LOVING LANGUAGE and LINGUISTICS

I just love linguists, how they listen and count and interview and try to make sense of language, which is filled with sense but also with nonsense and no sense whatsoever. (One of my favorite linguists is quick to point out that his middle name is Jude, patron saint of lost causes.) I should qualify that I love descriptive linguists, the ones who are just trying to figure out what the heck is going on and not prescriptive linguists, especially  the ones on Facebook, the Mrs. Grundys intent on catching our every subject verb agreement. Not that I don't like to have perfect subject-verb agreement and to slip in the subjunctive at the appropriate moment, well, sometimes I get busy lol-ing and I mess up.

Right now, I am in love with Gretchen McCulloch and her book, Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. Because her subtitle notwithstanding, McCulloch is not so much setting down rules in the usual sense, but trying to make sense of emails and tweets and Facebook posts.  By
the first chapter, I had learned a new word, keymash, which she defines as "that haphazard mashing of fingers against the keyboard to signal a feeling so intense that you can't possibly type real words....[and] might look something like 'asdljklgafdljk.'" And then, McCullouch goes on to give five "patterns" that keymash tends to have beginning with they usually begin with "a." Wow, a paragraph ago, I didn't know what a keymash was, and now, I know some of its "rules," which as in all things language, are all preceded by "almost always" or "usually." Like i before  e except [insert 3 million extra rules and exceptions here.) See, I like that about language. Exceptions. Almosts. Usuallys. Don't count on it, buster.

Anyhow, that was chapter one, "Informal Writing." Chapter two "Language and Society," begins with one of my favorite topics, "Dialects." (Check it out: fun history of its beginnings in the 18th century Germany and France.) The author asks, "Does it ever feel like your family...speaks its very own dialect?" Why, yes, yes it does. And decades ago, I wrote about it for a WVIZ show called, "Signature," which featured brief personal essays read by local authors. I myself read several on air, but the show was cancelled before I ever got to spout this one. And though my parents are dead and my siblings barely speak to me, these words remain true, even though I haven't read Garp since 1979, even now in the age of the Internet, although not Because Internet:

Kendigese was our dialect of Familish, a variation of English understood only within a particular family. In the movie Garp, the terms "undertoad" and "gradual student" distinguish  the Garpese dialect of Familish. 

Kendigese was particularly helpful at the table. If asked to pass a roll and not "the creepled kaind" pass a cloverleaf, a plump one, not a mangled one. This expression originated with my mother's childhood neighbor, Mrs. Kostoff, a Bulgarian, who coined another of our phrases, "three handkerchiefuls." In a sentence like, "This TCM movies is a three handkerchiefuls," it means that the movie jerked a lot of tears out of you. And don't be telling me about the proper "handerchiefsful." This is our dialect's rules now.

If you were asked to pass something that was "kittyunkwise," from  you, that would be on a diagonal more acute than if you were told it was "cattycornered," the usual word for a diagonal. 

Or my father might laughingly shout, "Howlda moulda fresch dein zoup," which he told us his father shouted at the table when his brood of 13 got going, and it meant, "Hush up and eat your soup." My grandfather was Pennsylvania Dutch, and when my sister took German, she learned how very far that phrase is from hushing and soup. And since we shouted it as likely during dessert as soup, it really was a non sequitur.

As an aside, my mother could have been the keynote speaker  at a non sequitur convention. She would spout baffling aphorisms like "time is time" and "money is money" at untimely and uneconomical places in the conversation. 

McCulloch notes that many family dialects are inspired by the children, as with my friend Kate's family expression, "se la vache," French for "such is the cow,"
 which was one of the children's renderings of her father's response, "se la vie," when the children were whining in self-pity."


Kendigese's unsympathetic response to children's perpetual question, "Why?" (pronounced whyyyyyeeee? Close, now do it while you whine) was"Why don't toads have wings?" which short for "If toads have wings, they wouldn't bump their butt when they jump, but they do bump their butt because they don't have wings is why.")

There are other Kendigeses. Heresickness is one. "Homesickness" means to miss home, what happens to you when you come from a home you love, and it can happen in the best of places, even staying overnight at Grandma's, but "heresickness" well that is being in a miserable place. A "thing" is just a thing, but a "dingus" is at thing which my father told us (in adulthood, over the phone) to lift, turn, or relight, and when we did, whatever was not working, would suddenly work. A "good time" is a good time, but a "laughy time" in a fun time, and that comes out of my memory for the first time I ever remember coining a word, when I was 3 or 4 years old.

I don't have time right now to provide an unabridged dictionary of Kendigese, because as Mom used to say, time is time. (And all you old Clevelanders remember what Capt. Penny said about what Mom said.) Besides my goal here is not to teach my dialect but to talk you into listening to your own and your friends' and your in-laws'. If you are confronted by what you think is someone's Familish, ask for the meaning and etymology. Speakers of Familish are bilingual, and their translation might be quite laughy. 

It will not surprise parents of teens to learn that McCulloch notes that high school is the place where kids really note small social details, like who is going out with whom and who is wearing what and --get this-- vowels. Check out her paragraph on Detroit high school students' vowels.

Meanwhile, I have to finish chapter two. I can hardly wait for chapter five, 
emojis!
 

Oops!  I meant -------------->

HOME AGAIN and AGAIN

I started this blog in fall of 2011, just as I was coming "Home Again," to the home I was born and raised in, after nearly 40 years of living elsewhere. I came, with the help of my husband, Paul Beauvais, to buy my father's house so Dad could come home to it once or twice a week from Assisted Living. The move didn't help our retirement funds, but it sure created wonderful moments for the last eight years of Dad's life. When he died, just days after his 94th birthday this past March, I felt saddened of course, but deeply at peace for what we had accomplished. Together, we three had really learned to "number our days." I learned about Dad, about us, about dementia, and about aging in America, and I am grateful for those days. 

In the following months, there was a memorial service to plan and execute with a bagpiper and military funeral honors (which Dad had asked for) by two soldiers from Wright Patterson AFB and
Sippo Lake in autumn
a 21 gun salute by our local VFW. Although we held off till the end of April, the small crowd of us at the cemetery had to stand under a small white tent as freezing rain fell, fairly miserable conditions. I know Dad would have said what he always said when you were stuck with a bad situation: "What are you gonna do?" (Go on.) We had the military honors, the 23rd Psalm, the bagpipe, "Amazing Grace." Several people said afterward it was the most moving memorial they had been through. Go figure. 


Afterwards, we went to Sippo Lake, where
Dad had put in so much recreational time, skating and hiking with us as children, and so much volunteer time with the neighbors. At the Marina clubhouse, we had the "bereavement dinner," of Dad's dreams including many many pies home-baked by friends and family. A lunch catered by a high school friend's business. Many people got up and spoke informally and warmly about Dad.


And then, as I've written in a poem recently: "I myself ask what I’ve done with the hours/I used to spend with you, weekly doctor visits/ before stopping for pie, the real event..." Summer seemed to go by so very fast, but then, it always does, like weekends. 

As a teacher for over 40 years, the new year always seems to begin in fall for me. So I am back planning two writing activities in Cleveland, preparing to be a poet in the schools-- heading off to see about first graders at Sandy Valley this week. I am back to sending poems out, being rejected at an amazing rate, and for the first time in ages, I am sending out my family musical, Talk to the Moon, getting requests for synopsis and scripts. (Anyone need a play to produce? Message me!)

This weekend, Paul and I went house hunting in Cleveland for the third time in our lives. We didn't find the house of our dreams yet. We never have because we don't have a dream house. We've made a home of wherever we have lighted-- which has been a lot of places. The term "real" estate just seems very humorous to me. (I've been laughing about real estate terms with my friend Peter who has been waiting nine months just to hear back on his bid to buy a place that is a "short sale." Hahahaha.) We plan to try again. Cleveland has more art museum and orchestra, more poetry readings and poets and writers. (And for Paul, the Beachland Ballroom, for starters.) Here we have woods and lake a short walk away, a well-built house small enough to care for, lower taxes and easy driving...except for all the driving to Cleveland. So we'll see where we are come winter.

Meanwhile, our front porch these days is beginning to look like the photo above that I took five years ago: the impatiens are played out, the mums are up, the pumpkins out. I see my reflection in the door, taking a picture of me taking a picture of my home....again.  

 But though I have learned to number my days, I hadn't gotten back to the blog till today. And if you thought I was getting ready to say that I am letting go of the blog, then, I I have to say, I am not. I am back, still "Home Again," wherever that is, trying to share here a few informal words in prose a few times a month about poems and homes. Again. 

 Teach us how to number our days

 

CUTTING UP WITH CANTON KIDS

I've signed on to do some Visiting Writer gigs for Stark County's Smart Arts (SmARTS), and today, I womaned a table at the annual arts festival for kids at the Canton Cultural Center-- a free day of art making and performing.

My table was about making the "Cut-Up" poem. The idea is that words are cut out of a text-- in my case today, the The New York Times monthly Kids Section--and put into a container (I used envelopes). Each poet pulls the words out and makes a poem of them. Glue sticks keep them in place, and markers provide extra words and illustrations. Many thanks for Harter School teacher Tina Riley, who assisted.

Aside for adults: The form was inspired by the 1920's Dadaists and especially, Tristan Tzara. (He's a hysterically funny character in Tom Stoppard's Travesties. He put the words into his hat, forgets, puts the hat on and sends words fluttering all over. He's in love with a librarian whom, he fears, "thinks of me as nothing but a belle litterer.")


Below are some of the kids and parents who came by and cut up with me. (I have to say, the parents are the real cut-ups.) This was pitched for fifth graders, but many 1st through 4th grade kids did great, too, and the kindergartners just ran bright markers over the page happily. One of the things I love about this project is that it's writing as messiness. So many kids are afraid to "goof up" on paper. These poems aren't about neatness but wildness. It was a good day. If you are interested in trying an online version of this, here is a tool you can use:

http://www.languageisavirus.com/cutupmachine.php#.XHswNi17nyE

And here is another:
https://stickbucket.com/cut-up-technique-generator/

And here are the kids at work and their works:




Playground is fun for familys because it good./The thing that makes you dizzy is a tire swing. - 1st grader and Dad ---->





Butterfly discover dreams/appreciate a good story/fly high/ Are you going to try it?

The hat is different parts inside


Kids interested in sledding & cats. 💖

Happy dogs make best friends

You Smile BIG! 
3 Sisters, 3 Poems

The community has an opinion about everything

Speak what you feel because the world is awesome.

Dad LOVED this word selection: panthers, habitat, etc.

An acrostic for her sister Ava, a swimmer
So you have cheese tomorrow? I said, no cheese..- 1st grade




FEBRUARY, How Hard Can Poetry Be?

I know that April is National Poetry Month, but for me, this February seems like my poetry month. 

Writer in the Schools


First, on February 1st, I finished up a visiting poet gig with fifth graders at St. Peter's School in Canton, and on February
Lillian and Dorothy Gish
13th, I began another with Massillon's Franklin School third graders. While I am at it, I am reading up on the history of Massillon, and I learned that Franklin is the namesake of an older Franklin School in Massillon, where the Gish Sisters attended-- when they were in school rather than onstage.

It's been awhile since I have done Writer in the School work, and I shouldn't because I spend way too much time worrying about it and planning, but it is such a good reminder of what fun poetry is. At the end of the first class at Franklin, three children came up and hugged me-- which, as I recall being told, we are not supposed to do in school, but clearly they had not gotten that memo.

And what a different response I got  from the professional Scottish writer who read in Cleveland this month. During Q and A, I asked him what poets he reads. Looking stunned, he said, "Oh poetry is just so hard, so hard." His brow furrowed, and then, "But I love Van Morrison, and songs are poetry, right? I mean Dylan has won the Nobel, and Leonard Cohen." Well, me too. I love Leonard Cohen, and "Brown Eyed Girl" is very singable. But he couldn't even name Carol Ann Duffy? She's the British Poet Laureate from Scotland who has written:

Yes, I think a poem is a spell of kinds
that keeps things living in a written line,
whatever's lost or leaving--lock of rhyme-- 
and so I write and write and write your name.

That just doesn't seem that difficult to me. The children have been reading poems by Christina Rosetti, Carl Sandburg, and Alexander Pope (they thought he was a stitch), and by lesser known contemporary poets, children's poets, and children their own age, and so far, they don't seem to find any of them so difficult.

Read + Write: 30 Days of Poetry


Also, on February 4th, I turned in copy for "Read + Write: 30 Days of Poetry," a blog of sorts that I curate for National Poetry Month at the Cuyahoga County Public Library. Now into its sixth year, beginning in April, the blog presents a poem a day by a published poet from one of seven Northeast Ohio counties. The library sends out an email every day with a link to the poem of the day, along with a prompt, and since we are going on six years now, with no repeats (except for one accidental repeat on my part), we are on our 180th poet this year. I don't think there are many regions of this country where we'd have so many so good poets. (Russia, yet. Nicaragua, yes. The U.S.? Not so sure. But Cuyahoga-- yes!) The poets must have had enough formal publications to be accepted by Poets & Writers, so they all have achieved a level of professionalism. This year, we end with a poem by Leila Chatti, the  Annisfield Wolf Fellow at Cleveland State, and smack in the middle of the month, there is a poem by Charles Malone, "Poetry in the Schools," which has "a bit of piracy in it" as many works written under the influence of children do have.

If I am going to steal any of the lines from the children at Franklin, it may have to be from the child who is just smitten with Godzilla, whom I have yet to deploy in the poem. And such deployment, huh?

If you are signed up to receive the emails for "Read + Write," be looking for the first on April 1st-- and it is no joke. If you aren't signed up yet, you can sign up to receive a writing prompt and a daily poem by a Northeast Ohio poet by signing up here.

My Poet Friends Publish



In addition, this month I've received and read two terrific books of poetry by my friends Don Cellini and Laura Weldon.

Don Cellini is the translator of the bilingual Historia Solar/ Solar History by the Latin American poet Jair Cortes. Cortes has clearly read a lot of science and modernist American poets Eliot, Pound, and Williams, and his poetry can seem hermetic at times. No problem for me or third graders, but just so you know. Don has spent a lot of his poetry life translating Mexican poets, in addition to writing his own poems, some of which you can find at his website linked above, and Cortes' work is lucky to have him.

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of a second book of poetry titled Blackbird which Susan F. Glassmeyer has nailed when she says, "Her poems blossom from an inherent curiosity and grow strong under her compassionate treatment of the subject matter. Such fresh images and heartfelt insights move me to be a better writer." We talk about "voice" in poetry, and Laura's poetry voice is absolutely one with her own voice, as in these lines from the last poem in the book "Anything, Everything:"

"Find everything you're looking for?" a clerk asks    
and I say, "I'm still looking for world peace."

Laura stuns readers, just like she stuns clerks, with sweet phrases whose horrid opposites we've grown inured to. Her very clear natural images, are the ones that we've been ignoring, and suddenly, we can see them for all they are worth, like the crying baby stunned into silence by the grandfather who carries it outside into nature to really see grass, and "trees, birds, rain.".

Finally, for me...

...and this is the kick for my own poetry month-- I decided to take the challenge to collect 100 rejections in 2019. Since literary rejection is my forte, this just meant I had to send more out than usual and not that I'd have to try for rejection. However, in a curious reversal, so far into the year, I've had one rejection and five acceptances. Go figure. I'd call it reverse psychology accept there has been no psychology involved, just steeling myself to do all the copying and pasting and emailing and posting to Submittable and noting on cards where things are going.

I'm also back at blogging, once a week, home again. Hope to see you next Monday.