Auld Lang Syne

Friday, November 11, 2011

On Veterans Day

Wagering the Future

In deep Ardennes snow, with an idea
of a better future, growing boys
in men's uniforms waged war.
No games in the backyard, no plastic
army men, this was the Real McCoy.

War is a bet on the margin;
no guarantee of a big payoff, a win
not always a win. When the call comes
the wagers are placed, the ante
always bigger than expected.

So it was for us, not yet born
when our fathers marched off to war.
The margin bet has been called:
time to pay up, or to collect the prize.
For some, the usurer knocks at the door.

from Daughter of the Ardennes Forest, Main Street Rag, 2007

On this Veterans Day, I dedicate (again) my poems of war and PTSD to my father, Pvt. Charles J. Willette. I honor his service and suffering and stop to recall on his behalf how things were in the Battle of the Bulge, and how they have gotten for young men of war today. We should all remember so others will not forget.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Using the Em Dash (long dash)

Using the Em dash (long dash)

Em dashes — called this because they resemble the width of the character m — are used for emphasis or interruption. They can be used on their own or in pairs to offset a word or phrase. Note these examples:

Many people have trouble deciding on which diet to follow — one which emphasizes carb control and exercise or one which emphasize calorie control.

Many people have trouble choosing a life partner — one who is physically appealing or one whose values are appealing — because they have little sense of what makes a relationship work.

The double hyphen (--) is sometimes used instead of the em dash. This is often the case for people who do not know how to create an em dash using their word processing program. One should determine how to do this and not use the double hyphen as it looks amateurish.

Using the long dash, the em dash, is some what a personal choice but there are considerations to be made before using it. In the case of poetry, the decision to use the em dash is perhaps more important than in prose. Of course any formal writing ought to have fewer odd bits of punctuation than any informal writing. One thing that web writing has wrought is a casualness over issues of punctuation. This is a dangerous trap for serious literary writers of all genres. Avoiding dashes, semicolons, and ellipses is best unless the writer is adept at punctuation and has a specific purpose for using these somewhat renegade forms.

Here are some suggestions for considering whether or not to use the em dash in your writing:

1. Dashes are not to be used commonly. If your paper or poems have multiple dashes, make sure to check them over and see whether they were used correctly and appropriately or not. Dashes most definitely ought to be used SPARINGLY.

2. Rule of thumb: If you have a dash where a comma would work, use the comma, for pete's sake, use the comma!

3. If you use a dash toward the end of a sentence, do not put an ending dash right before the period. In poetry, do not use a dash before any other punctuation or just after any other punctuation. You may wish to end a line with the em dash, but if a comma will do, use the comma!

4. One should not replace commas being used for an appositive with dashes. Simply because it’s an interruption, doesn’t mean a dash belongs there. Emily Dickinson used dashes in most surprising ways; it became “her style” in a sense. Most of us do not use dashes to highlight a personal style. We use them because we are tentative about other punctuation. (NOTE: some poets use the ellipsis profusely for the same reason.)

5. Use dashes instead of parentheses when the note you are making is more connected to the initial sentence, as parentheses usually indicate a more separate or personal thought. Use dashes, instead of commas, when the note breaks up the flow of a sentence, as commas are typically used for an item that fits in more.

6. When using a dash in terms of explanations or listings, i.e. in a formal paper, it is recommended to rearrange the sentence so that a colon could be used instead. This is especially true in poetry. Dashes tend to interrupt the sentence (line), which is not the desired tone of a formal paper or formal verse. In poetry, the interruption is best done with white space or commas.

7. Most commonly, a dash connects an independent clause with another, with a separate or interrupting thought plus a conjunction like or, but, yet, as, for, and after the second dash.

8. The dash works somewhat like parentheses or commas, but it is used where stronger punctuation is needed. It is used to connect an independent clause with the 'interrupting' thought:

    1. Independent clause — thought — independent clause.
    2. Independent clause — thought.

9. Using dashes in poetry makes a visual difference for the reader. It is a “stopper” which makes the reader pause for a longer time than a comma or even a parenthesis. Ask ourself if you want the reader focused so hard on the phrase or material within the dashes that he/she stops to ponder that at the possible expense of the rest of the line or stanza.

For me, a long dash is a punctuation mark of last resort in most cases. I almost NEVER use them in pairs. I admit to a certain bias (see #9 above) and avoid the appearance of arbitrariness or lack of understanding of punctuation. When asked to explain this stance, I have to stop and think from a grammatical point of view just why. I am so used to avoidance of this piece of punctuation that it is as normal as breathing to me. But hopefully you will have gained a bit of insight here as I waded through serious explanations.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Time changes, or does it?

Early last evening I went around changing clocks: watches, microwave, stove, table clock, alarm clock. I didn't change my electronics since those would change themselves. How is that? What big switch in the ether zaps all our computers with the correct (?) time at the given moment? Does time really go back or forward in one fell swoop?

I hate time change days. It is artificial. It was a plan devised for an agrarian society to aid in harvesting crops and planting seasons. I don't feel any different in the morning one way or another. I don't experience gaining or losing an hour of sleep. Of course that may be due to the fact that I don't sleep like most people, with a set bedtime or rising hour. I never have been that kind of a sleeper. I am fond of the long afternoon nap and the late night writing session. I am not an early "getter-upper" by any means.

Native culture does not operate on linear time. That is another "issue" for me. I don't see time as a "from here to there" thing at all. This view (circular and concurrent) makes it hard for me sometimes. It is hard to fit myself into a calendar world. I do well with it only because I force myself. Being "retired" is somewhat of a help in that I don't have to show up to a job on a specific day and at a specific time. I can ebb and flow. I like ebbing. I like flowing.

Having said that, certain dates are on my mind, like birthdays and holidays and special anniversary dates. Again, I think this is because I have fairly well assimilated to that kind of living. But I really FEEL time easing or gaining strength with the seasons. Imagine how hard it was for me living in the CA desert where the seasons were vague things, marked by subtle changes rather than first or last snow, leaves changing and falling, birds arriving or departing, trees falling asleep or waking. It was awful in many ways and I felt discombobulated most of the time. I am grateful for the seasons and my whole body feel more at peace with the natural world in charge.

I have a photo of myself (my feet) straddling the "time line" at Greenwich. It is one of my favorite photos of me: proof to me that I can be everywhere at once. Freaky and fun. I like crossing the International Date Line, the Continental Divide. I'd love to cross the Equator (minus the hazing rituals). Time. Place. Fascinating.

How does this play into my writing? It creates a volume of sensory experiences that figure heavily into topic and approach. I have written much more (and more successfully) since coming home to native ground where nature is active in my body and my psyche. I am attuned to temperature changes and weather and environs. I have more energy for writing here. I feel more free to express what I see, hear, and feel of my surroundings. I am in sync with my space and place. Ahhh, feels so good.

Robert Frost did not want to be known as a "nature poet" (or so it is rumored). I am happy if someone describes me thusly. Nature, place. That is my thing. But maybe a time poet too. I am interested in what happens when. I like to consider the changes that take place in people and places over the curve of the circle of time. I like to write about those changes.

So tell me, followers and readers, what about time in your life and in your writing??? And did you feel the falling back that supposedly happened in the middle of the "night" as proscribed by the Timekeeper?