Some tiny creature, mad with wrath,

Is coming nearer on the path.

--Edward Gorey

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S. Outlying Islands

Writer, lawyer, cyclist, rock climber, wanderer of dark residential streets, friend.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Counterpoint, Passive Voice and Poesy

In the April 2005 issue of Atlantic Monthly, current articles of which you can only access if you are a subscriber (no help found at BugMeNot) -- and if you are, then you probably have the issue anyway -- Managing Editor Cullen Murphy remebers Peter Davison (1928-2004), Poetry Editor of Atlantic (one of the last mainstream outlets ro provide, each issue, a generous helping of excellent poetry) for 30 years. The ins and outs of that remembrance are not a propos, but the very day I discussed Volokh's take on the passive voice, I encountered Murphy's touching piece. The following paragraph provides a resonant counterpoint to the whole conversation.

Peter was intensely serious about the power of language. He detested the retreat of so much modern poetry into ther conjuring of fleeting or trivial experience. Where was the engagement with ideas and events that truly matter? Where were poems like Robert Lowell's "For the Union Dead"? He also believed, more generally, that public writing had become too much the stuff of nouns, commodified and inert, and not enough the stuff of verbs -- and that even the verbs too often consisted of "is" and "was." One day he seized some poor writer's galley proof and with a thick black pen circed every "is"; the result looked like target practice. The verb "to die," Peter once said, has a lot more life packed into it than "to be" ever will. You don't really know what you're trying to say, he would advise, unless you know what the verbs are.


And now I'm going to curl up in bed and cry for my poems of fleeting or trivial experience. Next up, a poem about an event that truly matters -- maybe Michael Jackson's trial.


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