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Mute, Inglorious Milton (especially for June Casagrande!)


(Revised title for inclusion in THE TWAIN, POEMS OF EARTH AND ETHER, 2012.)



 My Dad was one of those you cite

Correcting syntax as of right

'A great big meany' to the core

He put construction to the fore

The spirit of the piece was lost

And in the basket ended tossed

The budding author withered then

And never showed him work again


My heart was shattered by the flaws

A split infinitive could cause

A misplaced preposition, too,

Could wreck a scene of derring-do

I quaked at the subjunctive mood

And clauses giving too much food

For thought midst plots that wouldn't hatch

And parts of speech that did not match


The hanging phrase is widely banned

And sentences that start with And

And sentences that start with But

Will cause an academic Tut!

The strict corrections they propose

Have blighted my immortal prose

O woe is me! I am undone!

There is no licence to have fun!


The muse is gone, I wonder why

My verse can't fit the needle's eye?

And art is left to hang its lyre

On weeping willows and expire

But now I think I've said enough

And must not brook this kind of stuff

My future work they'll not be faulting

I think the pedants are revolting!





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And touching, too. What a drag that the heart and soul of your writing was torn apart so early by nitpicking.

And I love the double entendre of "revolting" pedants!

But the bad thing about the nitpicking and sticklering is not just that it fails to see the forest for the trees. It's that it's often DEAD WRONG. Sure, danglers are a real problem. But, as you know, there's no rule against the split infinitives and so much other stuff like that!

The poem was wonderful (and, by the way, clear evidence that while pedantry might have stifled the creative impulse, it sure as heck didn't kill it)!

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Thanks, June. I'm still

Thanks, June. I'm still working on the confidence thing and believe that starting to self-publish has helped enormously, rather than the reverse. Sales have yet to build but they're on a par with my experience of mainstream and there's no time limit imposed. I've always maintained that I'm a survivor!

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standard english

To June and Rosy:

     This might have no relevance five years after your statements were posted butI feel a need to say it. I don't believe you're both in the same league. Rosy, in spite of the spirit of her ingenious poem, I suspect, is a true grammarian. June finds grammar an unfair imposition. What June objects to might well be thinking.

     In the last fifty years or so grammar has taken an awful beating. I'm not anti-feminist; that is, I have always supported objections to prejudice of all kinds. But what they did to the language with their war against "masculine gets the preference" was disgraceful. Had they changed the rule to "feminine gets the preference" I might not have liked it but I'd have understood it. The new treatment of this rule was the domino that brought down all the others. Grammar was logic until the 'sixties. From the time of Shakespeare, English moved more and more toward a grammar of logic.I guess it peaked in the nineteenth century. This remained into the 1950's and held on, fighting all the way, through the '60's. Then barbarism took the lead. Half a generation of teachers who, since they didn't understand the subject any better than the students, said, "forget about grammar as long as you can make your point." One group of  '60's do-gooders even stated that grammar was invented to intimidate poor and minorities. Having grown up poor and Irish (almost the same thing in those days) this baffled  me. I had left school with an eighth grade education and done well for some years with that. I attribute that to the rigid standards set by the Immaculate Heart Sisters. This included standard English. As I said at the beginning, I intend no offense, but I feel strongly that grammar is more important that politics. Politics never civilized anybody. But grammar contributed much in that direction.

Charlie Killeen, Cape May, NJ via East Germantown, Philadelphia, PA 

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Rosy's Pome

Incidentally -- Love Rosy's poem. Very good stuff! If I'm able I'll write my own rejoinder in like form. -- Charlie 

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Charles, thank you for commenting so late in the day!

Believe me, June is the true grammarian and formidably expert. She has put me right on arcane issues such as the subjunctive mood more than once!

It's true I went to Grammar School in days when the English Language was a science (and, surprisingly, a separate subject from English Literature and Creative Writing) and I do jump up and down quite a lot in horror at the abuses which have passed into common usage and thereby gained not only traction, but acceptability in many cases. New nouns, phrases and hybrid words I don't have a problem with (nor ending with prepositions etc!) but you can't remove balanced syntax, the skeleton, muscle and ligaments from a language without it collapsing into meaninglessness. It is the underpinning of civilisation. You see these sloppy errors so often, it's almost impossible not to catch the disease. Makes copy-editing an even more onerous job than it needs to be. Blame is often laid at the door of texting, but I suspect the problem has more to do with inadequate education. However, technology as a whole has removed a certain mindfulness from the written word which we need to recover.

Delighted you enjoyed the poem. Thank you! It's included in the Whimsies section of my first collection, THE TWAIN, Poems of Earth and Ether, published last year (2012). Temporarily unavailable, but second edition coming very shortly. Incidentally, the poem is now entitled: English Languish !!


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Dear Rosy, Thank you so much for your quick and kind response to my comment. And gracious of you to give June the accolades she probably deserves. See, I begin sentences with and. And "but". However, I believe when a writer breaks a rule he should know the rule he's breaking. I'm a fiction writer. One can't write fiction and remain grammatical throughout his work. 

I just watched the movie Conviction with Hilary Swank. There is more obscenity in any single scene than I would use in several years. But these are the people the writer wrote about and he had to present them honestly, as they were.

As for June's attitude, and it was her attitude toward the teaching and learning of the language that bothered me, mostly because that attitude is so ubiquitous in American life. If a child is scolded in school his parents show up the next day threatening the teacher. Petulance. Most likely her views are a little tongue in cheek -- forgive the cliche'. But I sport a chip on my shoulder. (There goes another one.)

Maybe you'd like to check out my blog, Is Grammar Obsolete? I intend to do some more on the subject just to get a lot of it out of my system. I'm about to begin the second book of a trilogy and you could say I'm warming up. I intend to blog on incivility and just plain ugliness -- including cruel and vicious crime -- that has evolved among my fellow citizens in my lifetime. These are major themes in the book already published and the two to come. If I make it.

Again, thanks so much, and if you're still in touch with June -- apologies if any offense was taken. -- Charlie

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Charles, I feel sure...

that June won't be offended by your comments. She is a witty lady and has a tremendous sense of humour, as is demonstrated by the titles of her books: Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies and Mortal Syntax !

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Rosy,  Thanks again for comment on comment. I must confess that the first time I read the retitle of your poem the "languish" in English Languish completely slipped by me. Sometimes I'm a little slow. -- Charlie