Lie, Lay, Etc.: Humdrum Conundrum

I always lay my keys on the table when I get home. I laid them there an hour ago. They lay there undisturbed last night, and they’ll lie there tomorrow until I need the car.

Using lie-lay-lain and lay-laid-laid according to Hoyle demands ninja-grade dexterity at written English. Wrong usage in speech, casual writing and even in journalism is so common now it will soon be right usage. Who’s the worse off at the end of the day? It’s only words, right?

Patti Smith slam dunks one “lay” in “jeanne d’arc”:

get the guard to
beg the guard to
need a guard to
lay me
get all the guards to lay me
if all the guards would lay me
if one guard would lay me
if one guard would lay me
if one god would lay me
if one

Arthur Zse ostensibly bobbles another “lay” in “Pe’ahi Light”:

On another continent, a man lays strapped
to a hospital bed and can’t rampage

across a room he no longer recognizes…

Both texts are in Poetry, April 2023.

I’m wired to hold writers who identify as poets as inerrant language-meisters. True, verse can echo the vernacular in a defined context; otherwise “A man lays strapped” stands out like a sore thumb. Zse is a writer who, in the same poem, describes calligraphed “heart” with crackling precision: brushed in three strokes, where the black // ends of each stroke flare into the void.

What’s up Arthur Zse’s sleeve with this rogue “lay” of his?

(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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4 Responses to Lie, Lay, Etc.: Humdrum Conundrum

  1. It certainly is a conundrum. Thank you for giving me more to think about Jim.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JMN says:

      Thanks, Sue. My main goal is to say something slightly interesting or entertaining. I get distracted by grammar, which probably inhibits my reading poetry skillfully. I doubt that many are interested in Zse’s (mis-)usage as I was. We internalize what “sounds” right, and that’s hard to shake.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes I agree – I find myself overly sensitive to mis usage and have to shake off the judgement that comes with it! Perhaps it’s helpful to think of Mrs Malaprop at times and just find it amusing.

    Liked by 1 person

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