Saturday, December 28, 2013

Who Rescued Whom

In her book Ancestral Intelligence Vera Schwarcz shares her renditions of some of the "jottings" of Chinese historian and poet Chen Yinke (1890-1969). She describes Yinke as, "a man who never tired or rescuing words." The idea of poet as rescuer appealed to me. Ironically I see it the other way around too. Sometimes I am rescued by a word.

Yesterday I was working on a collection of poems I started two years ago, although some of the poems are older than that. I made a New Year's resolution in 2012 to complete the collection. Then last year, since I hadn't finished it, I re-resolved to do it in 2013. It's not totally finished yet, but at least I have selected the poems that will be the collection.

For me, revision is an unending process. As Paul Valery said, "a poem is never finished, only abandoned." So as I was going over these poems, there was one with a title I didn't like. I like my titles to enhance the poem without giving too much away. This title was flat out exposition. I turned to my old friend Roget and looked up the word "thanks." I was offered twelve choices beginning with "gratitude" and ending with "gramercy." Gramercy? Wasn't that a park in New York? Well, indeed, it is, but it seems there is also an archaic meaning of expressing thanks from the French: grand merci. (Evidently the etymology of the NYC park goes back to a Dutch word meaning "little crooked swamp," but that didn't make any sense for my poem).

So now I have  poem titled "Gramercy." I was excited about finding this word and putting it back in circulation, and, at the same time, grateful to Roget for rescuing me from a dull title. Gramercy to Monsieur Roget.

I haven't decided what my New Year's resolution for 2014 will be, but I still have a few days left.

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