We progress on from word choice to language choice, in other words instead of just picking out the right words we’re picking out the way we’re going to say those words. In the text book (Introduction to Poetry: Kennedy), it talks about language as word choice and word order, but I think that it is more complicated than that.
It goes through some of the historical language choices of English language poets, how some during the enlightenment would only choose words of Latinate roots above Greek or Anglo-Saxon. It was preferable for a poet to say “finny prey” as opposed to “fish”. And Doctor Johnson who was penning the first dictionary decided that Latinate words were so much more important than the common tongue, that he didn’t even put in the definition of the common words – they were “a violation of decorum.”
The desire to get away from common phrases got so ridiculous that instead of writing, “uncork the bottle”, they would write, “apply thine engine to the spongy door,/Set Bacchus from his glassy prison free.” This lead the writers of Monty Python to parody this with their own greeting of the Queen, “Your Majesty, you are like bat piss in a cave.” When the Queen yells, “What!” The greeter replies, “You are like a spray of gold in the darkness.” Yeah, I know. Maturity.
But later writers would forsake the elevated Latin for “the language of the common man” because, as Wordsworth said, “[It’s] the language really spoken by men.” The book states that it helped to freshen up poetry and rid the poet of the embarrassment of being caught using the vulgar tongue.
Now, we see people using Ebonics and Creole in their works – at the beginning of the 20th Century dialect was all the rage. You saw it in Dickens and the Bronte Sisters, heck, all of Twain’s work was from the narrator’s point of view and accent. Now, people try to sound like hip-hop artists and we can see the parody of white trash talk on South Park (“C’ain’t tell me what to do, I do what I wawnt!” and “Respect mahy authoritie!”). It seems we’ve done a full 180.
I’m not sure which is better, but I don’t think a value as to which should be used and shouldn’t should be placed on the rules of usage; I think that should be up to the poet.
Now, with the poem, I can’t tell what it’s actually about, but, being an American and understanding the dialect (sounds Mid-Western) and the idioms used, I can figure what the subject matter is – though you can figure it out.
by Josephine Miles
Said, Pull her up a bit will you, Mac, I want to unload there.
Said, Pull her up my rear end, first come first serve.
Said, Give her the gun, Bud, he needs a taste of his own bumper.
Then the usher came out and got into the act:
Said, Pull her up, pullher up a bit, we need this space, sir.
Said, For God’s sake, is this still a free country or what?
You go back and take care of Gary Cooper’s horse
And leave me handle my own car.
Saw them unloading the lame old lady,
Ducked out under the wheel and gave her an elbow,
Said, All you needed to do was just explain:
Reason, Reason is my middle name.