Warning – the entry uses the word ‘fuck’ a lot. Primarily because Vampire Weekend use it in their song Oxford Comma.
Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?
I’ve seen those English dramas too
Dear Vampire Weekend,
I give a fuck about an Oxford comma. Or the fucking around of an Oxford comma, at least.
*Not to mention that with their accents they sound like they’re saying karma. At least, they sound like a citizen of various Commonwealth locales saying karma. And saying ‘fuck you’ to karma is a Bad Plan, I’m pretty sure. This furthers the feeling of ‘no love’.
Onnnn to the point. Oxford commas, or serial commas, as they are apparently also known (Wikipedia research FTW!) are a little something I’d like to not give a fuck about. In my day to day life, I don’t use them, unless, like Wikipedia suggests, usage makes sense in order to avoid ambiguity in intent. They don’t bother me, I don’t bother them.
So, back story, I’m queen of ‘creative clutter’ AKA I have a very messy bedroom. And I decided that this morning would be the perfect moment to do a little fixing-up of this situation. Me being me, this resulted in retrieving the haphazardly thrown/draped clothing and sticking it in a pile in front of my wardrobe, prior to sorting between washing basket and hypothetical putting-away, and then deciding it was time to sort out my books. Because tidy books are really my main concern. This, in turn, inevitably resulted in my looking through shelves I don’t normally pick things out from – on this occasion, my bottom shelf, which houses books too big for other shelves. So this includes a few textbooks, picture books that I love, art books, a book on the history of riot grrrl leant to me by Katrina-my-American-BFF, a graphic novel or two aaaand this journal called Through a Gap in the Fence which is a collection of art and words by secondary students the whole country over. In which a poem I wrote in my last year of school, called Petra, found itself published. Yay!
Truth is, I hadn’t actually read my poem in these shiny pages. My old English teacher actually submitted it the year after I’d left school, so this is a 2008 publication, even though I graduated at the end of 2007. And the actual printing/sending me a copy took a while too – to the point where it came in the mail while I was on my student exchange in Montreal. So upon my arrival from North American shores, the appreciation of this old-ish poem in a collection of school students’ writing wasn’t paramount in my mind. And I’d kind of forgotten that it had existed, truth be told. So I flipped through, right to the back of the collection where my poem resides (being very last in a collection is kind of a good thing, I think – you don’t get lost in the middle of everything) and read through, admiring some of my work and cringing slightly at my sixteen/seventeen year old attempts at ethereal poetry. It’s still pretty decent, I feel.
Then I got to the last two lines. Read them once, then read them again, then realised what had caused my confusion.
THEY HAD PUT A GODDAMN OXFORD COMMA IN MY POEM.
Let me tell you right now, there was never any such extraneous comma in my original poem.
I wrote ‘she is Byzantine, Lenten and loveless‘ – my intended idea being that she encompassed some sort of Byzantine nature of being both Lenten and loveless. The ‘Lenten and loveless’ was in apposition to the ‘Byzantine’.
When they typed it up for publication, they wrote ‘she is Byzantine, Lenten, and loveless‘.
Which is not what I was going to at all. Which is why my face went all angry-like and I wrote an equally angry-like tweet or three about it. Punctuation in poetry is a different kettle of fish to punctuation in prose. Everything is picked for a reason, Sir/Madam Editor, and even if you’re a cheerleader for the Liberation of the Oxford Comma, don’t take it out on my poem. Please. You made me sad.
In reality, I know that editorial slip-ups occur and the like, but it still fired me up enough to warrant typing – wow – 800 or so words about it. Also in reality, I really do like the Vampire Weekend song. So, the moral of the story is – poetic punctuation is important and editors should realise this, that song isn’t REALLY about punctuation, and any publication is worth celebrating.
In case you wanted to actually read the poem in question, here ’tis.
She came in the summer.
The one when Christina turned
Sixteen, and we thought
We had grown up.
When we ate strawberries
Behind the boatshed, listening
To Siouxsie Sioux.
We called it ‘old wave’.
The sky is a petulant blue
like us, and clarity
like silver tongues
and Lennon/McCartney songs
seems to exist
for a moment.
Petra, she says, without
the Hellenic splendour
we were accustomed to.
She sits beneath
an Andy Warhol print, Campbell’s Soup
but instead of pop art
she is Byzantine, Lenten and loveless
with eyes flat as unlevened bread.
(The editors in the collection also neglected to italicise ‘Campbell’s Soup‘. Jeez.)