The idea, now an adage, that a picture is worth a thousand words, seems to have come from early 20th Century advertising strategies. A picture might be worth more than a thousand words to an illiterate shopper, and advertising must be short and quick and hit hard enough to leave a brand image on the brain. The problem now for advertisers might be there are too many pictures. We are now uploading upwards of 2 billion photos daily to the Internet. If the early 1900’s advertising adage is true, that’s two trillion words, daily. It’s easy to see why a writer struggling to reach a goal of 500 words a day might resort to posting a pic or two. Or simply trade the blog in for an Instagram account. Digitized images are the algae of the Internet.
Robert Creeley said,
or almost said.
What Creeley said
in his poem “The House”
Mud is better
but drooped is good.
For some, grammar might be understood as an attempt to control language, or to control a speaker. But the only way to establish complete control over a language is to kill it, which is probably or nearly impossible, because language possesses, like the planarian, the ability to reform or regenerate from a tiny piece of itself. I point to an object, and that is how grammar works. The object could be the sugar bowl on the kitchen table, the moon, or a running man. I link to it for the purpose of linking you to it also. But first, I have to get your attention. Of course, I can always point to myself, or point to an object by myself, like talking to myself, which might be one origin of poetry. When the objects we point to disappear, or others claim to be unable to see them, we come to the first existential crisis of language, where we find ourselves in grammar school, the subjects of rote repetition in an effort to create memory. In grammar school, we learn to wear a uniform.
We learn to number our clothes. The hat, number 1. Or maybe we start with the shoes, the socks being a subset. First we put on the right sock, then the left, then the right shoe, then the left shoe. Never mind it’s a sunny day and we were thinking what fun it would be to go barefoot. To go barefoot, in grammar school, is one of the first examples of being ungrammatical. We are assigned a seat, a number in a numbered row, alphabetized and numbered in the numbers book. Having a number is essential when everyone looks alike.
So it was with a tremulous motion I finally approached my MS Word file containing my first published novel, “Penina’s Letters,” to correct a few unintended consequences. The first printing had contained an unacceptable number of typos, and the front matter setup has always felt a bit clumsy to me. The chapter listing page, for example, showed the chapter titles but no page numbers. And the ISBN didn’t show on the copyright page. But why the tremolo? Why not just go in and make the changes? I did manage one corrected copy upload, after the first printing back in 2016, ridding the book of most of the obvious errors, mistakes which, it pains me to admit, I had failed to spy with my little proofreading eye. But a few issues remained, as additional readings revealed, but the thought of entering the MS Word file again and resubmitting for revision to CreateSpace for approval with the hope of not making matters worse was all more than I felt up to. Besides, I now had other projects underway that required my attention.
Then, a week or so ago, I was notified that CreateSpace was closing its doors and all texts migrating to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So I took the opportunity to become acquainted with KDP by reworking the front matter of “Penina’s Letters” and fixing a trio of what I recognized as outstanding mistakes.
My first submission of a redo file for KDP’s approval was rejected – something to do with pagination errors. Mercifully, the rejection came within the 24 hours promised, and I went back to work on the Word.doc before motivation waned, resubmitted again, got approval, ordered a proof copy, and voila! No page numbers at all.
Suffice to say, after all that preamble and bramble, that for the past several days I’ve been immersed in a kind of MS Word pagination purgatory. Changes to a text often cancel out other changes, or sit on top of them, burying them below – but that suggests there is a top and a bottom to the thing, and of course there is not.
I got page one to say 1 but could not get the other pages to follow suit. I got every page to say 1. And so on, nothing acceptable. I began to think, rationalizing and trying to come up with some creative solution, why bother paginating at all anyway? Does the common reader really need page numbers? And isn’t a page number a kind of mar on an otherwise illuminated manuscript page? I got page numbers to show, but not in the footer where they belong. I toyed with “different front page,” “link to previous,” “create section break,” erase all and begin again. Deeper and deeper into an MS Word morass I sank. I entered “document,” “paragraph,” the journeyman’s “tools.” Suddenly blank pages and huge gaps in the text began to appear throughout the manuscript. I fixed and corrected and proofed. At one point, I had a file with pagination complete that seemed correctly formatted. I resubmitted yet again to KDP, and the proof file came back still with no page numbers.
I took a break from the project. I remember McLuhan saying something about pagination beginning with the printing press. The fall is into the printing press. Is there a page 1 to the Internet? In a mosaic, one may enter and exit anywhere. Page numbers are useless. There are no pages. There is the infinite scroll – over, under, sideways, down.
“Backwards forwards square and round.
When will it end, when will it end,
When will it end, when will it end,”
the Yardbirds sang.
“We don’t need no stinking page numbers,” I can hear Puck Malone of “Penina’s Letters” saying. But in the end I managed somehow to successfully place page numbers on the outside edge in the footer of even numbered pages, in sequence, every other page. I seemed to recall seeing books numbered only on every other page. I looked through some books. Saul Bellow’s “The Actual” places page numbers only on the odd numbered pages, right edge of page, in the margin, spelled out, in italics: page one. Enough.
Interested readers may utilize the “look inside” feature at Amazon to get an idea of how the new printing of “Penina’s Letters” came out.
I’ve looked everywhere
for the lost words
telling your love for me
in the kitchen compost bin
in the basement of my heart
in the attic of my ass (what
a Fantastic Voyage that was!)
through the crawl space
between my breasts
in the curls of my hair
in the fishnets between my legs
between my toes and under my nails
Alas! nowhere to be found,
she said, subtle armpits open
to the heat of the night
Baby, she went on,
I can’t love you if I can’t
find the right words of love
come back tomorrow or next week
I’ve got the College Dictionary
here and the Bible
and a stack of noir paperbacks
I’ll find your words of love
if it’s the last thing I do
Up my nose, under my eyelids
around and around my ears
maybe stuck in earwax I’m thinking
his words of love where could they be
could someone have stolen them
who would want them
someone else’s words
could they be buried
in the cushions of the couch
lost in the halo of my navel
tangled in the curlers tossed
across my dresser in the old
35 millimeter slide box
in the china cabinet in the corner
(which has not been opened
over a decade of Thanksgivings)
in the medicine chest upstairs
in the hall closet
in the glove box of the Buick
under the rug
in the dirty clothes hamper
Maybe, Sweetie, you told them
too slant, or to another
words of love must be true
if they are to come back to you.
These awkward weedy notes of summer, they steal
water from the subtle artful crafty ones, the ones
crammed with food and hose drenched, and yes,
fruit-bearing they’ll be, and well spent.
The mollycoddle promises a bumper crop this year,
but what will be done with it all?
They can can the coddle, bottle the molly,
boil the gruel for ballet to improve posture,
post this and that here and there without
regard for the rules of a bygone garden.
The cooing of pigeons so quiet,
the stained glass raw golds
color the little nook with amber light.
No words in nature to suffer these weeds,
still birds align in lines that make sense,
the washerwoman counting syllables
come morning the clothes inside out.
And the slug slowing has something to say,
heading under the clinker cool brick.
These appellations June dropped,
in the day squirrels gnaw them,
at night possums come and grab,
and raccoons, and very early
in the morning, just before sunup
now, the coyotes looking for cats up.
Give us the weeds our daily words,
and forgive us our arrears,
for we are hard on hearing,
and we don’t really need
We might want words, why,
I’m not sure, but we need
water, weeds and all, and you,
you have all the words,
more than you need.
- You look at something you believe should be familiar but see something else, something unexpected. A moment of confusion, you are given a start, seeing something new or strange, out of place or off kilter, in place of what usually passes practically unnoticed. Some like that feeling; others do not. But the feeling, whatever it is, passes. You dismiss the experience as a kind of déjà vu as what you expected to see comes into focus and the other vision, the mirage, the mistake, disappears.
- That night, you dream of a chess game, even though you don’t play chess. The chess pieces are friends, neighbors, and relatives. The Queen is a woman who walks by your house daily but never says hi. The King is the friendly dog from across the street, always happy to see you. The Knights are kids riding bicycles. The Castles are bell towers full of birds over empty churches. The Pawns are corporate employees you once supervised, riding a desk all day in a building of sealed windows. In those days, you used to dream of getting up from your desk and throwing open a window, a breeze of fresh air blowing all the papers off the desks, creating a ruckus. You are called down to the Personnel Department and summarily fired.
- You learn a new word, eggcorn. Slips of both the tongue and ears. You make a list of words you frequently misspell, fold the list, and put it into your Moleskin pocket notebook. You save the Moleskin pages for poems that never come. A week later, the Moleskin still empty, you take out your list of frequently misspelled words and throw it away. You make a new list of words you often mishear or mispronounce. You think of getting a dog and naming her faux pas.
- The plumber arrives to fix the pipe that froze in last winter’s silver thaw. Something about him smells familiar. It’s a stale beer odor. It’s late afternoon, a hot summer day, and he must have been out at lunch drinking beer, perhaps in the lot of food carts located down by the creek at the bottom of the neighborhood. You look into the back of his van. An old blue and white striped mattress lines the floor. The sidewalls are cubbyholes full of tools and plumbing parts.
- The power has gone out again, another rolling summer blackout. You light a candle. The phone and Internet are also out. You think absurdly of walking down to the corner to use the pay phone – the pay phone was taken out years ago. The evening is dark and quiet and peaceful, and you decide this is your favorite kind of poetry, the kind that creates a still clearness, and the stars are like rocks on the floor of a shallow, smooth running stream that ebbs and flows with the salt water tides. Suddenly the power comes back on, the fan spins, the radio blaring, the streetlight flooding through the open front window. A door slams. A car starts up. The lights flicker indecisively. Blackouts are only rarely epical.
- A young woman knocks at the door, a canvasser. Lonely for someone to talk to, you invite her inside. You make tea. Her skin is like parchment, full of colorful tattoos, pictures and words. And she has piercings, one in her upper lip, another in her ear, and a tiny diamond on the side of her nose. Her eyebrows are painted black shellac. She comes quickly to the purpose of her mission: she is selling low cost cremation plans. If you buy now, pre-ordering, before you die, you save lots. She’s already been able to help several of your neighbors. Your block is a gold mine of old people.
- You’ve the kids for the day, to babysit, day care. You get out large, thick sheets of brightly painted paper. Everyone takes a pair of scissors and cuts alphabet letters out of the sheets. You string the letters together with clear fish line and hang them from the ceiling with thumb tacks, creating slow moving mobiles that say different things depending on the breeze coming through the open windows. Everyone lies on the floor with pillows and blankets, watching the letters turn this way and that, reading aloud new words that appear.
“Overrated and abused, underrated and reused, hyperbolized and underused, understated and overstated, restated and retracted, excused and double-downed, drowned and rusticated, nailed to a wall and drawn on a scroll, ignored and explored, welcomed and turned away, painted and scrawled, yelled and whispered, tattooed and erased, written down and written up, spelled out in the bottom of a tea cup.”
The above quote is from the comment stream to a previous post: “Bob Dylan & Clarice Lispector: Bewildering, Transfigured & Redeemed.”
The drawing above I made years ago, the paper now yellowing. I wanted to title the drawing “Leaving the City,” or something like that, “City Life,” but the drawing might somehow be appropriately titled “Words,” for the city is constantly in commute, the exchange made with words; our world is filled with words, sounds rising, mixing in the froths and foams – the city yeasts of ambition and commerce, change and exchange, the city a sea of words that act like yeasts, fermenting. Inside each car a radio no doubt adds to the mix, each car an oven full of baking words.
At night, a bread of crusted quiet rises, the din below softening, words breaking apart and falling like shreds of unintelligible graffiti, night words. From a distance, animals contemplate the city scene.
Walking with another in the country, on a path, words spoken have a pronounced different quality than words spoken walking on a sidewalk on a busy city day.
The characters in the foreground of the drawing might be workers in an urban call center. The fellows in the bottom right might be stumbling or sneaking home from a local pub.
“Words are overrated,” the commenter had said to the Dylan & Lispector post. No doubt, I thought, but more, and replied with the comment quoted above, to which the commenter then replied, “Ja, just so.” And, there you have it. Talk on.