Daily Archives: May 19, 2019

1 post

Phrases and Clauses and Words, Oh My!

Syntax. It sounds like a levy the government collects on bad habits: smoking, drinking, voting for radical leftwing socialists who care more about people than corporations.

But, no. Syntax, accord to Merriam, Webster, and their Indian maiden friend Sacagawea, is “a: the way in which linguistic elements (such as words) are put together to form constituents (such as phrases or clauses), b: the part of grammar dealing with this.”

And though we might frequently forget the meaning of syntax, we all use it each time we put pen to paper or key to screen. Voila! With our eyes closed and our throat humming “Camptown Races,” we produce not only phrases but clauses (take that, Santa)! Who says actions speak louder than words? Try syntax without them!

Anyway, all this throat clearing is by way of introducing a short Ron Padgett poem inspired by (wait for it…) syntax! You heard me. Grammar. A topic as dry as drought-time wheat. Further proof that anything can inspire poetry, in the right hands choreographed by the right brain. To wit:


Syntactical Structures
Ron Padgett

It was as if
while I was driving down a one-lane dirt road
with tall pines on both sides
the landscape had a syntax
similar to that of our language
and as I moved along
a long sentence was being spoken
on the right and another on the left
and I thought
Maybe the landscape
can understand what I say too.
Ahead was a farmhouse
with children playing near the road
so I slowed down
and waved to them.
They were young enough
to smile and wave back.


You might think a poetry prompt called “syntax” would be a nonstarter, but you would be wrong. Why? Because you probably forgot about the metaphors jangling around in your satchel. See how quickly (Line 4) Padgett takes syntax and fashions from it a landscape.

Landscape as a prompt, you say? Easy peasy. And just like that, Padgett’s off to the races with 17 lines ending with a lighthearted take on kids and innocence in a world distrustful of both.

Not bad for a day’s syntaxing, wouldn’t you say?