society.  Not that I hadn’t recognized it before, it’s just that I didn’t pay that much attention.

For example, take the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” by Clement Clarke Moore.  Moore isn’t the first to use the term “St. Nick,” to refer to the jolly old man we now call Santa Claus, but he’s the first to give the names of the reindeer.  He’s the first to describe the unique method St. Nick enters the house, and the fact that reindeer can fly.  All of that he put down in 1823.  That was the first year the poem was published, though at the time his name wasn’t attached to it.  (Apparently he didn’t acknowledge authorship until he published the poem a book of poems in 1844.)  But those reindeer names, that jolly old man, that unusual method of entry, has penetrated into modern society, especially here in the USA, so fully and so completely, we practically take it for granted, as though it was handed down to us on a silver platter from on high.  Yet it was just a poem, written by one person, with probably little regard as to how much influence it would ultimately have.  Even today, more than a century later, kids who live in a house without a chimney are afraid they won’t get presents.  “How will Santa Claus get in?” they wail.  It has made Christmas.

Another example.  Take the song, “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.”  That’s the song that contains the famous (almost infamous) words, “He’s makin’ a list, checkin’ it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”  Do you know of any other short line that has penetrated so fully into modern society (along with Moore’s poem, above)?  That one part of the song has risen above almost everything else to exert a considerable influence on kids today, especially the little ones.  Every kid is scared of being put on the naughty list.  It’s become so much a part of today’s Christmas celebration we joke about it all the time.  Yet, like Moore’s poem above, it started out simply as a song, almost certainly with little regard to its eventual impact on society.  (The song was written by Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots in 1934.)

So, if you ever doubt the ability of words to affect people years, even centuries, later, just look at those two examples.  There are many more, of course, especially outside of Christmas (The Bible, The Koran, The Declaration of Independence, etc., etc., etc.), but even something as simple as a poem or a song can have meaning and implications well beyond its original intent.  It’s almost impossible to deliberately sit down and write something that will have such an effect—I doubt if any of the authors above had any idea their words would be so well-regarded that far in the future.  Did Thomas Jefferson think his words “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .” would be so important two centuries later?  Hard to say.  You just have to do your best.

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