Category Archives: Alexander Pope

The Ultimate Essai

A few years ago, I read an article in a home-school journal on writing as a subject. According to the author, who taught at the university level at the same time that she homeschooled her children, the only important writing skill to pass on to students was the ubiquitous five-paragraph essay. In this theory of hers, poetry was unimportant because “children could just learn it on their own.” Creative writing of any sort was relegated to the child hobbyist. Only the didactic, robotic five-paragraph essay would rescue a seaworthy child and carry her through the heaving waters of college.

The article infuriated me and, as I usually do, I wrote a rebuttal letter in my head that I never sent. In the last several days, I’ve pondered what it means to write memoir and, in so doing, I recalled that little piece of editorial oddness. I asked myself the typical ranting, blood-letting questions [in which my mind bleeds out from lecherous frustration]: did that home-school teacher/professor not study history? Did she not understand rhetoric? Did she not understand that poems, in their more traditional English usage, could be called essays? If Alexander Pope had time-traveled to the oughts through a Newtonian Time Telescope, he might have had a thing or two to explain to this so-called educator.

First of all, he might have explained that poetry has a long and beautiful history. Poetry takes many forms and involves the use of complex thought and movement, all wrapped up in smart rhetoric and carefully meted rhythm. Next, he might have whipped out a copy or two of his poetic essays: Essay on Man or Essay on Criticism. When the educator inevitably shook her head at him, she might have cried, “But the author asserts opinions! And these opinions aren’t in five paragraphs! I can’t even count how many stanzas there are. And what do you call that rhyme scheme?” After the expected faint of the modern woman, Pope might have thought her unworthy, but, still, he might have given her a rundown of heroic couplets, because, after all, the author of them must have been heroic, himself.

“But who are you–you hunchbacked toad?!” the professor might have spluttered.

And it really might have been been Pope who shot through the Newtonian Time Telescope, but what if–instead–an aged Montaigne had approached a young Galileo and said, “Say there, Sonny, would you transport me to the late 17th C with your totally awesome quantum kinematics?” And then, perhaps, it might have been Montaigne who flew through time and space via the Newtonian Time Telescope [once he’d landed in Newton’s cave and introduced himself].

I’m certain Montaigne would have immediately set pen to paper and ascribed his personal feelings, musings, and ideas on 21st C life. Then he would have pronounced them essays. And why do I think he would have done such a preposterous thing? Montaigne invented the term. Back in his day, the 16th C, he called his attempts to understand the world essays [which, in his language, meant exactly that–essai, attempt].

What is my point in all this, aside from discovering how many times I can use the brand name Newtonian Time Telescope™ in as short of space as possible? Isn’t that what it’s all about, anyway–compression? In our modern education system, we’ve compressed the definition of essay into a tight, five-paragraph box that doesn’t simply contain condensed language, but condensed or compressed ideas. The landscape of ideas should involve expansion, feeling, rhetoric, and maybe even rhyme. When we insist that our children stop writing their essays in heroic couplets, as they are wont to do, we are limiting their thinking powers [all right, I did this when I was in the 8th grade, but only once, and the teacher completely ignored my rhymed lines. Or maybe she didn’t notice–and so much for my hard work].

This was meant to be an article on the nature of memoir, which, to me, resembles the original essence of essai. How Alexander Pope worked his little hunchbacked frame into it, I’ve no idea, but probably it was through the Newtonian Time Telescope. The Galilean Quantum Kinetic machine was pretty much the opposite of de rigueur by Pope’s time [so sue me. I couldn’t think of a stylish antonym].

Good memoirs are connected thoughts–essays–of a unique person’s experiences. In a well-written memoir, the reader sees the world anew through the eyes of the memoirist, through a narrative that stirs the heart and awakens the mind. And for that, I love memoirs, am, in fact, addicted to them. I have no desire to write them for publication because this blog is already the chronicling of my mind. This is it. This is my memoir, world! I’m holding to the Montaignesque tradition with my little corner of the internet. I’ll leave the five paragraph jobs for yawning professors.

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A Break to Ask Your Advice

I was kept busy all day yesterday, so I apologize for not posting a new chapter of my New Mexico Noir. If I were a more diligent person, I would have had it ready to post ahead of time. But I’m not. Actually, what I am is a busy lady with a husband, four children, family obligations to those outside my immediate family, a church family, friends. . .

Before I ask for your sage advice, dearest readers, I would like to make a comment. I find it telling that whenever I post something I find comical on my blog, nobody responds. Like this, for example. I thought this post was hilarious, but the only person who agreed with me was my dearest husband, and who knows what ulterior motives he had for calling me brilliant.

I guess it’s because my sense of humor is way out in left field. I should think of this as a warning that I’m probably not the best person to be writing humor. Still, though, I did want my reading audience to know the humor of zeugma. You see, the poem I posted last Friday was meant to be humorous. Does anybody know what zeugma is? I’ll reward you with my undying blogging devotion if you not only look up it up, but make up a good one and post it in the comments section. Oh, and no stealing from Pope. That’s not allowed. Plus, I’ll recognize it right off the bat because of my already existing undying devotion to Pope’s verses.

All right, then, onward to my begging asking nicely for advice:  Six months ago, I sent out a query to the agent who was on the top of my list of best agents to query.  I did not expect that she would request my manuscript.  Because she did, and she was my top choice, I stopped sending out queries.  I’d only sent out four, and the others came back with rejections.  Six months later, I’ve written the sequel to the book I’d queried (and, no, I didn’t know at the time that there would be a sequel.  It just came to me suddenly, and I had to write it.)  Now, I suspect that I should start querying again.

What do you think?  Should I start querying other agents?  Should I write the agent a polite e-mail telling her that I’ll be querying other agents?  What would you do?

So, send me a zeugma or some sage advice.  Either one would relieve my heart or bring me joy.

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Midnight in the Garden of Zeugma

Portrait_of_Alexander_Pope

This poem is dedicated to the amazing and wonderful Maria DeBlassie and, of course, Alexander Pope.

Lucia stepped out to gather her rows,
wisps of formed phrases and gentle bon mots,
and the vegetables ripe for the picking:
crooknecks of smiles, and snap-peas clicking
wind-aching chives and chimes round the barrows,
following paths of flax through the yarrow.

Inside her head the gloom was gathering
zest and lovage and herbs for ravening:
How do you do; how fares the night for you?
How fair the garden when the moon creeps through.
Her feet gathered speed with the brooding clouds,
no room in her basket for plucking shrouds.

Back inside her house of stones, the door slammed;
she dropped the basket, spilling out her drams,
her oaths, her thoughts: outside the dust and sky;
what gathered spilled itself, suspended time,
until the tears of love had spent themselves
with time, ill-spent, and she had placed them on shelves.

The storm, once spent, broke open clearer skies
and the bank, where water surged toward the light.
Lucia stepped forth one more time for herbs,
her feet quick along the same sodden turf,
her ideas and verbs scattered to the wind,
his grave – love’s grave was gravity to mind.

Lucia gathered gravity’s first fruits,
what the storm had grasped and flung along the route:
grasping roots for gasping maiden fancy,
while light gave gravity and brilliancy
to golden hair that spilled toward his grave,
her tears tucked on shelves, or deeply interred caves.

How do you do; how fares the night for you?
How fair the garden when the moon creeps through —
wisps of formed phrases and not-so bon mots
gathered, tumultuous, inside her rows.
She laid down the yarrow, flax and smiles,
a chance to cloak her misery with guile.

Her basket emptied; yet again her heart,
she walked toward the water in the dark;
Her foot first struck the cold along the bank
and, next, her heart was filled with water, cold, dank;
the moon crept through and spilled on grassy caves,
and chives chimed dancing over both their graves.

pope'sgrotto

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Copper Rising

 My copper levels have been rising lately, and with it comes ire,  and emotions that change from moment to moment.  A person with such moodiness and splenetic irritability might have once been called mercurial, but I call it the Copper Personality.  Thankfully, my Copper Rising ways have little to do with Roman gods, but with heavy metal in the brain (I’m not sure ‘thankfully’ was the proper adverb).

As you will see in my profile, I love studying the British enlightenment.  Within this epoch, my favorite decades were those in the late 17th C and early 18th C.  I love the contrasts and the oppositions working side by side in the British people: at once rational and emotional, puritanical and dirty, Christian and pagan.  Yes, oddly, that last one is quite true.  Look at my favorite poet, for example: Alexander Pope.  He was a Catholic (another force of opposition, working in a Protestant society), yet his poetry was just as influenced by the Latin and Greek classics as any other learned man of his time.  And, in that, you will find another oddity; Pope was mostly self-taught due to the restrictions on Catholics in his day.  This is part of his mock heroic in The Rape of the Lock:

No common weapons in their hands are found, 
Like Gods they fight, nor dread a mortal wound. 
So when bold Homer makes the Gods engage,                       45 
And heav’nly breasts with human passions rage; 
‘Gainst Pallas, Mars; Latona, Hermes arms; 
And all Olympus rings with loud alarms: 
Jove’s thunder roars, heav’n trembles all around, 
Blue Neptune storms, the bellowing deeps resound:               50 
Earth shakes her nodding tow’rs, the ground gives way. 
And the pale ghosts start at the flash of day! (copied from here)

See what I mean?  The battle of the sexes between British youths is likened to a battle between Roman and/or Greek deities.  The Greek god, Hermes, later became the Roman god, Mercury, who, after syncretism in British society, became a popular British god.  Roman influence on British society has literally lasted for century, and is evident in philosophical ideals as well as language.

So, when I sense that my copper is rising, I feel that I am a character out of Pope’s mock heroic, even though my mercurial nature has a scientific basis.  I am allergic to copper; it is my kryptonite.  The copper alloy in jewelry leaves me red and heated; beans and chocolate and avocados burn bright rashes on my skin.  And forget nutritional yeast, that coppery devil!  Before I realized I had trouble with copper, I used to sprinkle it in tomato juice or on top of soup for an energy boost.  After a while, one taste of it made me feel as if somebody had slammed me on the head with a sledge hammer.

By extension, zinc is my friend.  If I take zinc, my rashes disappear and my emotions even out.  And then I think I can get away with eating nuts and seeds and beans and chocolate and other high-copper foods.  And then my copper levels rise, and I’m a miserable wretch.  Although I’ve never consulted a doctor about taking zinc, it has literally been my lifesaver (and of my youngest child, but that is another story).  I’ve tried talking to doctors.  I really have.  They won’t listen.  They prescribe cortisone for the rashes and walk away.  On my last attempt with a doctor, I wouldn’t accept the cortisone and told her I wanted her to actually DO something–oh, you know, like a lab test for copper and zinc levels–and managed to get in a yelling match with her, in which she shouted at me, “There’s not a single test I can do that will tell me why you have those rashes.”

Don’t yell at a Mercurial, Copper Personality, Poet type.  Just don’t.  Trust me.  It’s not worth it.  I left her office that day and have never been back.  Nor will I ever visit a doctor again unless I am on my death bed, and my husband insists.   

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