Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Efficient Blogging: An Oxymoron?

Another "short" post today---I've got writing to do (he says as he contemplates the remote odds of completing a blog post in under ten minutes). My recent participation in the Mother Reader Blog Comment Challenge (visiting and leaving comments on five blogs a day for most of a month) got me to thinking. Admittedly, there is some danger associated with my engaging in that endeavor---thinking, that is. But I feel compelled to forge on.

What it got me to thinking about was how or if it might be possible to become an efficient blogger, to the point where blogging doesn't put the clock in over-drive? In theory, it could work. After all, how difficult could it be to click through five blogs, quickly read the blog post (or some part of one) for the day on each, leave a short if inane comment and get out?

I suppose the answer is, not too difficult if the objective is simply saying you did it---check off the five and move on. Never mind the whole other question of actually responding to the comments you may receive. Do you "reply" on your own blog or do you take the time to visit the commenter's blog and leave a random comment there? At best it seems we are sticking up yellow sticky notes on random bulletin boards in the Student Union of life. Is that any way to live?

When I'm blogging, what tends to happen is one thing leads to another. I get sidelined by something provocative or interesting and truly amazing that someone whom I have never met has written on their blog. And just as I am poised to click "PASTE" in the comment box, leaving something like: "Nice blog post. I would never have thought of that---this is so interesting I'll be back when I have more time.", my click finger gets a spasm, the only cure for which seems to be repetitive tapping on a succession of keys on the keyboard.

There go my hopes and dreams of blogging efficiency, suddenly dashed on the rocks of reflection and response. A blog comment here and another there and suddenly it's noon in a time zone several hours to the west, you know, like the middle of the Pacific as I sit in the only room in the house with a light on. That's about the time I hear the click of the front door latch as my wife arrives home from work, stumbling into the dark entryway, living room and kitchen. Had I been faster, I could have turned on some lights, at least leaving the illusion that I have done something else besides blogging the day away.

Now back to my original question: Is efficient blogging even remotely feasible or is it simply another oxymoron? The best I can hope to do is provide you with the definition and let you be the judge. According to The Urban Dictionary (and probably most others), the term "oxymoron" comes from the Greek words "oxy" (sharp) and "moros" (dull). Its meaning is any number of variations including something about two words which contradict or conflict with each other, that is, have opposite meanings often in a humorous or sarcastic way. Examples include: "Reality TV", "Jumbo Shrimp", "Healthy Tan", "Military Intelligence", "Free Trade", "Benevolent Dictator" and the list goes on....

So, where will each of you come down on the question? Good luck with your own attempts at achieving blogging efficiency. Whether successful or not, feel free to share a comment here based on your first hand empirical evidence. In a few days, I will wander back to compile the results from this admittedly unrepresentative sample. Until then, to paraphrase SNL from days past: "Blog on, Garth!"

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Masculine/Feminine Rhyme: Who Knew?

Just when you thought it was safe to break out your rhyming dictionary (or start running all your rhyming endings alphabetically through your head), someone tells you there's gender to contend with in the rhymes you write. What's up with that? After all, the last time you paid any attention to linguistic gender was Spanish class in the ninth grade---or was it when you ordered that beer during Spring Break in Puerto Vallarta?

No matter. The last place you thought gender would be an issue had to be rhyme, right? Well, fear not. It's not quite as problematic as you may anticipate. In fact, except that someone back in the day must have thought structural endings and sounds ought to be classified according to gender, it's unlikely that anyone would even notice. But just out of curiosity, it might be fun to try and sleuth out who among the ancients decided gender was important---and why.

So, where did the whole gender in rhyme thing originate? Did the early Chinese rhymers grapple with gender in their day? Although some of the oldest surviving Chinese poetry contains lyric aspects, because the written language is character based, any gender association to poetic form may be difficult to tease out. Left with that uncertainty, is the male-female poetic structure primarily western in origin? Could it simply be a non-functioning, vestigial "leftover" from Old Latin which etched its subtle tracks on the English language as romantic entanglements ebbed and flowed across Europe?

According to one source in the English Department at Carson-Newman College, (http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/lit_terms_R.html) the word "rhyme" itself originates "from Old French, rime meaning 'series,' in turn adopted from Latin 'rithmus' and Greek 'rhythmos'." Given some of the other gender assignments in Greek and Latin, might we ascribe gender features to the rhyming verses penned by the early Greeks and Romans?

No doubt, the definition of gender in rhyme could probably be argued until the cows come home, with a break taken only for milking before the debate starts again. As is true with virtually any sorting out of why words in any language might be classified as masculine versus feminine, rhymes are no different. One thing seems clear: at least in English, gender in rhyme seems to have little or nothing to do with the gender rules found in some romance languages.

That is, whether a line of verse in English ends in an "a" or "o" or other gender laden vowel or consonant, doesn't really matter as much as it does in the Spanish language. And speaking of word endings, despite its compromise value in the Italian language, the use of a neutral vowel (such as the letter "i") at the end of the plural form of both masculine and feminine words is not a gender-driven issue in English rhyme. But you have to admire the logical recognition of not being able to sort out gender in groups.

In the French language, the definition suggests line ending words which end in "e" are feminine and those that don't are masculine. Some sources also refer to "e" endings and unaccented ending syllables as being weak. Although I was a French major in college, I'll leave the "why" of those "differences" to others who know far more about the origins of the French language and who don't mind getting their shins kicked.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, although the reasoning might be debatable, the rules regarding gender in English rhyme are remarkably clear. According to the Collaborative International Dictionary of English, a female rhyme has a rhyming set in which the rhyming lines end in double-syllable words (ego, amigo). A male rhyme, on the other hand, is one where only the last syllable in the line endings agree (stand, demand). No doubt you have noticed the difference in where the stress is placed---keep reading.

The definitions are extended slightly in Brande and Cox (A Dictionary of Science, Literature and Art): "A rhyme, in which the final syllables only agree (strain, complain) is called a male rhyme; one in which the two final syllables of each verse agree, the last being short (motion, ocean), is called female." Simply stated, male rhymes end in words (often single syllable) where the final syllable in each line is accented. Female rhymes end in words where at least the last two syllables in the line match and the final syllable is unaccented.

In the spirit of using three or more sources, Dictionary.com defines female (or more correctly feminine) rhymes as: "a rhyme either of two syllables of which the second is unstressed (double rhyme), as in motion, notion, or of three syllables of which the second and third are unstressed (triple rhyme), as in fortunate, importunate." In their turn, male (or masculine) rhymes are defined as: "a rhyme between stressed monosyllables or between the final stressed syllables of polysyllabic words: book, cook; collect, direct."

You won't have to look very far to find a purely male rhyme, for example in "The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Colridge:

"Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink."

Finding female rhymes is a little more challenging. But they can be found, such as in Sonnet 20 "A Woman's Face With Nature's Own Hand" by William Shakespeare (gotta love the iambic pentameter):

A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;

Notably, many if not most rhymes contain both feminine and masculine rhyming sets. Often the combination is seen in the same verse in either an A/A, B/B or an A/B, A/B rhyming sequence. At other times as the entire verse may be either masculine or feminine. Whether standing alone or in combination, rhyme has clearly established itself as much more than doggerel---to be covered in another post.

By the way, I should say that I am completely unqualified to judge whether the differences in a rhyme's gender have anything to do with the comparative complexity of either the line endings or their namesakes. Nor will I make a judgement as to why women prefer piles of pillows on the sofa while men would generally be OK sitting on a stump---make that a reclining stump. Yet it is a great deal of fun to use the variations in line endings, whether in gender terms or any other terms, as a creative basis for studying and writing rhyme.

Besides, it's a great conversation starter at parties if only because rhyming gender is no doubt rarely used---until now, that is....

Friday, January 20, 2012

Puddles Just Waiting To Be Jumped In

Short post today. I was going to dig into rhyme a bit more but then it started raining. Granted, the connection may not be evident at first glance. But stay with me and you, too, will soon be able to follow my convoluted logic.

The Sacramento area is abysmally short of rain now already halfway through our "rainy season" that generally runs from middle-ish October to middle-ish April. In fact, some estimates show we are about 20 percent of average and that may be generous. Since December 1 we have had less than one tenth of an inch of rain when we should have had over four inches by this time on average. And where five feet of snow should have fallen already in the High Sierra, there is virtually bare dirt.

That is, until today, although so far it doesn't appear to be adding much to our total, it has generated lots of excitement among weather prognosticators. Really, it's actually more like a very light but steady drizzle and hardly enough to get any water running in the gutters at that.

But despite the fact it's no where close to a storm, yet, the rain is totally the reason my thinking shifted from "rhyme" to "run" as the subject of my post. You see, a rain like today is perfect for a run---just enough to wet things down a bit and create a few puddles to jump in but not enough to be a bother.

Therein lies the fun. Plain and simple, puddles bring out the kid in me. Going splat in the first one may wrinkle your nose up a bit. But after that, every puddle is just waiting, nay begging, to be jumped in. Who cares if shoes get wet and mud splatters up to your knees?

OK. That's it. That's my post for today. Here's to puddle jumping, in celebration of all puddles past and all those yet to come---even the piddly ones. Why, I'm even beginning to feel a short rhyme coming on, with a little syncopation to boot....

By Bill Kirk

Drip. Drip. Patter, pit.
Little drops of rain that hit
My umbrella. Under it,
I’m a perfect fit.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Funny Thing About Rhyme...

... like many apparently simple things in life, there's a lot more to it than meets the eye. Virtually every writer, whether poet, novelist, essayist or journalist, has likely toyed with rhyme at one time or another; most of the time not giving it a second thought beyond its schoolish fun. After all, it's not often we hear rhyme described as fascinating in its complexity, right?

What brings many, myself included, to rhyme is more of a stumbling headlong into the form because of its quirkiness and playfulness. After all, who hasn't recited "Roses Are Red" in the original or even written a knock-off? When I was growing up as an Air Force brat, a favorite was:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
You've got a shape,
Like a B-52.

It's hard not to love the romantic sentiment in that short verse written to my first girlfriend on Valentines Day. And what's not to like about its same sounding endings? Not to mention, it's got a bit of a beat. That rendering in rhyme was in about the fourth grade as I recall, when the massive B-52 jet bomber was becoming a household word on Air Force bases around the country.

Regretably, I can't claim to be the orignal author as most boys in my class were writing and reciting that little ditty ad infinitum at the time. Our teachers must have had the patience of Job. I'm certain Shakespeare thought the same thing about the beauty and functionality of rhyme, although perhaps fleetingly, as he added a rhyming couplet to the end of many of the acts and scenes in his plays.

So, let's get serious. You don't have to look very far to learn rhyme has a long history and is complex beyond all appearances. Google is loaded with what could be a literary googol of citations about rhyme. If you go there, I would plan to linger. For example, did you know...

* the first recorded (still surviving) rhyme was written in China in the tenth century BC?
* rhyme is found in the Koran and in the Bible.
* even the Greeks are known to have messed around with rhyme back in the day.
* rhyme made its appearance in Europe well before the 7th century by which time the Irish were using it extensively?
* rhyme started replacing alliteration (more on that in another post) as a preferred poetic form back in 14th century Europe?

And here are just a few of its many forms:

* Rhymes can be viewed generally or specifically. General rhymes have similar sounding words and may give a verse a sense of form. But they may not typically be regarded as rhyming in a strict way. The terms "near rhyme" (king-daring) or "forced rhyme" (noun-found) come to mind.

* On the other hand, rhymes in a specific sense are often referred to as perfect rhymes (see the B-52 above).

* Perfect Rhyme: Words in which the vowel sounds are exactly the same, whether spelled the same way or differently---the final stressed vowel sound (and the sounds that follow that vowel sound) are key, such as say-bay, dolt-bolt, good-would, shopping-hopping, locket-pocket.

* Perfect rhymes can be broken down further based on the number of rhyming syllables in the rhyming words.

* Of course, if there are perfect rhymes, there must be imperfect rhymes, also termed "near rhymes", already noted.

* Based on the location of the final stressed syllable in rhyming words, the rhyme can be classified as masculine, feminine or dactylic. (stay tuned next week).

* There can be rhyme which uses the same vowels (a characteristic known as "assonance") or the same consonants (known oddly enough as "consonance").

* There are also semirhymes where one word in the rhyming set has an extra syllable, not to mention half rhymes, pararhymes, syllabic rhymes, punning rhymes (where the words carry a very intentional and droll meaning), eye rhymes, tail rhymes, mind rhymes and holorhymes, just to name a few.

This list is far from exhaustive and that's just in English. Rhyming forms also vary based on the language in which they are written. Lost in translation doesn't even begin to cover it.

You can probably tell where this is going. First, there's no way to cover everything about rhyme in a single post. And second, because there's no way to cover it all in a single post, my new mission in life is to blog the socks off rhyme---to dignify it beyond doggerel; to lift it up as an art form; to celebrate its place in history; nay, to salute rhymers as risk takers in the face of often withering prosaic criticism.

So, take heart, rhymers. This is our time---and apparently it has been since about the 12th century. Who knew?

More to come....

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Mother Of All Blog Comment Challenges

OK. I shoulda shared this link several days ago along with some of my other resolution related comments. But in my defense, I didn't find out about it until the day after it started. What is it you ask? It's basically a behavior modification tool---doing something to develop a habit through repetion.

Admitedly I was a little skeptical at first. I mean, how did I think I would be able to add this into my already time crunched schedule? Besides, I've already let one or two of my resolutions slide. So, I was a little worried about my resolution to blog more and to expand my view of the blogging world by visiting and commenting on other blogs.

But what better way to reinforce that goal than by participating in a group challenge. Sure we've all heard about the couple in Fiji and a mystic on Madagascar who are self-disciplined enough to get up in the morning and hit the blog circuit as they sip their cup of joe or other stimulating beverage. For the rest of us, a little structure to nudge us along can be a good thing.

Herewith I offer you the link to the Mother Reader website where the Comment Challenge is described and the participants listed. In one place you will find lots of blogs written by folks just like you and me: writers, illustrators, librarians, teachers and lots of others interested in books and blogging and other such things.

The idea is to pick five blogs a day to visit and comment. Although initially I got caught up in blog surfing and couldn't seem to get to the commenting part, after three or four days, I started to get a bit more efficient. First, you get the visiting and commenting on the five sites done and everything else is gravy. Then, lo and behold, in no time you'll be firmly planted in the five-blogs-a-day groove and your resolution is secure.

Along the way, you will encounter lots of really neat blogs written by people you have a lot in common with. Maybe they homeschool their kids or work in a library or love to travel or are wondering how to promote their books. Maybe they grew up in a military family or have two dogs and three cats or live in Australia.

I suppose in some ways it's like speed dating, not that I've ever done that. But I watched a speed dating segment on "What Would You Do?" once. All I can say is, if speed dating had been around back when I was trying to get up the courage to ask a girl out, I wouldn't have survived. But I digress. If the idea of beefing up your blogging appeals to you, click here to check out the challenge at Mother Reader and you, too, may get hooked.

I know. I know. You'll be starting a little late by a few days. But I hear they do this every year. So, what do you have to lose? Maybe I'll see you around the blogosphere, like two ships passing in the night. It could happen....