Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse”

[Below is a sample blog entry intended to provide some idea of what one of your own blog posts about our texts might look like. This one is a little longer than you need to produce (a minimum of 100 words, excluding quotations).]

Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin looking weird.

Although a very short poem, Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” produces some pretty complicated and varied effects. At times it can seem angry, at times despairing or depressing, and at other times funny.

I think that it is, finally, a very serious poem that uses all of these emotions to make a comment about what it is to be “human.”

It’s hard not to like the poem’s opening:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.

The language he uses here, which is vulgar and familiar, suggests his relationship to his audience, which he wants to be chatty. He shocks us, but also puts us at ease by using very everyday language.

The conclusion of the poem is where it gets most “serious”:

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Here, the poem shifts from talking about the poet, or his reader, to applying the idea of inherited “misery” to all humans in a way that would be pretty depressing if he left off here. The last lines, however, return to humour, and focus more specifically on us again, almost as though there is really nothing left to do but laugh at our own misery:

Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

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This Is Not an Essay! Writing a Blog Post

You’ve all read blogs, right? In fact, many of you will belong to the first generation that has had access to online blogs throughout virtually your entire reading life: they’ve been around now for well over a decade.

The blog (a contraction or portmanteau term from “web log”) has, over the past decade or more, established itself as a legitimate genre of writing in its right. Blogs are now used for a wide variety of purposes: for academic and scholarly writing, as a form of social or political commentary, as sites devoted to particular “interests” or hobbies, as advertisements and PR, and, of course, as a kind of online diary.

David Foster WallaceBecause it has established itself as a sort of literary (or, as some would still insist, subliterary) genre, blog writing has developed its own particular stylistic characteristics and features. Some, such as Maud Newton in a recent article in the New York Times, have suggested that the late David Foster Wallace‘s slangy hipply ironic writing style has become the norm for the most popular blogs.  (You can tell that blogs are slangy and “hip:” by the fact that I just linked to Wikipedia . . .)

While each blog (and often each blog post in collaborative blogs or MABs) will of course reflect something of the personal style of the author, there are common features.

  • Blogs are casual and generally colloquial
  • Bloggers tend to write as though they were one half of a conversation. The reader, of course, is the other half
  • Blog posts are usually quite brief
  • On the whole, most blogs work harder at “entertaining” than “informing” the reader
  • While some blogs (particularly scholarly ones) will employ conventional citation methods, most blogs simply use hyperlinks to reference sources
  • Blogs are often multimedia, employing embedded images and video.

Shakespeare the HipsterWhat much of this suggests is that blogs are no less “literary” than any other form. They are still about catching and keeping the interest of an audience, and, despite their use of a more casual diction and style, they still employ the full range of literary devices to do this. So you shouldn’t be afraid to either.

Blogs are also, to some degree, about the credibility of the author. This is established not only through the use of a sort of “personal voice” in writing, but also by ensuring that the writing is not merely “literary,” but also at least minimally literate. Try to avoid spelling and grammatical errors: these will not endear you to your readers or convince them that you are worth reading.

Choose an audience. Actually, let me choose one for you. Although your TAs and I will be reading your blogs, we are not your main audience. Your fellow students, and you, are. Write for them, and write stuff that they — and you — will find useful for this course. Write about your own impressions of texts, and give your own insights, as well as about the things that you “learned” in tutorial and lecture. Write things that will help you later remember the texts that we read — things that will help recall to mind not merely the “facts,” but also the experience of reading them.

But you have all read blogs. You already know this stuff. Right?