Now as you all know I like to have a grammar rant now and again about words and expressions that bug me; and the latest in a long line of these is ‘teary’. Why is this word ubiquitous these days (and please note that I did NOT say ‘so ubiquitous’ because ubiquitous means absolutely everywhere and cannot be qualified!!! Deep, calming breaths, deep calming breaths…) Why is it that when we have a perfectly good word ‘tearful’ which means exactly the same, does everyone suddenly start saying ‘teary’? I don’t like it: not only because it’s unnecessary but because it’s – well, a little bit wimpish somehow. It puts me in mind of Victorian ladies with the vapours. What’s wrong with tearful? I insist on using it and I will not be cowed into saying the other thing. And besides, it’s often ambiguous in print: what prompted this post was my reading the letters page in Mslexia magazine –
– and seeing this:
‘I often can’t make it to the end (of a poem) without tearing up a little.’ At this point I was wondering – what was she tearing up? The page? The book? Her hair? And then I realised that this was yet another example of this horrid and superfluous word. Just stop it!
Anyway, the reason I was reading the letters page was that my copy of the latest issue has just arrived and lo! they have printed my letter in full. I had written to them in response to an article on poetry; and in the letter I said that one of my bugbears (yes, another one) is poets who kill their own work when they read it aloud. I’m all for poets reading aloud; I think it’s an essential dimension of poetry – but for god’s sake! Why, when you’ve spent such a long time and so much dedication to crafting the perfect poem, why would you then stand up and kill it? As I’ve mentioned before
I went to see Ted Hughes in the 1980’s; indisputably one of the greatest poets of the 20th century – and he killed his own work when he read it. He uttered the words in a monotone, almost with a sigh as if to say well, if I must, I must – and I came away thoroughly disappointed. And Hughes is far from being the only offender in this regard – I have heard poets, novelists, short story writers read from their work as though it did not need any more than the sound of their voice to animate it. It feels like a bone thrown to a dog, and it offends me. It’s as if they’re saying that the oral tradition doesn’t matter, that it comes a very poor second to words on the page.
Now I take strong exception to this. I feel a very strong connection to our oral traditions; to the bards and storytellers who existed before print was invented – and if I have an aim in poetry it’s to marry the oral and the printed. I want each of my poems to stand up on the page and on the stage. So here’s my plea to writers everywhere: if asked to read your work, practise reading until you can convey the spirit of the work orally as well as you have done on the page – and if you can’t, for god’s sake just get someone else to read it.
(And yes, I am available for a very reasonable fee…)