Goodbye Hyphen, Hello Confusion

I love punctuation marks. Not just the inventiveness behind them (squiggles, slants, dashes, dots), but the way they work. Punctuation marks help the reader know what the writer of a sentence is trying to say.

So I’m very sad to see the fading-away of the hyphen as a mark that helps the reader understand the writer’s intent. Ad writers are particularly guilty of ignoring this punctuation mark: perhaps they think the hyphen is too tiny to convey anything of importance. They are oh so wrong.

One day several years ago I was hit by two unrelated ads (the “sex party” was in a newsletter, the “never” was on a shopping bag) which I read the wrong way.

fd562f24db534173974835132c9f8e1c-jpg
     The Tie That Binds

     The hyphen once connected
     what hadn’t yet coalesced,

     protected words from prematurely
     bumping or stubbornly jumping back

     to apartness. Base ball bounced
     into base-ball before it reached home;

     to day grooved into to-day before becoming
     current. But few seek connections these days,

     except for the kind that rack up
     unearned favors or lead to higher-

     paying jobs — not the kind that help patch
     cracks in thinking. Sex party for twenty

     three year olds. She holds you
     in her arms and you feel never

     before love. Tidal waves
     of separation

     drown ember glows
     of punctuation.

____________________

This poem appears in Barbara Gregorich’s Crossing the Skyway: Poems.

Finding a Found Poem

Many months ago I explored both web sites and books in order to learn more about different types of poems. I’ve already posted about the fib. The day I learned about the fib I must have been in the F section of information sites, because I also learned about the found poem.

Found poem? I muttered to myself. Is that the opposite of a lost poem?

No. It isn’t.

According to Wikipedia, which in this case provides a good definition, found poetry is “a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry (a literary equivalent of a collage) by making changes in spacing and lines, or by adding or deleting text, thus imparting new meaning.” (Emphasis in original.)

Okay, I thought. That’s great. I now know what a found poem is. On to another subject.

Because, you see, I never thought I’d write a found poem. Nothing about found poetry really “called” to me, you know. Perhaps the found poems were out of hearing range.

But life loves to watch us strolling happily along, thinking we’re in charge of our own decisions — and then throw something in our path that makes us do the opposite of what we said we would do.

So it was with me and the found poem.

My husband, Phil Passen, is a musician, and I am his roadie. One day Phil had a three-hour gig at O’Hare Airport, somewhere in the United terminal. I brought along a novel I had almost finished reading.

Sixty minutes later, I did finish.

Two more hours to go on this gig. And I had forgotten to bring a second novel. What could I do? Besides listen to the wonderful music, of course.

I sat there, looking all around.

Words.

Words everywhere. On posters, flashing in neon, in windows, on plastic signs, on free-standing sandwich boards, on cardboard boxes, on luggage, on trams creeping by, on suitcases . . everywhere.

So I wrote down maybe half of the words I could see.

Found Poem

And then, even though the Wiki definition does not say that a found poem makes changes in the order of words, my found poem does. I rearranged the words (okay, okay, the spacing and the lines, too, and maybe I even deleted some words) and produced my first (and so far, only) found poem. You could say I found it at O’Hare.

United We Wait

Duty Free Liberty
United Club
Wi-Fi Available
Concourse C Baggage Claim
Currency Exchange
Animal Relief Area
Welcome US Customs Require That
Life-goes-on Insurance
From the International Best-Selling Trilogy
Let Us Serve You
Eli’s Cheesecake Chicago
You’re going to need a bigger map
Please Ask for Assistance
Not just leg-room . . . laptop room
Restrooms
Prudent
Earn Miles and Rewards
Priority Boarding
Trains to City
Ticketing/Check-In
Terminals

___________________

Barbara Gregorich’s not-lost poetry can be found in Crossing the Skyway.

Character Names: Associations

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey names his main antagonist Nurse Ratched. With its overtones of “wretched” and “ratchet,” the name has only negative connotations. The homonym “ratchet” is especially powerful when you realize that a ratchet, through ever-increasing tension or locking-in, allows motion in only one direction. This name gives me bad shivers!

TheHamletAnother great character name is Flem Snopes, the antagonist of Faulkner’s Hamlet trilogy (The Hamlet; The Town; The Mansion). The first name is a homonym for “phlegm,” and to that I say Ugh and Yuk! The second makes me think of a lot of “sn” words, most of them negative, as in snot, snob, snoot, snout, snipe, snit, snide, and snicker.

Katniss Everdeen is a name I have mixed feelings about. I like the last name because it brings to mind the word “evergreen,” with its connotations not only of vigor and freshness (also of “green-ness” in the sense of “untried”), but also long-lastingness. And the “deen” part of the name suggests “dean,” which means “head,” or “leader.”

But then comes Katniss, which I partly like and partly dislike. I like the “Kat” part because the K is a strong sound. But I dislike the name tapering off into an “iss” ending, which is not strong. The name seems to end in weakness or hissing. Or both.

I consider the name Harry Potter absolutely perfect for J.K. Rowling’s intentions. In Britain Harry is an endearing name in its own right, but it’s also used as a familiar name for various King Henry heroes in Shakespeare’s plays. The name means “soldier” in Old English and “army ruler” in Scandinavian, both old meanings being good for Rowling’s purposes.

31cSFNuQF2L._BO1,204,203,200_The last name Potter is a magnificent choice, alluding perhaps to a potter’s field where the unclaimed are buried, touching on the commonality of all humans to one another. And just as strong is the association with pottery. Without the invention of pottery and the making of pots by potters, early peoples would not have been able to store water or seeds or grains or other foods. Pots sealed and protected a tribe’s food for the winter: food without which they could not survive. So the potter was a very, very important contributor to a tribe’s survival, growth, and prosperity.

Finally, there’s the TA-dum TA-dum sound of Harry Potter’s name. HAR-ry POT-ter. In poetry, a TA-dum foot is a trochee. The most common stress in the English language is iambic: ta-DUM ta-DUM. Shakespeare’s plays are written in iambic pentameter, for example. The trochee is less common, though it’s used a lot in children’s rhymes, and William Blake used it (TYger TYger BURning BRIGHT). I’ve always thought the trochee, in small amounts, a very strong and memorable beat — which is another reason why I love the name Harry Potter. Many English names are trochee names, but not all of them are two-trochee names. Jack RY-an is a one-trochee name and lacks the double-punch of HAR-ry POT-ter.

daniel-craig-james-bondBut trochee names just won’t do for some authors. I find it deliciously humorous that so many macho heroes of Anglo-Saxon origin have both a one-syllable first name and a one-syllable last name. To a macho hero, anything more than one syllable is just froufrou. Bond. James Bond. This name really connotes: I. Mean. Business.

Then there’s Clive Cussler’s action hero, Dirk Pitt. A dirk is a dagger, so we get connotations of steel and deadliness, as well as phallic connotations. A pit is bottomless and deadly. Both the word “dirk” and the word “pitt” end in a plosive (a consonant in which the air flow is interrupted, as in p, t, k). Words that end in plosives sound abrupt. Final. All readings of the name Dirk Pitt lead to one conclusion: Do Not Mess With!

There’s a lot to naming a character in fiction, and for any writer it’s worth the time spent thinking about the sound of names, the beat of names, and the associations attached to names.

Woman Yes, Girl No

Equal Rights 1970 March (Public Domain)Although we were young, in our teens and twenties, we were not girls. We were women — young women who felt and understood the gross inequality between the sexes, with women required to perform the mind-numbing drudgery of cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, and care-giving, practically from cradle to grave. And even when we were able to land jobs outside the home, we were paid half the wages men were and treated with condescension.

WLM-picture-of-logoDuring this, Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day approaching, it’s good to remember our struggle. We never asked for “girls’ liberation,” nor “ladies’ liberation,” either. Girls were adolescent females and their liberation would come when ours did, as a result of our struggles. Ladies were a fiction, some unreal ruling class standard of behavior that reduced women to their social manners. Ladies’ liberation would never arrive, because in a world where people have equality, nobody would choose to restrict his or her behavior to that of a helpless “lady.”

For a while, women’s liberation was in the news and in people’s consciousness. But without a fundamental change in society, backsliding is inevitable. Those with privileges wangle things so they can retain their privileges. And public consciousness, fueled by movies, television, and advertising, couldn’t let go of the notion that “girl” was the appropriate word for an adult female.

B465_DontCallMeGirlSome avoid “woman” because it’s too powerful a word. Others think that only “girl” connotes fun, adventure, youth, and sexiness. Some think they want to be called “lady” because that term implies respect. Others think that “lady” is something better than a woman.

Well, there’s nothing better than a woman. During this, Women’s History Month, it’s wise for every woman to think about what she is, especially in relationship to children, adolescents, and adults of the other sex. When I was teaching college, the question of sexual equality was a hot topic of the day. Looking back on those days, I recently wrote a poem about how my students responded to the issue.

        Equivalency Tests

        Writing boy on the blackboard
        I ask my students, thirty
        college freshmen, the female
        equivalent. Girl, they all
        reply, wondering where this
        might be going. Next I write
        gentleman and ask the same
        question. Slower responses,
        and fewer, but they call it
        right: lady. I write man and
        look at them.

        Total silence.

        Finally, a hesitant,
        questioning response — woman?

        Confused, unsure, they have come
        to immaturity in
        a world which has never taught
        there’s a female parallel
        of man.

        They are too staggered
        to even think the thought, too
        stunned to use the even word

(For more poems such as this one, see Crossing the Skyway.)