Feb 122014

… and of the poem she recently published, surrounded by snark, in Marie Claire magazine. The poem is called “My Heart is a Wiffle Ball / Freedom Pole.” Writes poet and UCLA professor Brian Kim Stefans:

This [post] is partly to address the apparently universal opinion by journalists – most of whom seem to not know anything about literature – that this is a terrible poem.

My own initial post went like this: “The second stanza isn’t horrible. Worst part of the poem are those awful adjectives! Stupid Beats.” What I meant by this was that the words “digital” (applied to moonlight), “scrawled” when linked to “neon” (neon is a much overused word by poets who want to sound like Beatniks) and “abrasive” (applied to organ pumps) weren’t working for me. I also didn’t like the word “ubiquitously” especially since everything up until that point was in the singular – ubiquitously seems to suggest some sort common element among many parts. Not a big fan of “Whilst” either.

But I thought the second stanza was very delicate with sound play – “parked” and “Marfa” are good off-rhymes (I heard the word “barf” in there somehow) and there is some nice alliteration in “Devils not done digging / He’s speaking in tongues all along the pan handle / and this pining erosion…” etc. And I like the broken syntax and quick movements in perspective – there’s little to no punctuation and most people can’t pull that off. And the line “He’s speaking in tongues all along the pan handle” is very evocative to me – and seems to explain some of the eccentricities of syntax and vocabulary in the first verse!

I share Stefans’ impressions.

And I would add that Stewart’s piece provides surprise and conveys joy. These are two of the profoundest reasons we love youth.

h/t JM


Feb 122014

Bryan Garner is a lawyer whose range of work on the topics of writing and rhetoric is humbling – to me as it should be to you, too. His blog is a gas. Here he is, just the other day, on one of my favourite topics, the hyphen (or, more precisely, hyphens “in phrasal adjectives”):

     When a phrase functions as an adjective, the phrase should ordinarily be hyphenated. Professional writers and editors regularly do this. Search for hyphens on a page of the Wall Street Journal or the New Yorker and you’ll spot many. But less-polished writers often fail to appreciate the difference that adjective can make (consider criminal law professors vs. criminal-law professors). And for some reason, lawyers resist these hyphens. To prevent miscues and make your writing clearer, you should master the art of hyphenating phrasal adjectives and consider the guiding principles every time you encounter one.

Here’s the rule: if two or more consecutive words make sense only when understood together as an adjective modifying a noun, those words should be hyphenated {second-year associatecase-by-case analysistrade-secret protectionsummary-judgment motionbreach-of-contract claim}. [The possible phrases are infinite. For more examples see Garner’s Modern American Usage 625-26 (3d ed. 2009); The Redbook 46-47 (3d ed. 2013); The Winning Brief 278-83 (2d ed. 2004).]

But there are exceptions. Do not hyphenate the phrase in these situations:

(1) When a phrase begins with an –ly adverb:newly admitted lawyer;legally permitted actioncalmly spoken argument. An exception to this exception applies when the phrase is longer than two words. Hence: poorly-thought-out strategy.

(2) When the phrase contains a proper noun: a United States diplomat; that famous Civil War battle; the Pablo Picasso painting.

(3) When the phrase is borrowed from a foreign language:de novo reviewhabeas corpus petitionprima facie case.

(4) When the phrase follows the noun it modifies: that rule is well known (vs. a well-knownrule); a claim of bad faith (vs. a bad-faith claim);action for unlawful detainer (vs. unlawful-detainer action). But there are some fixed phrases that are invariably hyphenated even if they follow the noun {cost-effectiveold-fashionedshort-livedstar-studdedtime-tested}. In general, these hyphenated, fixed phrases will be listed in a dictionary.

If you’re still uncertain about why you should hyphenate, ponder the plain meaning of small animal veterinarianhigh school dropout, or one armed bandit.

There’s more, all delightful.


“What distinguishes effective from ineffective legal writers,” notes Garner, “is empathy for the reader.”

(h/t LH)

Feb 042014

This figure is staggering: Adjunct professors and other “contingent employees” make up 70% of the faculty in American universities. These people have no hope for tenure at their schools.

Writes James Hoff in The Guardian, “All but the most elite college students are being taught by overworked and underpaid adjunct lecturers. These faculty are essentially paid contractors, who come in, do a quick job, and then head out. Maintaining high standards and expectations, performing research, and providing honest and accurate assessment under such conditions is incredibly difficult, and the continued use of adjuncts is destroying the integrity and value of higher education.”

These faculty typically have no benefits and no job security. They need to form unions – for their sake, and for the sake of the students they teach.

I fear that university teaching will become a profession so unappealing that truly talented people will flee from it. We are on the verge of losing a generation of scholars to fields that reward initiative with collegial recognition and an appropriate amount of cash. It will take a long time to recover from that calamity.

Clarissa’s blog offers a number of dyspeptic, righteous takes on the topic.

Feb 042014

A brilliant former student of mine highly recommends this organization, “a women-run not-for-profit working to empower and inspire more women and girls to become passionate builders – not just consumers – of the web and technology.” Ladies Learning Code is sponsoring a day-long session – an introduction to CSS and HTML – at Vancouver’s Hootsuite headquarters on February 22:

If you are looking to get your feet wet when it comes to programming, then this is the workshop for you. HTML and CSS are the backbone of all websites, and knowledge of them is a necessity if you are interested in things like web development, creating marketing emails, or even blogging! The web without HTML and CSS would be would be a world without colourful, pretty websites, not to mention the web applications we all use daily. It’s easy to learn, and was designed so that everyone – even non-programmers – can do it. No fancy programs are needed, just Notepad and a web browser!

The Ladies Learning Code Introduction to HTML & CSS workshop is designed to be a hands-on experience. During the session, you’ll build something like this and learn the following:

– Basic techniques and concepts that are translatable to other programming languages

– The building blocks of how HTML and CSS work together to create richer online experiences

– How to create a rich website with images, video, and a CSS-defined layout

– What resources are available if you’d like to continue learning at home (and we think you will)

… This workshop has been designed for absolute beginners. If you know absolutely nothing about coding or computer programming, you’ve come to the right place! Our only expectation is that you know how to open up a web browser and do something online like checking your email. (But if you’re reading this, we’re pretty sure you know how to do that.)

You can find out more about the organization on Twitter via the hashtag #ladieslearningcode.