Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for November 15th, 2006

stepsister impromptu

Posted by metaphorical on 15 November 2006

Have you noticed the latest style for spam subject lines? In my inbox, at least, I see short phrases (often two words long), in odd juxtiposition. They remind me of the Carolyn Forché poem, “On Earth,” from her collection Blue Hour. The poem consists of a list of phrases 46 pages long.

Here’s a sample:

as for children, so for the dead
as gloves into a grave
as God withdrawing so as to open an absence
as he appears and reappears in the unknown
as if a flock of geese were following
as if there were no other source of food
as if to say goodbye to his own mind
as if we had only one more hour
as if with the future we could replace the past
as in the childhood of terror and holiness

There are a few things to notice. The lines are mere phrases, sentence fragments, and they are alphabetically arranged. If you read the whole poem, you’d see there are themes only in the vaguest sense; if some ideas are returned to, it’s almost by accident.

In Honor Moore’s literature seminar last semester, Honor told us that Forché, a friend of hers, called her one night and told her about a new poem. She had had a computer file of lines, mostly phrases, that she had been collecting for years. One day, “I just pressed ‘sort’,” Forché told her. Honor showed us there are all sorts of things you can do with such a list besides sorting them.

So here we go. The rules are simple. The subject lines are unedited except minimally for punctuation and capitalization. Some great lines, such as “silken devastation” or “dysentery nondenominational,” have been omited because they were, well, too good.

Or Rare Of Rock

agree agree
don’t win
unskilled
overly repetitive
wrongdoer

each con
scorn overcrowded
sentence, followed

recreation adopted ethic

allow donated
planetaria junk food
greenhouse bold
nankeen lily palm kale

through frigid water
or rare of rock

suffix after
timer below
known perpetual
gold specific clock
miscarriage vanguard
traveling machine

rag hotcake
pocketbook accolade
cosmopolitan blistering
stepsister impromptu

plight fourteenth
of the circlet
slacken hour
write nonintervention

dove antique
and this

to to athwart
walrus ebony
ratification purist
exonerate topic sentence
turtleneck recoup
drachmae schoollike rehypothecation
Jerusalem.

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