Statement of Philosophy

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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Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Grass at Wivenhoe Park

What with the Poetry Magazine series over, after that series of very long posts; what with the opening up of the variety of posts I put up here that had been going on previously; and what with me having some things to catch up on now that that last series is out of my head; I am going to permit some new rhythms on this blog, and post things for a while simply as they come to mind, not worrying about how in depth they run, or how astutely they present themselves or even how immediately or particularly they apply to verse. As well, after the bog of bad verse that was the terrain that series, I need to actually enjoy literature and language for a while.


a note on confidence

A little writing observation:

In a comment I wrote on a wandering Facebook thread I gave the sentence

"Related to that is when Constable painted grass that was lit by sunlight a yellow color."[FN]

First draft I wrote the sentence more condensedly:

"Related to that is when Constable painted grass lit by sunlight yellow."

It's a better sentence in my eyes; tighter, more controlled; exhibiting more control. Completely correct grammatically and syntactically. But there is that semantic wobbling in whether "lit by sunlight" belongs to "grass" or "yellow." (The wobbling is amplified by rhythms that want to push "lit my sunlight" away from green and toward yellow.) My interest, the question the sentence raised in my head, was in that semantic aspect: the balance that must be weighed is whether the degree of ambiguity created is too much to permit the much more interesting construction? (I am mostly but not completely ignoring that this was in a Facebook post and not a formal text.)

[FN] In transparency, to prevent accusations of shenanigans, the original sentence was actually, "Related to that is when the Impressionists in England [. . .]": a fact I knew immediately after hitting "Enter" to be incorrect. And as quickly I was off track down and correct the error. I could not find an exact reference, but am now 98% confident that the event of which I was thinking involved Constable's Wivenhoe Park. Though, that 2% is not rhetorical. If anybody has the reference for sure . . . .

Now, grammatically, the sentence as written, if the sentence could be assumed to be written by someone who knew how to wield their grammar with skill and grace, declares the modified noun to be "grass." If it were meant to modify "yellow" the modifying phrase could – and it might be argued should – have been written with hyphens: "lit-by-sunlight yellow."

A worthwhile point of grammar. But, it points to an even more interesting phenomenon, one I talk about not infrequently on this blog: confidence in the writer, or, more exactly, confidence in the text (and in the writer as generated by the text). If I had no confidence in the writer of such as the above, or, directly, if I did not think their writing was strong enough that they would know that the use of hyphens would clarify the situation, then I would be more likely to consider the phrase problematic and would advise against its use.

When a text is prone to clumsiness, a sophisticated reader is quite likely to read a cleverness as but one more clumsiness. If the text tells the reader that the writer is not clever enough to pull off such a thing, at best the event looks half-accidental – still not to the merit of the writer. To the other side, if the text as a whole gives the reader confidence as to the writer's technical abilities, the reader will be more likely to accept the phrase as a cleverness, as successful playing with writing.

In sum: Technical skill goes to far more than what you can do with language. It also goes to what the reader believes you can do with language.

Of course, the sophistication of the reader plays in the game as well. The crowds reacted violently against painting grass yellow: after all, what kind of an idiot paints green grass yellow? Except, in England, grass under sunlight does appear yellow. The viewing public was so bound by the conventionality of realist painting they could not recognize that the yellow was in fact a real event.

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