Grammar Check

One afternoon, after a particular boring grammar check of my latest poem, my brain set aside its normal functioning and started gesticulating wildly, arms flinging in the air.

“New poems,” said brain, “are like hopeless infants, beautiful, but messy—your task, should you pluck up the courage of soul, is to raise them to nearly formed adults; the key word being ‘nearly’, for too much over-parenting will smother them with hopscotch ideas and that long, drawn-out, insight that amounts to unmarvellous writing. We can’t have them unmoored and floating about in a monotonous bog, can we? Nor can we have them dressed in an obnoxious red hat, roaming about a poor reader’s dark hallways inflicting some sort of memory trauma. Yes, be honest, be bleak, be real, be fascinating, be wonderful, and be everything in-between, but avoid that peculiar combination of pseudo-wit and ineluctable naivety.”

At that moment I thought brain was being particularly bold and forthright.

Did he sense my shortness of breath?

Sometimes I feel a sense of impending apocalypse when brain speaks with such concern (especially if arms are in the air).

When brain assumes a prophet’s cloak, straddling the hinge between quiet submission and raucous innuendo, I do happen to pay attention. The arc of my life he has observed for some time. I imagine he has curly reddish hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and the odd tinge of literary aspirations. He also haunts libraries. I’ve even caught brain surrounded by a plethora of conflicting ideas, romanticising over fantastic realms that may, or may not, exist.

“The art,” said brain, “is to be unpretentious, without proselytising the new reader. Entice and entertain, be filled with the energy of whim, launch into subsets of your style and your voice—always intent on discovery. Include a comic ethos, along with occasional bouts of serious ‘Dumbledore-like’ expressions. The latter may help what you lack in gravity and sincerity.”

My problem: I don’t feel confident of my ability to express. I fear blundering off into the snow-capped peaks of high literary jargon, where profundity turns into cheesy; where sincerity turns into triteness; where urgency turns into bell-bottom flares from the 1960’s—it was okay then, but now, as my sentence catwalks its stylistic cloth with gay abandon, it trips and bloodies its nose in the process.

“Hush now,” said brain, being too polite to swear or say ‘shut-up’.

“Genuine narrative power comes with age and practice, not by visiting a miraculous hundred year-old yogi recluse in the mountainous regions of Nepal. You don’t need to throw a party in every sentence, but you could blow an old tin whistle every now and then.”

I smile.

‘I don’t have to pour honey over all my chakras after all,’ I whispered to myself, who by now was sitting wide-eyed and blinking. Brain’s little pep-talks, whilst often full of risky manoeuvres, do occasionally offer some intriguing insights.

I handed brain a blurry photograph of me.

Brain smiled back.

“It’s worth the journey from Bardo, isn’t it?” he said, “you are more than a hobo, so expand your universe outwards. Take those ancient great leaps of faith. Include snippets of the absurd and the miraculous. Stand on your head, balancing a dictionary on your feet in the process. Perform the odd somersault across a page. In beauty and ambiguity will sentences be birthed, and remember, all these messy children are precious. You may never win a $50,000 literary prize, but making one other person smile with a very quiet internal “Yes.” will make it all worth it.”

© 2018 Steve Roberts

You don't need to throw a party in every sentence, but you could blow an old tin whistle every now and then.

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