Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Grammar of Emotion as Opposed to the Emotion of Grammar

The avowed love of words has seduced many putative poets, short story writers, and novelists into floridness and hyperbole, conditions that have become disasters for the work they produce Words are tools and as the craftsperson learns to care for tools, the writer must learn to care for words, but the writer must also learn to care for feelings. True enough, feelings are meaningless unless they can be demonstrated and put into words, but equally true, mere words, how ever exquisite, are not enough. Too much of either is too much to take, not enough of either is the best course only because it somehow evokes wanting in us, makes us strive for the right balance, the right chemistry.

I grow impatient and restive when there are too many words, when the effect appears to be too labored. This is so not because I am so terribly sensitive but because these exaggerations are my own symptoms. There are times, precious few, when the feel of the work seeps through the thought, the sense of control, the awareness of rules or conventions. When I come back to revise, such moments stand out and I can visualize where they ended and thought took over, controlling the choice of words, the reach for effect or metaphor or simile.

Tonight, the final night of a class in short story writing, a number of the students hung around while I packed up their final papers and a welter of books I'd presented as examples of the final lecture. Eighty percent of them confessed to enjoying writing but hating so-called English courses. I was about to join that general strike against English classes until it came to me that I could ot in complete honesty do so. Thinking back on it, I enjoyed having to diagram sentences. Whether at the blackboard during class hours or on those ratty sheets of lined note book paper for homework, I enjoyed the sense of constructing a map around a sentence. Subject. Verb. Modifier. Object. No, not for the sake of grammar or syntax, rather for the sake of word order, of enhanced meaning. This is so because I don't know the grammar by the same Bible spouting rote of the evangelical or the heavy-handed and -bearded rabbinical vectors. It has become largely a matter of language as muscle memory. Better than grammar any time, better than thought.

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