Teaching Le Guin’s Steering the Craft today, chapter 2 on punctuation. Got to tell them about B.J. Smith, my high school English teacher who would draw little red teardrops next to each grammar or punctuation error on our papers — and then *stop reading* when she hit the third one, and grade you one what you’d done that far. We stayed up late and memorized the comma rules that night, slightly terrified. Served us well, though.

And then we talked about semicolons and how to use them correctly, and then we read the passage in chapter 3 quoting from Austen’s Mansfield Park where she uses semicolons absolutely incorrectly but it makes sense anyway because Austen is super-smart that way. She is creating very complicated sentence constructions which support the very complicated emotional relationships she is delineating.

I gave them the standard creative writing lecture about knowing the rules before you break them, and that led me into my favorite e.e. cummings poem about syntax and love, and I started quoting it, not sure if I actually remembered it all, but I did, so that was satisfying. Very.

Know the rules, poets and writers, but choose love.


since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
โ€”the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

and death i think is no parenthesis

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