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Archive for June, 2009

To A Stranger

Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

–Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

This is one of my (many) favorite Whitman poems. It was included in Leaves of Grass, the first edition of which Whitman published in 1855 at his own expense and which only included twelve poems. By the 1860 edition, the book had tripled in size. It is a work that Whitman continued to revise and expand throughout his entire life. Before the age of thirty-six, there was no indication that Whitman would even be a minor literary figure. Yet, he has become one of America’s major poetic voices with highly celebratory poetry that ranges from somber to jubilant; from mystic to earthy.

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The importance of good writing skills is evident no matter what your profession, as I noted in an earlier post. So how does one go about improving those skills? I’ve gathered some invaluable tips, which I learned through experience and which other professionals have taught me, with accompanying complementary links from around the Internet.

1. Read often and read everything. The more you read, the more you learn; the larger and stronger your vocabulary; the more you will begin to pick up on the basics of what good writing looks like as well as distinguish the good from the bad.

2. Revision, revision, revision. Whether you’re writing a business report, a work-related memo, a novel, or a poem, revision is your friend. Most great writers are great writers because they spend countless hours revising and continually improving their work.

3. Practice makes perfect. Just like anything else that you want to improve, you must practice writing. Establishing a daily writing routine is a great way to ensure that you will continually improve, especially if you enlist the help of a professional or friend who can critique your work and point out areas where you may need extra practice. In this respect…

4. Join a group or take a class. Online courses are more readily available than ever, so you may not even have to leave your house to learn to write better. You can also always check out the course schedule at your local community college.

5. Proofread. Before you sign off on anything, whether it is a paper for school, a job application, or a blog post, be sure to proofread. Even if you have already revised several times and you think the document is perfect, proofread. By this I mean, do more than just scan for obvious errors; look closely for correct spelling, word usage, and grammar. If possible, have someone who knows writing well proofread for you because even an excellent writer may not catch obvious mistakes because he or she is too close to (i.e., already spent too much time with) the work in question.

Of course, if you feel you already write well but have an all important piece that must be perfect, you can always hire a professional editor/proofreader!

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A+I know grammar can be confusing, but it is well worth learning. Knowing how to speak and write properly opens doors in any career and raises the esteem of your colleagues, no matter your profession. Matthew Arnold believed that education, through providing children with a “general liberal culture,” could overcome the divisions of social class. The basis of that education was “the common heritage of the English language and its literature.”

In grade school and in college, good writing skills and a solid vocabulary lead to better grades and therefore to better jobs. In fact, most executives cite writing as one of the most negelected skills in business; they desire better writers in the workplace as it is also one of the most valuable skills for increased productivity.

The National Commission on Writing recently released a press release called “Writing Skills Necessary for Employment, Says Big Business” that calls poorly written job applications a “figurative kiss of death” in the first line. The author of the release also notes that with the advances in technology, one might think that good, clear writing is less necessary in the workplace, but that the opposite is actually true. The advance in technology has instead made it more important for an employee to be able to write quickly and clearly to stay competitive. I highly recommend reading the entire release.

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I love so many things about this poem by Ruth Stone: the personification of a linden tree and a small crack in the avenue; the sense of wonder, joy, and buoyancy; the lightness and humor implicit as well as the genuine sentiment; the way the tone is set and the reader is invited into the fairy tale by beginning with the line “Once upon an;” most of all, the coyness.

A Love Like Ours

Once upon an avenue a small crack
smiled at a linden tree.
“I love your dappled shadow,” it thought;
but only to itself.
The small crack stretched with pleasure.
The pure meld of the sun boiled
at its fragmented edges.
“How I crumble,” the crack whispered,
“how the weight and the shock go through me.
I am a true MacAdam.”
The linden tree shook itself in the jet stream.
It hummed with wings.
Male and female, pollen and pistil; it hummed.
Toward the equinox the air was filled with
a riding of seeds. They went in pushing crowds,
kicking and falling. The prickled the street
with their adolescent bursting.
In the morning the street cleaner,
gushing water, rolled over them
with thousands of bristles.
It brushed them along in a stream to the gutter.
One shy young linden seed was swept into the crack.
The crack gave a sigh.
At last it knew that the linden tree had noticed.
“A love like ours,” said the crack,
“could split the street, could break up traffic!
Given time, it could even damage the sewer!”

Ruth Stone © 1995

This poem is featured in Stone’s book called Simplicity. Highly recommended.

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