Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Nothing so dangerous as a keyboard

Dedicated to all those I have
unwittingly – and wittingly – hurt, insulted,
misunderstood, put down or passed

This is a modern type of dance: we sway,
With thoughts engaged but hands that never touch.
Our partners may be half a world away,
Unheard, held only in the pixel’s clutch.

Words normally succumb to charm and style
On television and in politics
But here they’re all we are - no frown, no smile,
No waving hand, no nervous facial ticks.

Consider now that oh-so-witty phrase
Launched nude, destined for distant scrutiny,
Mere words that lacked the normal artifice
Of gesture, tone or personality.

Arriving, frozen, in its shorn-lamb form
The letters fixed, the burden divergent,
A dozen novel voices in a swarm
Of unintended causes for dissent.

Misread, the words return as bleak response
Like local wine they have not travelled well
The wit that wore such nonchalance
Is now dull-voiced, a melancholy bell.

I could be bland for blandness rarely hurts
And many people search out Mother’s Pride*.
There’s comfort in a cliché as it flirts
With what is known, well-worn or lately died.

I could attach a photo of my face
Its drooping gauntness admirable proof
That age and underlying lack of grace
Are reasons why my prose can sound aloof.

To blog – that ugly word – is idle fun
With answers that supply a rich reward.
But oh the flaw of simple words alone
Without the aid of physical accord.

For what is said and what we want to say
Bestrides a gap as wide as any wound
It is the price that intellect must pay
When our humanity has run aground.

* Thermometers thrust into mouths
sometimes break and fragments are
swallowed. As antidote, sufferers were
made to eat cotton-wool sandwiches.
Technology has moved on and Mother’s
Pride sandwiches, lacking cotton-wool,
do just as well.


Plutarch said...

This is an important thing to say. It is a frequent worry with me, usually unfounded, that something blogged or emailed, quickly and spontaniously, can have unintentionally touched a sensistive spot or been insensitivly phrased. As you say so succinctly in your poem, the absence of an accompanying voice or facial expression to soften and explain the bare words, can often give rise to misunderstandings. Though sometimes the fear is greater than the effect, I suppose it makes us want to take more care in what we say and how we say it.

Julia said...

The positives of the keyboard warrant a poem too!
I value the time taken to articulate something before only half thought, and the time taken to read those somethings. I appreciate the better understanding of someone that comes from taking that time, an understanding hard to achieve in the hurried, interrupted conversations of routine life.

Did cotton wool really work by the way? That doesn't sound as much of an antidote to mercury.

Sir Hugh said...

I think it is important to consider carefully what is the desired effect one wants their words to have on the other person AND WHY.If the intention turns out to be mainly a demonstration of one's egotism it is perhaps wise to reconsider.

I admired the poem for the brave exploration of the inner soul.

You once recommended me to read E.B. White's essays - here is a writer who expresses himself strongly, witily, and without any sign of egotism or self- indulgence.

The Crow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Crow said...

BB: I cannot type lately worth a tinker's damn, so removed the first attempt to respond. Shouldn't let my ego matter so much, I guess, but the typos were too many. Here is what I wanted to write:

I think the best we can do with this wonderful but flawed technology is to keep trying, using all the language skills we've acquired over the years.

Your poem is charming in its honesty and thoughtfulness, and true because it comes from your generous heart.


herhimnbryn said...

I visit here for all your words.

Barrett Bonden said...

Plutarch: As you say the misgivings may be unnecessary. On the other hand few of us are gifted with the ability to imagine how our stuff may be misread. The shock is provided in a reader's comment.

Julia: I hope I implied the positives - that's why I called the keyboard dangerous; it's a double-edged device, for good and for bad. As I have said several times, serious revision is as important as the fine careless rapture of the initial draft. But still we end up with imperfect words. Accompanied by a smile or a deprecatory wave of the hand, words can take on their fullest meaning.

Sir Hugh: I'd love to accept your compliment but can't. Most of my stuff is a mere step away from rampant egotism. And a million steps away from E. B. White.

The Crow: Generous heart? Hmmm. Or would I pillory my mum for the sake of being smart? Hmmm. The jury has just left the jury box and may come back hung.

HHB: Dead or alive? Rude or polite? Parsable or impossible? (Hey I could recycle that last one somewhere else.)

Lucy said...

You worry too much.

(Please don't take that the wrong way...)

The Crow said...

Your poem, upon a third reading, has given me pause. While I have never been offended by anything you have written - here or in comments left at my site - a review of my responses has made me rethink the sometimes flippant manner in which I write.

The art of conversation is just that, an art - and some of us, like you, are better at it with this medium than others. My breezy, brassy or teasing conversational manner doesn't always come across well in person; less so here in cyberspace. That's one reason I put that emoticon smile at the end of my comments, to show I intend only friendly banter.

I think you do just fine, BB. I would tell you if I were offended, and trust that you would do the same for me, should I ere in judgement.

Rock on, dude!


Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: Well Plutarch takes it seriously. Perhaps it's a trait to be found in retired journalists. After a lifetime spent subjecting people to cruel interrogations and jeering at their transparent lies, we suddenly find ourselves considering the possibility of repentance as mortality breathes its hoary intimations over our shoulder.

The Crow: Rather the reverse. The worrying thing is when we say something flippant ourselves and the response comes back po-faced. The fact is I have offended other bloggers over the past year and I know it. However I wrote the verse before I attached the dedication so, as an act of contrition, it can be regarded as a dubious gesture. I list conversation as one of my pleasures in my profile but it is remarkable how difficult it is to come by true conversation (as opposed to argument, monologues or misdirected pedagogy). Plutarch is one of half a dozen worldwide resources I know of, hence the routine of the Blogger's Retreat you may have read about in this blog and his.