Wednesday Poetry Break: And So Much More

Elements of StyleIn the morning I usually I listen to the local NPR station, WAMU. Even if I get frustrated with the stories sometimes (which I always do during the afternoon show, “All Things Considered”) and switch away, I generally try to make it back  to 88.5 at 6:35 (yes, a.m.). That’s when “The Writer’s Almanac” airs, and it really never fails to interest or amuse me. Today’s episode was so full of wonderful things that I couldn’t decide what to post here, so I’m going to post a lot from this episode.

First off, you should know that today is the birthday of William Strunk, Jr. Yes, my writer (and editor) friends, it’s the day we honor The Elements of Style. Now, of course, it’s trendy to bash this book and say that condescending things about Strunk and his student and editor, E.B. White. But for me, I have always found it useful and understandable, from my days as a college student, as a proofreader, editor, and writer. And it is not without a certain sense of humor. I mean, come on:

Some infinitives seem to improve on being split, just as a stick of round stovewood does.

In a world of stodgy grammar police, I have always found that phrase incredibly reassuring. And, as Garrison Keillor mentioned on the show today, this book is the subject of one of Dorothy Parker’s great quotes:

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.

Okay, okay. So you’re ready for the poem of the day. Well, I had never heard of today’s poet, but that’s one thing I love about this program. I kept thinking about different lines in this one long after the show was over. I hope you enjoy it.

Advice to a Pregnant Daughter-in-Law

Avoid sharp things like corners, scissor points,
words and blades and cheddar cheese. Eschew
whatever’s heavy, fast, and cumbersome:

meteorites, rumbly truck and stinky bus,
hockey players, falling vaults, and buffalo.
Steer clear of headlines, bank advices,

legal language, papal bulls, and grocery ads.
Every morning, listen to baroque divertimenti,
romantic operas, Hildegarde von Bingen hymns.

Evenings, read some lines from Shakespeare’s comedies;
do a page of algebra; study shapes of clouds
and alchemy; make fun of your husbands feet.

Practice listening like a doe at the edge
of the earth’s deep woods, but learn to disregard
most everything you hear (especially your father

and father-in-law). Learn some Indian lullabies;
speak with magic stones beneath your tongue.
Finally, I wish, avoid all tears—except

that the world and time will have their way
and weep we must. Perhaps enough is said
of grief and happiness to realize

that any child of yours will live a lifetime
utterly beguiled (as my child is)
by your bright smile, your wild and Irish laugh.

— Charles Darling



  1. Sweet! I often fear for the future generations I must say. Sometimes so much so that I really regret having children. I don’t like to think of the pain coming in their future or their having to suffer. Yes, I know, me: Debbie Downer!

  2. At that time of the morning, I’m thinking how comfortable Lupa is on that bed that I’m suppose to still be in.

  3. I’ve relied on Strunk and White time after time. I would be hard-pressed to treat them with disrespect.. I do suspect, however, that my blog would make them shudder.

    Thank you for the poem. It’s wonderful.

  4. Good stuff. Thanks. I encountered another favorite reference of mine only after finishing all my formal education: William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well.” It’s more prose than rules, but has lots of great advice. I’ve given this book away often.

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