Writing News for the Sunshine State & the Solar System * August 2008

Editor: Howard Denson



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In This Issue:

ClosetBooks Editor Harlin to Speak Aug. 9 to NFW

Writecorner Press Editors Help Put Oral History Online

Ask Old Stuff and Nonsense: "Is Prosaic Always Negative?" -- Howard Denson

Ppets, Musicians Invited to Open Mic Night Aug. 7

Quote from a Writer's Quill - Pablo Neruda

Writers Born This Month - James Baldwin, V.S. Naipaul, Ray Bradbury, Rita Dove, and many more.



At the Aug. 9 meeting, the North Florida Writers members and guests will hear Lynn Skapyak Harlin, a freelancer, organizer of the Shanty Boat Writers Workshops, and editor of Closetbooks. The meeting will be at 2 p.m. Saturday in a conference room at the Webb-Wesconnett Branch Library (corner of 103rd Street and Harlow Boulevard).



Since 2002, the main focus of Writecorner Press  has been to function as a literary e-press that features two annual international contests: the E. M. Koeppel $1,100 Short Fiction Award and the Writecorner $500 Poetry Award.

The press also publishes book reviews and by invitation short fiction and essays. It has a Recommended Readings page and a Literary Links page. For the last two years Writecorner has published the winners of the Page Edwards Short Fiction Contest of the Florida First Coast Writers' Festival. Writecorner Press has been praised by scholars and writers, among them Winning Writers, an online multipurpose literary service that has more than 16,000 readers.

It recently expanded its focus to help get an oral history online. Through the years a number of educators and historians from around the country contacted Robert B. Gentry, co-editor of Writecorner Press, about A College Tells Its Story: An Oral History of Florida Community College at Jacksonville, 1963-1991, a work that Gentry developed while a professor at the college with the help of 145 college-affiliated people whom he interviewed over two years. It has been difficult for most of the inquirers to get access to the book, for only three college libraries in Florida have a few copies of it.

The book can act as a "how to" template for anyone contemplating an oral history of a business, church, or college.

To make the book more accessible, Gentry worked with FCCJ, the University of Florida Library and Florida Heritage, an online organization devoted to digitizing works of historical importance. After securing copyright permission from FCCJ, the UF Library digitized the book and is now coordinating with Florida Heritage to complete links between the library and Florida Heritage. Scholars and educators interested in this work, the first oral history of a U. S. educational institution in book form, can now access it through FCCJ, UNF, UF, Wikipedia, or by simply going on line and typing part of the title or the name of the author/editor, Robert B. Gentry.



[EDITOR'S NOTE: Questions often come in about writing, grammar, or the like. Instead of just replying to individuals, it seems logical to bring them together in a "Stuff and Nonsense" column.]


Dear Old Stuffer: A week or so ago, in recognition that my younger brother's writing had improved ever so much (I evidently missed the transition), I sent him what I intended to be a compliment: "Your writing has become quite prosaic." When we talked on the phone a few days later, I asked him if he'd gotten my e-mail.

He said that he had, but, when he looked up the word prosaic in a dictionary, its meaning was given as "dull and unimaginative." The word prose fairs little better.

Egads, Old Stuffer! Why even today, waiting for a blood test, I read in The New Yorker a line which goes "There is something adolescent about such a complaint; I can hear it like a boy's breaking voice in my own prose."

Am I alone in having thought all these great many years that prose was more than a negative description of writing that was other than poetry or drama? (I include drama to be kind to our friends of the theatre.)

If we were to say "He has mastered the art of prose," does this mean that he on the printed page or in the pulpit on a Sunday morning can put his audience to sleep faster than most anyone?

Do I have any defense in thinking all these years that writing prose is/was a noble endeavor without the adjectives that the dictionary now seems to suggest necessary to separate good prose from bad?

P.S.: My favorite UF professor, William Ruff, often referred to "purple prose," and he would describe that as something you felt compelled to highlight or at the least, read no less than three times for the sheer pleasure of lingering on such eloquence, such beauty. -- Faithful Reader

Dear Faith: Old Stuff and Nonsense here dug out his magnifying glass and Vol. II (P-Z) of The Oxford English Dictionary. In the nearly two columns devoted to prosaic and similar words, the term's first definition is "Of or pertaining to prose; consisting of or written in prose; (of an author) writing in prose." That definition is rare or obsolete.

The second and prevailing definition is "Having the character, style, or diction as opposed to poetry; lacking poetic feeling, beauty, or imagination; plain, matter-of-fact. Hence, . . . Unpoetic, unromantic, commonplace, dull, tame."

The word prosaic came into the English language a little before 1600, from the French. The writers back then were offering the word Prosaike for a writer in prose, as opposed to the Poet in meter. Like Reggae played on accordions, that didn't catch on. Around 1800, William Taylor in The American Revolution was referring to a prosaist (for "one who writes in prose").

In the early 19th Century, Isaac D'Israeli touched upon the word when he wrote a short history of new words:

"Menage invented a term of which an equivalent is wanting in our language; 'J'ai fait prosateur ŕ l'imitation de l'Italien prosatore, pour dire un homme qui écrit en prose.' To distinguish a prose from a verse writer, we once had 'a proser.' Drayton uses it; but this useful distinction has unluckily degenerated, and the current sense is so daily urgent, that the purer sense is irrecoverable."

So, prosaic won't do, but you also probably don't want to tell your brother that he's become quite a proser, prosaist, or prosateur. Instead, tell your brother that, like E.B. White, Orwell, and Virginia Woolf, he's becoming an excellent stylist. If he thinks you're talking about hair, then hit him with Vol. II of The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

* * *

Dear Old Stuffer: Isn't it awful that so much writing in the news media is written for eighth-graders? -- A Crotchety Partisan

Dear Crotchety: I'm assuming you've been following the complaints of various reporters and columnists. Most recently, Michael Gove in London's Telegraph wrote: "A hundred years ago presidential speeches were pitched at the reading level of college students. Now, they are delivered at the reading level of 13-year-olds [eighth-graders in the U.S.]."

For several reasons, that is no cause for panic. A couple of decades ago, when I was teaching an English as Second Language course, I noticed that the professorial authors had divided the textbook's essays and reading selections into levels of difficulty. The book listed the pieces by Ernest Hemingway, James Thurber, and other favorites at an eighth-grade level. When I checked the 14th-grade level, I saw a speech by Andrew Jackson, and, as I read through it, the damned thing was unreadable. Unlike Lincoln, Jackson was not known as a great stylist. He relied on abstractions, extended sentences, and other conventions that may be minimally effective in print.

Let's look at the opening of Hamlet's most famous soliloquy to illustrate the point: "To be or not to be - that is the question." That's pretty straight-forward, and professors who rate the readability might say it's at a third- or fourth-grade level.

For the next sentence, let's go to the conclusion of Lincoln's most famous address: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Lincoln gave us a passage that illustrates a tetracolon climax (in this case a series of four subordinate clauses leading to a key point). Furthermore, the climatic clause features a tricolon with "of, by and for the people." You'll spot other tricolons in the speech. That's some powerful writing, yet the basic vocabulary is not that complicated.

In the 20th Century, rhetoricians tried to fight against gobbledgook, multi-syllabic constructions that didn't say much. For example, during World War II, the Office of Civilian Defense advised in a pamphlet: "Such obscuration can be obtained either by blackout construction or by terminating the illumination." The agency should have simply said, "During an enemy air raid, put up blackout curtains if work must continue. If work can stop, turn off the lights."

For more information about "readability" and the "Fog Index," you should Google or Yahoo those terms, along with "Rudolf Flesch" and "J.P. Kincaid."

If you have a question about words or writing, send it to Old Stuff and Nonsense (



Poets and musicians are invited to an open microphone session from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 7, at the Nice House of Music (1592 Park Ave., Orange Park). The evening will be dedicated to memory of Bob Disher, manager of the Backwater Bookstore in Orange Park. Mr. Disher passed away recently and was a good friend to area poets and artists.

To get on the reading/performance list, contact Caryn Day-Suarez at <> or call (904)-268-6229. Music, poetry, readings all should be family oriented. For more info go to <>



Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread. -- Pablo Neruda



1--Herman Melville (1819) and Jim Carroll (1951); 2--Irving Babbitt (1865), James Baldwin (1924), and Isabel Allende (1942); 3--Rupert Brooke (1887), P. D. James (1920), Leon Uris (1924), and Diane Wakoski (1937); 4--Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792), Knut Hamsun (1859), and Robert Hayden (1913);

5--Michael Banim (1796) and Conrad Aiken (1889); 6--Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809), Paul Claudel (1868), and Diane di Prima (1934); 7--Garrison Keillor (1942); 8--Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896) and Nina Berberova (1901); 9--Philip Larkin (1922);

11--Judah P. Benjamin (1811), Hugh MacDiarmid (C. M. Grieve) (1892), Louise Bogan (1897), Alex Haley (1921), and André Dubus (1936); 12--Katherine Lee Bates (1859), Jacinto Benavente y Martínez (1866), Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876), and Radclyffe Hall (1880); 14--Sir Walter Besant (1836), Danielle Steele (1947), and Gary Larson (1950);

15--Sir Walter Scott (1771), E. Nesbit (1858), Sri Aurobindo (1872), and Edna Ferber (1887); 16--William Maxwell (1908) and Charles Bukowski (1920); 17--Fredrika Bremer (1801), Wilfred Scawen Blunt (1840), Evan Connell (1924), John Hawkes (1925), V. S. Naipaul (1932); 18--Robert Williams Buchanan (1841), Ahad Haam (1856), and Alaine Robbe-Grillet (1922); 19--Pierre Jean de Béranger (1780), Maurice BarrPs (1862), Ogden Nash (1902), and James Gould Cozzens (1903);

20--Shaul Chernikhovski (1875), H. P. Lovecraft (1890) and Jacqueline Susanne (1921); 21--Robert Stone (1937); 22--John Hill Burton (1809), Dorothy Parker (1893), Ray Bradbury (1920), E. Annie Proulx (1935); 23--Edgar Lee Masters (1868) and J. V. Cunningham (1911); 24--Sir Max Beerbohm (1872), Jean Rhys (1890), Malcolm Cowley (1898), Jorge Luis Borges (1899), and A.S. Byatt (1936);

25--Baron Bunsen (1791), Henrik Hertz (1797/98), Brett Harte (1836), Frederick Forsyth (1938), and Martin Amis (1949); 26--Guillaume Apollinaire (1880), Christopher Isherwood (1904), Julio Cortázar (1914); 27--Theodore Dreiser (1871), Norah Lofts (1904), Desmond O'Grady (1935), Lary Crews (1946), and Jeanette Winterson (1959); 28--John Betjeman (1906), Roger Tory Peterson (1908), Robertson Davies (1913), Janet Frame (1924), and Rita Dove (1952); 29--Giambattista Casti (1724), Edward Carpenter (1844), and Thom Gunn (1929);

30--Mary Shelley (1797); 31--DuBose Heyward (1885), William Shawn (1907), and William Saroyan (1908).


Every Wednesday: 7:30 p.m.; BARD SOCIETY; Frank Green 234-8383; Email <>

Every Thursday, 6:45 p.m.; FIRST COAST CHRISTIAN WRITERS GROUP; Christ's Church, 6045 Greenland Rd., Room 204, near I-95 & 9A; Email: <>

Saturday, Aug. 9, 2 p.m.; NORTH FLORIDA WRITERS; Webb Wesconnett Library; <> Speaker: Lynn Skapyak Harlin


Sept. 12 - 13; FLORIDA HERITAGE BOOK FESTIVAL; Casa Monica Hotel and Flagler College, St. Augustine; panel discussions, author presentations, poetry read/workshop, children's events; Deadline for book submission: April 15; full information at <>




Membership is $15 for students, $25 for individuals, and $40 for a family. (Make out checks to WRITERS.) Mail your check to WRITERS, c/o Howard Denson, 1511 Pershing Rd., Jacksonville, FL 32205.

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