Monday, August 08, 2011

Yipe

When The Soul of the Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage was published, those many years ago, it was for me a special moment, not my first book, but the first that gave full vent to a part of myself that had been waiting forty years for release. My publisher seemed to share my joy. For one thing, they printed up thousands of promotional broadsides on art-quality paper with one of Michael McCurdy's wood engravings from the book and the following excerpt from the beginning of Chapter 4:
Who goes abroad at night? The glowworm, trailing phosphorescence. The whippoorwill and the cuckoo, self-announcing. The bullfrog and the cricket, contrapuntal, out of tune. The owl and the moth are abroad at night; one is the other magnified. The hedgehog is abroad, with spikes tipped by stars. The woodcock, in flirtatious circles. The slug and the snail, on threads of slime. Into collied night, sable-vested night, go specters. And incubi and succubi, with sinister intent. Werewolves transfigure. Vampires seize and suck. Spars of sailing ships are struck with St. Elmo's fire. The fata morgana beckons. Poets go abroad at night: "This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary. The trees of the mind are black." And astronomers. When the sun goes down, astronomers rise into their element like shades and badgers.
Over the top? Perhaps. I was young and more inclined than now to dress up in purple prose. Still, 26 years later the book remains in print, in a beautiful matched edition with Honey From Stone.


As I just now typed out the above passage from the book, Word underlined in green the sentence fragments, of which there are half-a-dozen, gently chiding me for my grammatical lapse. I recall that when the original manuscript came back from Prentice-Hall's copy editor -- 26 years ago -- every one of the hundreds of sentence fragments in the book had been given a verb. I was devastated. It was early in my career as a writer. I was excited that my book was being published. And here the publisher was telling me to strip my prose of what seemed to me essential. Pedantry versus art. I decided to take a stand. The fragments remain, I insisted, or I withdraw the book and return the advance.

The fragments were restored.

And now, I get "corrected" again by Word.

The Soul of the Night was written in pencil on a yellow legal pad, then rendered digital with the first computer I ever used in writing, a Radio Shack TRS-80, with its tiny five-line LCD screen. That sweet little machine did not protest my fragments. Even my egregious misspellings and typos passed muster. And now my MacBook Pro watches over me like a grammatically-fixated school marm, amending my every lapse.

I believe I mentioned here once before my spouse's concise method of editing my work, which served me well over the years. Three words: yuk, yipe, and yow. "Yuk" means -- well, yuk. "Yipe" flags something egregious. And "yow" means she likes.

Word does OK with the yipe, but still has a long way to go before it can recognize the yuk and yow.