Earl Gray

Earl Gray
"You can argue with me but, in the end, you'll have to face that fact that you're arguing with a squirrel." - Earl Gray

Friday, November 7, 2014


Earl the Squirrel's Rule #63
     I am flattered that Mark Yakich's quotes me in the Atlantic.  Moreover, Mr. Yakich succeeds in illustrating the silliness of Content Regency simply by listing its basic tenets.  As such, "Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies" may be one of the the most brilliant satirical pieces of our time.

     The first clue is in the title itself.  "Strategies"?  What strategies do we devise in watching a film?  Popcorn, a couch and a tall drink?  A preemptory pee break?  Do we need to absorb similar articles in order to read a novel?  Did Shakespeare's contemporaries need to convene planning councils before attending his plays?

     The second clue is how almost none of the 20 points addresses the central issue of reading poetry as opposed to prose.

1.  Poems ask you to pay attention¹--that’s all.

      No.  Those are sirens and billboards.  Poems ask you to remember them verbatim--that's all.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #61
2. ...always read it out loud...the ear will tell the mind what to think.

     Better yet, why not have someone else read it to you, studying the words later if they merit the attention?

3. Try to meet a poem on its terms¹ not yours.

     If this actually meant anything I'd probably disagree with it.

4. Whether or not you are conscious of it, you are always looking for an excuse to stop reading a poem...

     Read different poets.

5. It’s up to you how hard you want to work¹.

     "Work"?  How much are poetry readers being paid?  Should we unionize?

6. If you don’t know a word, look it up¹ or die.

10. When you come across something that appears "ironic," make sure it’s not simply the speaker’s sarcasm or your own disbelief¹.

    As opposed to prose reading, where we should continue on in ignorance? 

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #92
7. In fact, a poem’s greatest potential lies in the opposite of paraphrase: ambiguity.

     Antonyms for "paraphrase":  digest, explanation, rehash, rendering, rendition, rephrasing, restatement, rewording, summary.

     Antonyms for "ambiguity":  doubt, uncertainty, vagueness, anagram, doubtfulness, dubiety, dubiousness, enigma, equivocation, incertitude, inconclusiveness, indefiniteness, indeterminateness, obscurity, polysemy, puzzle, tergiversation, unclearness, double meaning, double-entendre, equivocacy, equivocality, polysemousness.

     Notice how he says this immediately after: "If you don't know a word, look it up or die." 

     As I said, satire at its finest.

8. Discerning¹ subtleties takes practice.

     I wonder if that's why they call them "subtleties".

9. As hard as it sounds, separate¹ the poet from the speaker of the poem.

     The only way it could be any easier is if someone other than the poet were performing the poem. 

     People used to do that, I'm told.

11. "Reading for pleasure" implies there’s "reading for displeasure" or "reading for pain."

     In the same sense that dieting implies eating poison.  IOW, WTF?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #12
12. ...it’s okay if you don’t understand¹ a poem.

     It's okay if poems are written in foreign languages, too, for people who understand them².  Again, WTF?

13. Reading without writing in the margins is like walking without moving your arms. You can do it and still reach your destination, but it’ll always feel like you’re missing something essential about the activity.

     Like the relaxation and entertainment you're missing because you're taking notes?

     Is there a test later?

14. There is nothing really lost in reading a poem.  If you don’t understand the poem, you lose little time or energy. On the contrary, there is potentially much to gain¹...

     Why not read an instruction manual instead?  Some of those even have glossaries.

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #26
15. ...your brain will attempt to make order out of apparent chaos.

     Why not read a mystery novel or do a crossword puzzle instead?

     Oh, wait, that is precisely what people do.  Who knew that success at problem-solving is more fun than failure at it?

16.  As your ability to read poems improves, so will your ability to read the news, novels, legal briefs, advertisements, etc.

     And vice versa.  Still, if we're trying to learn about mixed metaphors or flawed analogies (e.g. snowflakes and friends), wouldn't legal briefs and [Fox] news be the place to start?

     Who knew that reading improves with practice?

Earl the Squirrel's Rule #138
17. Reading poetry¹...can enhance your awareness of the world...

     Aside from the aforementioned Fox News, what form of communication doesn't? 

18. ...be young, intelligent, and slightly drunk.

19.  Someday, when all your material possessions will seem to have shed their utility and just become obstacles to the toilet, poems will still hold their value.

     A rare indication from Mr. Yakich that he is speaking tongue-in-cheek.  Having touched all of the bases he finishes with a flourish of over-the-top dark demagoguery:

20. Reading a good poem doesn’t give you something to talk about. It silences you. Reading a great poem...prepares you for the silence that perplexes us all:  death.


     Absolutely brilliant.


¹ - The same applies to reading prose which, contrary to popular misconception, can be every bit as subtle, ambiguous, metaphorical, figurative, detailed/intricate, fictitious, fantastic, artificial, objective, subjective, blunt, obscure, educational/informative, etc.

² - The word "them" refers to the languages or the poems, of course.

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