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You have no choice. There is no way around it. “It” being the small stuff. And if you can learn to love it, you will be happier. Face it: the big stuff is surrounded by the small stuff, to all of which you must attend. You cannot back out. You cannot trust someone else to do it for you. It comes with the job. It is your job. Sad to say, copy editors make mistakes. Even sadder to say, almost no one now knows the difference between “lie” and “lay.” Television reporters have destroyed it. Even English professors get “lie” and “lay” wrong regularly. Moreover, if you want somebody to understand what you have written, you must employ commas. Saddest of all, a complete sentence is not an incomplete sentence. (Though I sometimes write is if it were.) Oh, it goes on and on, this ravaged language of ours, the discarded punctuation — “Hello John” is not an address because it lacks the comma of address, to wit, “Hello, John” — the misspelling, the objects of preposition, the elegance sacrificed, the logic washed away and languishing beside a rope of weed next to a dying pond. How have we arrived at this woebegone place, this place where nobody knows grammar, this wasteland, this last, best place before we drive off the map? STOP RIGHT HERE. GET OUT OF THE CAR. GET READY TO TAKE NOTES. Without grammar, you are lost. With it, and only with it, you will be able to continue. To get where you want to go.

More… “Absolutely Sweat the Small Stuff”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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There’s a delightful essay in the 90th anniversary issue of the New Yorker, in which longtime copy editor Mary Norris expounds on her craft, with particular attention to the comma, and defends, almost successfully, the magazine’s indefensibly arcane comma style in sentences like “When I was in high school, at Horace Mann, in the Bronx, in the nineteen-seventies, everyone took pride in the brilliant eccentricity of our teachers.” (“I really don’t see how any of them could be done without.”) My favorite passage involves her questioning the idiosyncratic commas in James Salter’s novel Light Years. She’s sure Salter is too careful a writer to make a mistake; so why then does he insert an unnecessary comma in a line about a “thin, burgundy dress” that shows the outline of a woman’s stomach? And later: “that stunning, wide smile.” A ship’s “black, stained side.”
More… “Much Hinges”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.
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