Saturday, February 12, 2011

Language and Reality--Taylor Mali and the Word

I've been out of touch with poetry for a while.  I missed last year's Geraldine R. Dodge festival for the first time in over 16 years and I've not patrolled the web for the hip, spoken-word poets as much as I want to.  Three kids, teaching, union responsibilities and all manners of other things that make the world too much with me

But I have been thinking about language, focusing intensely on what my words say and how I say them.  And I realize something.

I'm a lexicographers pornographic partner. I'm so in love with words and their meanings and their histories that I trot out new words as though they're the bling around my pimp-daddy neck.

In more proper terms, I'm a word snob.

I blame William F. Buckley, Jr.,  William Safire, and Mr. Mark Rupple.  The former could have given a rat's ass about you.  He used all the words he knew, and he knew many, and he used them correctly...with authority.  I know some people think he showed off.  But me?  Hell!  If English has more words than any other language, I say you ought to use them, and you ought to use the right ones in the right places.  Buckley impressed me that way.

Safire always intrigued me with his encyclopedic knowledge of the language.  While I never read many of his columns, the fact that such a job even existed fascinated me, made me think of language as a treasure.

Mark Rupple was my 11th grade American Literature teacher.  He impressed me immediately with his intelligence and knowledge of language.  At some point during that year he told us how he carried around a small notepad so that whenever he encountered a word he didn't know, he wrote it down and taught it to himself.

I've done the same for a long time.

And so I use words, lots of them, and I often have disdain for those who refuse to make themselves understood clearly by using the right words, or who criticize others for "using big words." I know that's wrong.  I hear Mark Twain telling me so--"The works of the great masters are like fine wine.  My works are like water.   Everybody drinks water."  And yet, I'm still using "big words", still spelunking in the Latinate depths of the English language for the roots of meaning that go back so far into the past.

And so, to come to it, finally. . .

Taylor Mali's poem, like, resonates with me.  You know?