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A site for exploration and discussion about verse, poetics, the aesthetic, and creative writing in general.

Because there is a profound difference between writing something to be read and writing something worth reading; and in that difference might beauty be found.



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Monday, April 21, 2014

"Rain of Statues" by Sarah Lindsey — Poetry Daily, April 21, 2014

from Poetry (April 2014)
poem found here
 

First lines:
Our general was elsewhere, but we drowned.
While he rested, he shipped us home

 

why the basics are so important (at least, to me)

 

A short and simple post. An object lesson in that poetry — writing — is not merely putting words on paper. A demonstration that there is a certain level of basic technique and knowledge that should be had, and a certain level that should be mastered if you at all want your work to be taken seriously.

Look at the very first line:

Our general was elsewhere, but we drowned.

Here is the very simple and obvious question: In what way are those phrases in a 'but' relationship?

The answer: they are not. The five definitions provided by dictionary.com are quite sufficient to the proof:

1. on the contrary; yet
Our general was elsewhere, yet we drowned.
So then they successfully drowned even though the general was elsewhere? They didn't need his leadership to pull it off?
2. except; save
Our general was elsewhere, except we drowned.
If you squint a bit it could mean Our general was elsewhere except when we drowned. Which is silly.
3. unless; if not; except that
Our general was elsewhere, unless we drowned.
The general was only planning on showing up if we drowned. But only in that case.
4. without the circumstance that
Our general was elsewhere but that it also is that we drowned.
The general is never elsewhere without some of us drowning. Every time he leaves, somebody goes under.
5. otherwise than
Other general was elsewhere only if we drowned.
And believe me he sat on the edge of his chair waiting, so he would avoid being blamed for our gross incompetence

It's not a but relationship. Flat out. The sentence makes no sense whatsoever.

Though, the appearance of this usage does make "sense" in that, if you at all listen to the dolts on television (and I'm not just talking about the urinalists I'm also talking about the dolts who script the shows and the commercials), the word but is constantly being misused, put into sentences under some impulse to conjoin what does not at all need to be so connected:

Our general was elsewhere; we drowned.

Rather easy fix.

So here's the follow-up question, the question that gets to the meat of the matter: If the writer can't get that basic aspect of English correct, why should I keep reading?

This is not an issue of dialect or voice. This is bad writing, pure and simple. (And worse editing. Nobody caught this along the way to subission or printing?) There is no way around it. So how am I supposed to take the rest of the work seriously after such a poorly written opening?

Of course, in today's culture of poetry, nothing is taken seriously. At least, nothing inherent to the literature.

(Personally, that's the kind of error that puts the book slap back on the bookstore shelf; and that keeps my respect for literary magazines like Poetry Magazine so low.)

5 comments:

  1. There is another reading. The general was elsewhere because he didn't think he needed to be there. He didn't need to oversee the voyage. But he was wrong. Without him, they drowned.

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    Replies
    1. If I wanted to write what you said there, though, would I not write:
      "The general was elsewhere, and we drowned." ?

      What you are saying is that there is a causal link between the two, so you use an "and" conjunction. (Which is the nearly what a semi-colon does. You could also use "so," or "because" at the beginning of the first phrase.)

      Using "but" does not do that. "But" works (mostly) to the opposite, saying, "despite the fact that and general was not there, we still drowned."

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    2. "Our general was elsewhere, and we drowned" at least puts a cause-effect relationship between the two halves of the line. I've read enough military history to know that the line (as revised above) is true enough.

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    3. The second half of your comment has me laughing I think a little too hard.

      Delete
    4. (Just to say, I do recognize I put a superfluous comma in the rewrite in my first comment, there. I write this because it's too late to edit it.)

      Delete