The way a good sentence - like good music - carries you along for a ride.
I studied a good deal of poetry in college. I studied writing, actually, but it included poetry, and poetry writing.
I've always loved language. All languages, really. But particularly my mother tongue, English. Perhaps it's my immigrant mom, with her funny inability to pronounce the difference between "sheet" and the English equivalent of merde, who first got me to notice language at all.
I started taking foreign languages at a young age - began with Spanish in the 5th grade because that's when they started in my public school (Quien es Bobo? Bobo es mi mono!). All the while, I also took Greek at church twice a week after school, because it's what all the kids of immigrants did in my day.
Took a year of Russian in college, but hated it (declensions and a bad prof from Russia), though I did learn enough to get drunk for three hours with a very cute straight blond Russian skier (who didn't speak a lick of English) in Petropavlovsk in the early 90s, so I guess it was worth it.
|With my friends Marco Scanu|
and Sabine Wedig in St. Michel,
Paris in 1984.
So yeah, I kind of like language.
I've always tried to infuse my writing with poetry. Seriously. It's not about getting all sing-songy. Rather, it's the cadence. The rhythm of the sentence. It's not always something obvious when you first read it. And while sometimes it's intentional on the part of the writer, sometimes it's not - but it's not random either, it's the writer's ear, what he/she has learned, and how it comes across organically in the written word.
What got me thinking about this (again) was a sentence in Chris Andoe's first post yesterday about Chick-fil-A. Chris had a paragraph that ended up with some great poetic cadence (I edited the piece so I have no idea what Chris wrote and what I wrote, I think this was likely a fusion of the two of us):
Supposedly civilized people turning to the drive-through window for a super-sized order of malnutrition, warped spirituality, and bigoted political discourse.Here's why I like this sentence.
"Supposedly civilized people." It's got three things going for it. First, the consonance of supposedly and civilized. Second, the beat, the cadence, of the three words in a row, beats like a good line from a poem:
su-PO-sed-ly CI-vi-lized PEO-pleAnd third, it mirrors the last three words of the sentence, "bigoted political discourse" - same rhythm.
-|-- |-- |-
"Turning to the drive-through window" has a similar beat:
TUR-ning to the DRIVE-through WIN-dow for a SU-per sized OR-derYou can almost tap your foot to it, up and down and up and down. (On the downside, I couldn't find another word for "malnutrition" in that paragraph - it's the wrong word (it's a word I chose, Chris initially had "nutrition"), but it doesn't have the right beat for the sentence. Sometimes you have to settle for less.
Even the first four words of the post could be the beginning of a poem: "The God of Gluttony smiled", again, consonance and rhythm - it's a great phrase.
Some of the poets I liked the best: Yeats of course (though I find some of his poems difficult), loved Leda and the Swan; TS Eliot; and Sylvia Plath, who was a master at words falling hard and flat with a punch - her poem Daddy comes to mind. Excerpt:
But they pulled me out of the sack,I remember the first time I read that poem. I was 20. Blew me away. Still does.
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.
If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
I know all of this might sound odd, but it's the way you write poems, and I think it's the way you write well, period. You listen to the words, how they sound together, their beat, cadence, how the sentence falls, and moves, and carries the reader along. It's lyricism. It's difficult to do it throughout an entire essay, which would then become a poem. But if you can do it even occasionally, it lends a beauty to the language, I think. Even if the reader has no conscious idea that it's happening.
And it's why studying things like poetry, and languages, matter. It actually can help you be better at your own language.
Anyway, just thought I'd give you a window into the way I write, at least. For what it's worth.