The Elements of Eloquence

I want to share a book I read recently that I absolutely loved: The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth.

image: eloquence-cover

My introduction to this book was this tweet: I felt like I was getting a glimpse at the source code that runs English. Not at the syntax and grammar level (though there is a bit of that), but the presentation layer. I got the preview from Amazon and stumbled on this passage:
A poet is not somebody who has great thoughts. That is the menial duty of the philosopher. A poet is somebody who expresses his thoughts, however commonplace they may be, exquisitely. That is the one and only difference between the poet and everybody else.
That passage felt like demystifying a mystical process and from there I was hooked. I ordered the book and read it cover to cover.

Forsyth devotes one chapter to each figure of rhetoric identified by the Ancient Greeks. He describes them as, "...techniques for making a single phrase striking and memorable just by altering the wording." Some figures are familiar friends like alliteration. Some figures like hendiadys evade ease and detection. Some figures work across sentences like these three that start with the same words: anaphora. Of course you don't need to know the figures of rhetoric to use or appreciate them, but knowing how they work can help you employ them strategically.

The most fun aspect for me was the way Forsyth uses each figure to describe that figure throughout each chapter. Identifying each use became something of a puzzle to solve while learning about how puzzles work. Forsyth also frequently gives a prime example of each figure that everyone knows. Then he draws on everything from Shakespeare to poetry to music lyrics to illustrate each one. He demonstrates that rhetorical figures aren't a dusty relic, they're a part of the natural way we use language that we can tune into and appreciate.

It was a joy to read and joy is in need. And like all correct-thinking people, Mark Forsyth has a blog. It's The Inky Fool.

Accepted Themes

Kenneth Rexroth listing accepted themes in early Japanese poetry:
...autumn leaves, falling snow, plum and cherry blossoms, the moon in its phases and season, the rustle of leaves, the songs of cicadas, crickets, frogs, cuckoos, and the uguisu (called by some translators a nightingale), assignations with clandestine lovers, famous beauty spots, court ceremonies, the quiet of the monk's hermitage, the death of rulers, patrons and mistresses, and the poem written by the poet on the eve of his own death...
— From the introduction to One Hundred Poems from the Japanese.

Facing West

Tonight on NPR Robert Siegel did a quick phone interview with Gary Snyder about the first reading of Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl 50 years ago. At the end of the interview Robert asked, "Where are you actually right now?" And Gary responded, "2,000 ft. level of the Western Sierra Nevada Pine Forest, facing west." For some reason that made me laugh.

The World

The world—
Like an elephant's tail
Not passing through the window,
Although no one is there
Holding it back.

- Dogen

Pointy Birds

Pointy Birds

Pointy birds,
oh pointy pointy.
Anoint my head
anointy 'nointy.

- Steve Martin

The purity of the moonlight,
Falling out of the immense sky,
Is so great that it freezes
The water touched by its rays.

- Anonymous
from One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, Kenneth Rexroth

Chocolate Milk

Oh God! It's great!
to have someone fix you
chocolate milk
and to appreciate their doing it!
Even as they stir it
in the kitchen
your mouth is going crazy
for the chocolate milk!
The wonderful chocolate milk!

- Ron Padgett, New & Selected Poems

I don't like chocolate milk. But I like this poem.

Found poetry.

To Be Remo ved

Where the message body contains 'to be removed' or 'to be unsubcribed' or 'to unsubscribe' or 'To remove' or 'unsubscribe at' or 'To be taken off' or 'Removal Instructions' or 'Removes email here' or '"REMOVE" in the subject line' or 'the word REMOVE' or 'To stop future mailings' or 'If you wish to be taken of our list' or 'To be deleted from our mailing list' or 'Opt-out' or 'To be remo ved' or 'delete from list' or 'List Removal' or 'OPT-OUT' or 'to be excluded' or 'To be taken out of our database' or 'stop sending you email' or 'to get removed' or 'REMOVE in the subject line' or 'to receive no further advertisements' or 'no longer wish to receive'
Delete it
    and Mark it as read

I said in my dream
"Am I dreaming?
Do I dream I dream
This uncanny dream?"

- Anonymous Japanese Poem

It's like this:
             There's this bird
And you catch it in your hands
You feel its softness, warmth, its heart
          rapidly beating
But if you keep holding it it's no
          longer a bird
So you open your hands
(Catch it and let it go
                               again and again)

- Wendy Lewis

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