After reading a long, unsparing piece on The Elements of Style this morning, I found myself hung up on a sentence in a long, reverent New York Times profile of the poet Frederick Seidel. The context for this sentence: whether poems ought to include references to expensive hotels and restaurants and rare motorcycles:
The poetic propriety of such inclusions has, by a certain kind of commentator, been questioned.That's the sort of sentence to which Strunk and White's (overly simple) rules apply: "Use the active voice." "Keep related words together." Possible revisions:
Some critics think poems should not refer to such things.Or if you want the alliteration (which to my ear sounds stilted):
Some critics think such things have no place in poetry.
Some critics have questioned the poetic propriety of such references.I'm not sure what the fuss is about: poetry long ago made room for Achilles' shield, an object far grander than any motorcycle. The question is not whether motorcycles belong in a poem but whether the poem is good.
And if you're wondering: I'm no fan of Seidel's work, which I find, well, boring. (It's funny how quickly shocking turns boring.) Some years ago I turned down an invitation to review Seidel's My Tokyo (1993). I wish I had a copy of the letter I sent back, which quoted a few choice bits of the poems.
[This post is no. 24 in a very occasional series, "How to improve writing," dedicated to improving stray bits of public prose.]
Two posts on The Elements of Style
Hardly [adverb] convincing [adjective]
Pullum on Strunk and White
All "How to improve writing" posts (via Delicious)