Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Category: Uncategorized

Lock-down

I’m currently working from home. That’s a necessity, not a luxury. I’ve been pretty inactive as a writer for some time, I confess and for reasons I won’t bore you with, but I’m afraid the covid-19 lock-down won’t give me any extra opportunity. Setting up working from home, and managing my work from here rather than from a convenient office, will actually take up at least as much time as a ‘normal’ day of commuting and office time. The only advantage is I get to put on my playlist.

Seriously everyone, stay at home, stay safe.

R.I.P Les Noble

Les edited all my published and scheduled-for-publication novels. No typo or grammatical error ever got past him – he would even query vernacular grammar just in case. His passing is a great loss.

the red ant

durbslaunchLes

It is with shock and grief that I heard last night that on the 13th of March, our friend, and chief editor, and long-term associate of P’kaboo, Leslie Noble, lost his fight against cancer.

He fought this illness like a champion, keeping spirits high, taking care of his granddaughters, tackling new projects and looking after his friendships.  He was one of the most vivacious people I’ve ever come across.  P’kaboo lost an amazing author and editor; for me personally, a close friend crossed over to the other side.  My children lost one of their favourite authors.

Les, your fight is over and it is good that you are no longer in pain.  May you rest in peace.  May your family find comfort.  Our deepest condolences.

I know, as you believed too, that you are around, still looking out for your loved ones and your friends.  We shall meet again beyond…

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The Spring 2019 Showcase is now published

Go there, and like what you find…

the zen space

oreum landscape annotated 900

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A sort-of-review of Marie Marshall’s T.S.Eliot Prize nominated ‘I am not a fish’

Featured Image -- 2877

If you thought reviews were as dull as ditch-water, then you never read one by Daniel Paul Marshall (no relation, honest!).

Daniel Paul Marshall

You’ll never believe me…I was waiting to Skype God. You can imagine the anxiety! I mean…the Almighty, the Alpha & the Omega, Tetragrammaton—YHWH. It was buffering his end, ringing out. There was a lot of eeking & blare. The postman dropped his delivery. I was gripped on what God was going to look like. I suspected a primate for some reason. Nothing ichthyic I thought, nor feline, leonine or arachnid. I was going primate. Still buffering I opened my mail. It was Marie Marshall’s T.S. Eliot Prize nominated I am not a Fish. I forgot all about my natter with God—what had he to do with me, now?

This
book is unlike anything. A mellifluous mash of hilarious, playful poems,
evading the reader whilst prodding with long boney digits of joy. There is
alchemy between word & imagination, infused with hallucinatory &
hypnotic substance, which sounds painful, but actually manifests…

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Well, actually…

The Winter 2018 Showcase at the zen space is now published. Please visit.

the zen space

200 BunnymanI did manage to get the Winter 2018 Showcase published today! Callooh! Callay! So come and join the Bunnyman and his friends over there, and celebrate Hogmanay.

Actually, I don’t think we actually mention Hogmanay, but there’s a goodly amount of other stuff for your delight. So either hover your pointer over the ‘Experience’ tab and scroll down until a link for the Winter 2018 Showcase appears, then click on it. Alternatively, please feel free to click here.

By the way, I check out how the site looks using Google Chrome. If it looks at all odd in your browser, please let me know. I’m not sure there’ll be much I can do about it, but it would be useful to know. Thanks.

M.

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My hopes for 2018

From my (occasional) other site.

Marie Marshall - Lady wot writes

1MY HOPES FOR 2018 are very simple: That we will end privilege, not by cutting down but by raising up; not by deprivation but by sharing; not by leaving people bereft of purpose but by allowing and encouraging them to see new purpose.

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Coming down the road I saw an elephant

Loving in truth, and fain in verse my love to show,
That she, dear she, might take some pleasure in my pain, –
Pleasure might cause her read, reading might make her know,
Knowledge might pity win, and pity grace obtain, –
I sought fit words to paint the blackest face of woe;
Studying inventions fine her wits to entertain.
Oft turning others’ leaves, to see if thence would flow
Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn’d brain.
But words came halting forth, wanting invention’s stay;
Invention, Nature’s child, fled step-dame Study’s blows;
And others’ feet still seem’d but strangers in my way.
Thus great with child to speak and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”

Sir Philip Sidney
Sonnet 1, Astrophil and Stella

When a friend, having read my piece on rearward prepositions and double no-nos, asked me if I actually did stick to any of the ‘rules’ of English, I stopped to consider the matter. I came to the conclusion that I probably did, but largely without knowing it, having absorbed many of them in the course of everyday communication, as well as having them handed down to me in education. After all, I speak French, so I’m aware of the grammatical construction of a different language. Also I did two or three years Latin at school, so I know well enough where men like Dryden and Lowth are coming from. But the main thing is that it doesn’t matter much where I got my own usage from, because now I have had a lifetime of just letting it flow – latterly as a writer and poet – and finding out that every word we speak, write, or type is a work of creation. We are beings of expression, not simply of information.

ps2Still, however, my friend pressed me. “Notwithstanding your refreshingly anarchic view of your native language, is there a line you will not cross? Is there one of these fussy rules that you yourself would not dream of transgressing?”

Well, to be honest, there is one that always hits me right in the eye, makes me turn up my nose, purse my lips, grind my teeth, set my jaw, and wiggle my ears – the misrelated participle, or a clause containing one. Much though today’s liberal linguists tell me not to worry, the damn thing still bugs me. That’s why I started this article with a sonnet by Sir Philip Sidney. What a poet! Although he did not, strictly speaking, introduce the sonnet form into English poetry, it was his work that gave it currency in the late 16c. The lines of the sonnet above are ‘alexandrines’, having twelve syllables each, and many of them defy the reader’s expectation of strictly iambic metre. Thus, here in the childhood of the English sonnet, before Shakespeare’s pentameter had become the norm, we have a form with a remarkable amount of freedom and expressiveness. But right there at the end in the lines…

Thus great with child to speak and helpless in my throes,
Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite,
“Fool,” said my Muse to me, “look in thy heart and write.”

… can be seen a monumental grammatical misrelation. It is the poet who is great with child, helpless, biting his pen, and beating himself, but in apposition to that we find his Muse related grammatically to all that helplessness and beating.

Do I care that much? Well, in this context, in the context of this marvelously free-running poetry, no I don’t. if anything, the grammatical misrelation, deliberate or not, seems to fit the voice of the poem – the poet and lover, distracted and frustrated, groping for the right words and being surprised by some simple advice from his Muse, which breaks in on his mood. It’s almost as if the misrelation signals that sudden but refreshing intrusion. But consider the following:

Sitting on some iron railings, the Royal Family were easy to see.

Yes, I suppose they would be, perched up there, but it hardly fits with the ideal of regal dignity! Of course we know that it’s not the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, et al, who are perched on the railings, but the onlooker, and the context of that statement would make that clear. However, what strikes me about that sentence is that the misrelation and the picture it conjures up makes it ugly, awkward, and breaks my own rule of euphony. I simply wouldn’t say it, because saying it would make me feel uncomfortable, would make me feel that I was saying something ugly, and that’s a good enough reason not to say it.

Consider another sentence:

Born in Russia, his operas are considered his finest work.

The misrelation in this sentence is much less startling, because although the opening phrase ‘Born in Russia’ is in apposition to the grammatical subject of the second phrase, ‘his operas’, it’s pretty obvious we’re talking about the composer himself. It’s a relatively harmless example, and not excessively ugly.

What worries me, however, is that if we don’t make a point of avoiding, as far as we can, this kind of misrelation, we are going to find ourselves, from time to time, stumped. Consider the following scenario: I’m sitting at my computer right now, and a friend rushes in to my room. “Guess what,” she says, “coming down the road I saw an elephant!” She says no more than that, but waits for my reaction. My grammatical brain tells me instantly that it was she who was coming down the road. 12But wait! Because we’re so used to misrelation, how can I be sure about that? Three pictures form in my mind. Firstly, based on grammar, I see my friend walking down the road, and spotting an elephant in a fenced paddock. Secondly I see the elephant coming down the road, and my friend seeing it from the relative safety of an upstairs window. Thirdly – oh what the hell! – I see my friend coming down the road from one direction and the elephant coming down the road from the other. I have to ask her for clarification.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“What do you mean what do I mean?” she asks with a frown. “I mean coming down the road I saw an elephant!”

And we’re back to square one.

I wonder, actually, whether inserting a comma into her sentence would help? Is there any difference between…

Coming down the road I saw an elephant.

… and

Coming down the road, I saw an elephant.

The trouble is, you can’t actually hear a comma. Isn’t English absolutely wonderful! That, by the way, was a rhetorical question.

I’m in a subjunctive mood…

I wasted a lot of time recently arguing with a blogger who had ‘learned the rules’ of English at school. My use of English was, according to him, ‘lazy’ because I broke some of these rules. No use my telling him I’m university-educated, that I have spent a lot of time examining historical texts and their linguistic usage, that I’m aware of every rule and rubric that the English language has been saddled with, and that I know full well which ones come from the natural eloquence of everyday speech and which ones were foisted on us despite that natural eloquence. No matter that I have followed and marvelled at the development of modern English from its Medieval roots to its present position as a vibrant, living World Language, with a host of attendant lects and sub-lects that handle every discourse, every social and ethnic specialness, every creative need. No, his schoolmarm knew better, and now so did he!

Aye, right.

Let me examine two of these rules and see how they stand up to scrutiny. Firstly, the question of ending a phrase or sentence with a preposition.

1“We are such stuff as dreams are made on,” says Prospero at the end of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the euphony of that phrase of feminine-ended tetrameter shines out of the dark of four centuries, reminding the audience of the essentially ephemeral existence of that redemptive fantasy and its characters.* Shakespeare was a genius of language; it was all he had to hold his audience with, in the days when CGI effects were not even dreamt of. And this phrase, shining like a candle, ends with a preposition.

Likewise the roll-call of drowned sailors making this wonderful piece of iambic pentameter:

‘Ten thousand men that fishes gnawed upon.’ (Richard III, 1.4.25)

But I over-egg the pudding, friends. Shakespeare ended sentences this way simply because that’s exactly how everyday English – the English of Kings and commoners alike – was spoken. So when King Henry V, wandering in disguise around the camp of the English army before the battle of Agincourt, is challenged to answer the question ‘Who servest thou under?’ he does not ‘correct’ his challenger’s question. And when, in As You Like It Rosalind asks Orlando ‘Who do you speak to?’ it raises no eyebrows, because it flows off the tongue of a native-speaker like water down a country rill. Moreover, as a king may not quibble at a question, and a well-bred lady may use a preposition as she pleases, a prince may speak of ‘the thousand shocks that flesh is heir to’ in his most famous soliloquy (Hamlet, 3.1.61-62).

2So, where did the rule to the contrary come from? Many consider that the attribution of Shakespeare’s usages not to one-part-observation one-part-inventiveness, but to ignorance and lack of education, started with John Dryden in the late 17c. Dryden was a scholar of Latin, and since in Latin it was impossible to end a sentence with a preposition, he decided it should be improper in English, usage or no usage.** Influential amongst his own circle though Dryden might have been, ‘Dryden’s Rule’ was not codified until the second half of the 18c, when Bishop Robert Lowth produced his A Short Introduction to English Grammar. 3But even he acknowledged that ending a sentence with a preposition was dominant ‘in common conversation’ and suited ‘very well the familiar style of writing.’ So not even Lowth would go as far as saying it should never be done!

Nevertheless, by the early 20c it became the norm amongst teachers of English in schools to preach up the banishment of prepositions from their natural place in colloquial speech. Notwithstanding that, the preposition knew its place better than the teachers did, and kept to it in every discourse except in the speech and writings of pedants. Even Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage referred to the preposition’s banishment as a ‘superstition’!

4At this point in the discussion of prepositions it is usual to cite Winston Spencer Churchill who, it is supposed, replied to a torturous memo from a civil servant, in which prepositions had been engineered away from the end of phrases to the extent that the prose resembled crazy-paving, ‘This is something up with which I will not put!’ However, nice though this piece of ridicule is, the story is apocryphal.

So, is it actually wrong to take prepositions away from the end of sentences? Well, no it isn’t. It is no more wrong than to banish them. As in all things to do with English usage the principle guidelines*** are: clarity, i.e. there should be no confusion, no ambiguity about what is meant; euphony, i.e. it should not sound ugly; emphasis, i.e. the placing of any word depends on how the phrase or sentence is nuanced, thus to say “Where are you going from?” can be used not only because of its colloquial currency, but because it may draw attention to the most important component of the question. 5Equally, when Abraham Lincoln drew the preposition away from the end of a sentence in his address at Gettysburg – ‘increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion’ – he knew precisely where the emphasis should fall in his rhetoric. Thus both are correct, in their own way, according to the context.

Clarity. Euphony, and emphasis are only guidelines, however, and I can think of many reasons why, for the sake of artistic effect, even they can be (carefully) discarded.

On to the next issue, the use of the double negative.

The blogger I was discussing my usage with seemed to be too busy reading his own prejudices to read what I was actually saying about this. It all came about because I deliberately used a negative word to negate a negative phrase I had lifted from him. I was in fact using two negatives to resolve to a positive. He couldn’t get his head round that, he couldn’t cope with any idea except that two negatives together were ‘wrong’. Yet the concept of two negatives resolving to a positive is actually straight-down-the-line schoolmarm English! I’ll leave that point there, as it needs no embellishment.

6There is, of course the question of using a double negative as an intensifier. Now, do I need to quote Shakespeare and Milton to anyone? It is usual for anyone who hears a usage in English that they think is ugly, ‘lazy’, or just new, to shake their head, wring their hands, and lament “Oh, the language of Shakespeare and Milton!” The thing is, both of these writers sometimes used double negatives as intensifiers. Oh yes they did!

Viola says of her heart, ‘And that no woman has, nor never none shall mistress be of it,’ (Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, 3.1.156-157) and actually I counted four in there!

‘Nor did they not perceive the evil plight in which they were,’ (Milton, Paradise Lost). This is an interesting example, as it has the common use of ‘nor’ as an intensifier at the beginning of a phrase. And by the way, yes, I spotted where Milton had placed his preposition. As I said, both are correct usage.

The difficulty that some readers have with such intensifiers is that, post-18c and the introduction of books like Lowth’s, their use has been identified with a lack of schooling. Whether that identification is a fair criterion to judge them is another matter. In my discussion with the blogger, I cited ‘African-American Vernacular English’ (AAVE), which is recognised by academic linguists as being a legitimate lect of English. Its usage is so ingrained, that it is not simply current but widely influential. Its origins are unclear, but it is probable that it drew its strongest characteristics not only from African speech-patterns but also from the speech-patterns of early English-American settlers. Certainly a very clear factor in its development was the generations-long deprivation of the African-American societal layer from formal education. However, in no way does that invalidate its legitimacy as a lect, in no way are its users inherently ‘lazy’ for using it. I find it highly ironic that ‘laziness’ should be an attribute so often applied to a people who for generations had to suffer slavery!

6In AAVE, as I said, the use of a double negative as an intensifier is very common. So, for example, when Ray Charles sang “I don’t need no doctor…” it was perfectly clear what he meant. Again – clarity. But my stubborn blogger again could not get his head round the fact that to use or not to use a double negative depended entirely on context, not on a supposed laziness or lack of education. Certainly not on my part.

So, is my own English usage ‘perfect’? Well, should I even be aiming for that? In this essay I have deliberately used colloquial forms which have been frowned at by generations of schoolmarms. I have used the singular they/their, I have ended sentences with prepositions, I have started sentences with conjunctions, I have mixed British and American criteria for double and single quotes, I have sprinkled this essay with all kinds of things that some readers may find questionable. But did you, at any time, not understand what I was saying? I doubt it. That’s because I know my English, I know what it does, I know how it’s used, and I know how to use it.

But no, my English has never been ‘perfect’. I headed this article ‘I’m in a subjunctive mood’. That’s because I have to confess that I wrestled with a particular grammatical issue for many years – the subjunctive.

In the English language, strictly speaking, verbs no longer have a subjunctive mood. English does, however, retain a few zombie elements of it, and for a long time I had a big, big blind spot about these elements. Were I to illustrate this by saying that, if I was you, I would read no further, then you would see what I was driving at. I said ‘Were I to illustrate this…’ and that is pure subjunctive, expressing something conditional. I said ‘if I was you’, which was pointed out to me by someone editing my work as being ‘wrong’. To my mind, the word ‘if’ was enough to carry the conditional sense, and the phrase ‘if I was you’ required no subjunctive form of the verb. However, I had never been pulled up on this issue until that editorial process. I checked up on the matter, and I found that ‘if I were you’ was generally regarded as being ‘correct’. Was this another of these arbitrary ‘rules’ that had been foisted on us in the 18c? That didn’t matter to me. What did matter was the question of register and discourse – for whom I wrote generally, and in what context. In that respect ‘if I were you’ would be better received, and actually I had to admit it sounded better to my ear when I spoke each over. It sounded right. It sounded right. It had the benefit of euphony, this use of a double – ha! – conditional.

Wonder of wonders, there’s a grammatical construction that you must double.

Interestingly, though, the way it had been put to me was that ‘if I was you’ was the way the idea was commonly expressed amongst users of English as a second language, in a particular country, and was regarded by many users of English as a first language in that country as the speech of the ill-educated. And there I think we have come full-circle!

__________

7* Humphrey Bogart’s final words in The Maltese Falcon – “The stuff that dreams are made of” – is in fact a misquotation. But that isn’t a problem, because there are many, many misquotes from Shakespeare, from the Bible, from other sources, floating freely out there. The English language is not poorer for them, it is probably richer.

** This is precisely why splitting an infinitive used to be considered incorrect – it was impossible in Latin, so it should be improper in English. See? Modern linguists consider that to be a silly, unnecessary rule, and I’m with them!

*** Inasmuch as rules are for the blind obedience of fools and the guidance of the wise.

 

 

How Tam o’ Shanter came to be written – a tale for Burns Night

A reprise of my Burns Night story!

Marie Marshall

detail of Faed's Tam

Was it a year ago now, since last we piped in the great chieftain o’ the pudding race, that we raised an amber dram, that we all gave a hearty slainte mhath! There was one braw lad whose eyes were twinkling with glee and single malt, who rose and recited – without a prompt – the auld tale of Tam o’ Shanter, the skellum the blethering, blustering, drunken blellum. Aye, aye, and how we laughed, how we all chorused “Weel done, Cutty Sark!” And how we cheered on old Tam was he whipped Maggie his mare towards Doon Water and the Brig, held our breath at the last loup of Nannie the witch to grab the mare’s tale as Tam won to the key-stane o’ the brig, and yes, how we let it all out with a big gasp when he was hame and free. More, how…

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Axe

Revisiting a short story of mine, in which a Caribbean-British girl moves to Glasgow and joins a girl-gang. There she learns about violence, love, laughter, and death.

More than one person has suggested it would make good cinema. That has set me thinking…

Marie Marshall

All the girls call me ‘Axe’. Tough name, but nah need fe aks me why, coz of me accent, ell-oh-ell!

They’re like to me – We were gonnay give you a kicking. Two days I’ve been in Glasgow, two days! I go out to a club, and these girls come over and they’re looking mean like they mean business, right. But the music is loud and the girl who’s doing all the talking has this accent, this Scottish accent, and she’s shouting over the music, and I’m like – What? What? And she’s back to me like – What? What? And then the music stops and all you can hear is her shouting what and me shouting what, and suddenly everyone’s laughing.

So the girl who’s doing all the talking, this is her to me – Come over to our table. And I’m like – Okay, cool. So we all…

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