Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I sometimes cringe when one of my compatriots in poesy writes something formal that seems to try to engage normative grammar but makes a hash of it. Is this a fault?

Not saying I'm perfect.

UPDATE: I suppose what I find especially disturbing is carelessness with syntax. Syntax, of course, need not be of the normative variety.


Anonymous Anonymous said...



7:46 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I don't want to point out specific instances, because, ultimately, I think it's pretty annoying to pick on someone's grammar, and I'm kind of ashamed even to have bothered writing about it. (Also, in each case I can think of off the top of my head, the writer is doing something otherwise admirable and generous.) I guess what I'm talking about is published stuff that otherwise seems to be written in standard English that contains sentences that don't parse grammatically. On the one hand, I worry that people who are hostile to the avant-garde (or whatever you want to call it) will write us off as people who haven't bothered to understand the rules we're breaking. On the other, I wonder how one can be sensitive to language without feeling it when syntax is screwy.

On the other other hand, I'm suspicious of normative tendencies.

1:22 PM  
Blogger asthma_boy said...

that's interesting. i'm in the middle of edits on loser class and the original manuscript was written almost exclusively in full sentences. my editor has been great at making the poems less like prose. i forgot to break the right rules, but now that i have broken them, it's created a lot of new possibilities.

i was thinking and writing too much like a prose writer. i think the opposite can happen to poets when they dip into prose.

but i've always argued that descriptive grammar is one of the most important elements of poetry -- not in terms of strict adherence obviously, but in terms of tacit knowledge.

i also think it's ok to screw up and it doesn't mean that you aren't sensitive or sophisticated in terms of language, grammar, syntax.

2:02 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Oh, yeah, I think I should say that I am talking about critical and promotional prose. I'm all for breaking the rules in poetry (or prose that intends to break the rules).

I think you're right that it's okay to screw up (and I'm sure I do repeatedly). I do think that knowing, say, what a dangling modifier is and how to avoid one is helpful to a poet.

I don't mean to be all back-to-basics fundamentalism here. I guess I think of normative grammar as being a subset of all grammar. I do think, though, that normative grammar is useful to consider, and I'm surprised when I see evidence that suggests that poets who have the ability haven't looked too closely at it.

I keep thinking of Daniel as I write here, and I'd argue that his poetry more or less proves I'm out to lunch in all of this. I suspect that I'm engaging in some old-school and possibly unenlightened thought. Part of my reason for posting is that I'm uncomfortable with my reaction to "bad grammar" and I'd like to push my thinking forward a bit.

2:52 PM  
Blogger readrobread said...

although i do believe that study of grammar(s) and langauge generally (thru translation etc) is very important for many poets - especially when they are 'trying' to writing normatively (catch that?) - there's also good reason to believe that a) it's not actually that important at all in another sense - some of the things that i am enthralled with occur from accidental mistakes in grammar - in a way, those without grammar (or with poor attempting at it in the language they are using) the sign that says "we will be having a meating." so, what's on the agenda besides dinner? (that's spelling rather than grammar - but you get the idea) and b) as with normative literacy generally, a lot of the young have not been brought up studying grammar very much (i certainly didn't get much in school) so end up getting it thru osmosis - which means, they sometimes pick up flux that's non-normative and don't realize, or don't need to know. doesn't stop them from being poets too sometimes though.

note my non-mormonative grammar above. just some fragments dragged out.

4:03 PM  

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