To Be or Not to Be That, Is the Question

You’ve been punctuated! In my title, moving the pause (caesura) signaled by a comma turns Hamlet’s proposition into something different. Whatever “that” may be, being it or not being it is what’s now in play.

The New York Times publishes a poem by Magdalena Zurawski, “[Dog Is a Way of Thinking],” that features “intrepid use of caesura.” The phrase is Anne Boyer’s, who introduces the poem. “The poem’s frequent midline interruptions of otherwise overflowing (enjambed) lines creates a gentle resistance to the ordinary flow of thought,” Boyer writes. She makes delicious mention of “the dog’s keen-nosed present sense” (so close to “present tense”!), and states that “Dogs thrill at palpability.” Here’s the poem’s ending:

Your dog, if he could
talk, my language tells
me, would, every
day, like a radio,
catch an air wave and
say, “Today. … ”

“Even a mere comma can be the conductor of time” is Boyer’s introductory parting shot. Uh-oh. “Even” or “mere,” but not both! This quibble over redundancy outs a dirty secret: I sweat the detail. I love strategic punctuation, parsable syntax, penetrable diction and rational typography. Clear structure enables complex speech. Verse fails when it conflates oddity and license with inspiration. Does this bias render me unfit to read Poetry magazine? I hope not.

Read Zurawski’s poem. It’s short and very sweet.

(c) 2023 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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1 Response to To Be or Not to Be That, Is the Question

  1. luvgoodcarp says:

    I love that phrase “strategic punctuation”. I will probably steal it from you and give you no credit. Also you are certainly not “unfit” to read Poetry magazine.


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