Thursday, December 01, 2005

New Formalist Poetry & Mislaid Apostrophes

W. H. Auden is one of my favorite comic poets. "Serious" literary critics prefer to lambast Auden as not having been as great as he could have been, but to them all I sway my finger with a disdainful tish tosh. If Auden was so awful, then why are we still talking about him? The really awful poets have already been forgotten. Anyway, I would argue that good comic verse is far more rewarding than old turgid verse. I mean, rilly. Who wants to sit in a tree somewhere and read some bard bemoaning the tattered state of world injustice hundreds of years ago? Without blinking, though, I could read comic verse for 40 hours straight and then go make a sandwich.

As for great comic poets in our own age, Mark Jarman is of special note (as well as being a "serious" poet, too). In fact, Jarman edited a collection of "New Formalist" poetry called Rebel Angels: 25 Poets of the New Formalism, and its selections are delicious, even... dare I say it... amusing. New Formalism is a modern movement of new poets using old poetry conventions like sestinas, sonnets, and the like. If you like to read rhyming verse, you must own this book!

Being a writer, I'm often troubled by how common grammatical errors propagate in the public forum. Of course, I'm certainly no angel of perfection, but it ails me that so many people simply don't know or don't care about upholding certain rules of grammar... like the rules of using an apostrophe for possessives ("its" or "their") vs. contractions ("it's" or "they're). This is not an issue of writing style, and therefore not within the realm of debate: you either break the apostrophe rule, or you dont. I mean, "don't".

In the tradition of Auden and Jarman, I thought I'd whip together my own comic ditty on the subject...

Ode to Our Mislaid Apostrophes

O wonderful, mischievous, slippery mark:
I want to punctuate, but youre location is stark.
My meanings are loose, my intentions skewed—
my editors pens could leave me quite screwed!
They often complain that theyre English is good
while my typewritten words barely understood
If only Id divine when its was not it's
they just might be able to keep all there wits
Or not mistake they're when it really is there,
or swap out a your when you're is somewhere...
I find it so silly. Cant you understand my thought?
Is my english so bad that new laws must be wrought?
I suppose who and whom can go fly with the dodo
for who really cares, but Gandalf and Frodo
In fact, I will drop all punctuation at once
and no one around will suspect me a dunce
for they too will know what I mean with my word
so why need I try its so pointless absurd
lets assassinate all grammer and speling as well
im sure every school kid would love to us tell
how much they hate engish and other dim arts
no need to learn standards when its old pompous farts
insisting they bend to the will of those rules
like all human beings are grammatical mules
o wunderful mischevious slipery mark
i would use you if only i knew where you park
but no one cares now if youre lost to the wind
since apostrofe rules they wish to recind
its a simple mater of its usage you kno
wheter your is correct in your sentance flow
ah who cares no one maybe only a fyew
i do wish theyd speek up oh how I doo

P.S. If you struggle with "it's" vs. "its", try to recreate the contraction without an apostrophe ("it's" into "it is", "you're into "you're", "they're" into "they are"). If you cannot take out the apostrophe, then use the one that doesn't have it: its, your, their.
Or, even simpler: "it's" is a contraction of "it is"; all other versions are "its."

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