wHy Is IT tHAt,/ if e.e. cummings WerE To wrITe THIs,/ it WouLD Be conSIDereD gReAT POEtry,/ but If I WEre tO WrITe thIS,/ iT WoUld BE ConSIDEred A GrEAt wasTE/ oF PapER?
The irony of this bit, of course, only works if readers are familiar with e.e. cummings. For those who aren't, which, frankly, is probably everyone who wasn't an English major in college, here's the Clay's Notes version:
e.e. cummings was a 20th Century American poet who spurned such silly, arbitrary conventions as punctuation and spelling.
Cummings apparently thought that literary greatness could be achieved without worrying about whether proper nouns are capitalized, or whether there's a period where there should be a comma, and so forth. The editors of many anthologies of American literature apparently think so, too.
I've always wondered how certain works make the "canon" n the body of literature that is considered must-read for students of the subject. Who decides that Thomas Hardy's "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" is more worthy of the name "classic" than, say, John Grisham's "The Firm."
Sometimes I think it's related to what I like to call the "sleep factor." If a person can get through the first 30 pages of the book without falling asleep, regardless of the time of day and the amount of sleep he has had previously, it is not a classic.
But I digress (which, by the way, is another tactic of the writers of the classics n so that a landscape which might be described in a couple of sentences ends up taking two chapters).
I ran across the "poem" that begins this column as I was cleaning out a box at my parents' new house. The box had come over from the old house, and it was my assignment to identify its contents and decide a place for them.
I can only assume that I wrote the aforementioned piece: a. for an assignment; b. when I was really bored and had nothing else to do; or c. when I had plenty to do n such as a paper that was due the next day n but found it much more amusing to write satirical modern poetry.
I'm 99.5 percent sure it was (c). Whatever the case, the poem reminded me of a column I did at the White County News-Telegraph, where I used to work.
It was headlined, "Vacationing in style," and I wrote it just before I left for vacation one year n kind of like I'm writing this one, come to think of it.
Anyway, in it I experimented with various styles of writing one doesn't normally see in the newspaper n modern poetry, stream of consciousness, even Elizabethan theater (think Shakespeare).
I can't do it justice here, but the Elizabethan section went something like this:
Columnist: Oh, that these syllables would burst forth from my brain with the similitude of a bare bodkin!
Reader: What's a bodkin?
It's that kind of hilarity that sells millions of books, dear reader. If ever I publish "Clay Wilson's Greatest Hits," that column will surely be included.
My book, admittedly, will probably never make it into the canon. And excerpts from it will probably not show up in college literature anthologies.
But at least it will be properly capitalized.
Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.