Why do we care about grammar? Among clauses, modifiers, pronouns, transitive and intransitive verbs, punctuation, and gerund phrases, it seems like the English language is unnecessarily over-complicated. However, it only appears useless to those of us who grew up immersed in the language, hearing it all around us without an additional voice saying “Mommy just used an adverbial clause!” Hell, in elementary school the most we got was the definition of a noun as a “person, place, or thing” and a verb as “an action word.” As an aspiring book editor with a keen interest in grammatical structures, these basic definitions weren’t enough for me. I always wanted to deconstruct language, figure out why sentences can be pieced together with the simplest words and yet hold some kind of meaning that can resonate with a variety of communities. So, why should anyone else without these strange interests actually care about grammar?

One reason to take grammar into consideration is that proper grammar creates an air of professionalism in any writing. Whether the work involves mythical creatures and spiritual journeys or outlines the properties of thermodynamics, grammar that is glaringly incorrect takes away from the seriousness of the piece. After all, the effort to create an easily-readable piece was not contributed. This is not to say that everyone has to be perfect with every comma or know how to use a semi-colon. Instead, the intention is to take the audience into consideration and make sure the ideas are conveyed in not just a jumble of words, but a well-punctuated jumble of words.

Another reason to pay more attention to grammar is for the sake of language-learning. As someone who has been taking Spanish for eight years, I can attest to the fact that knowing English grammatical structures has contributed to my knowledge of Spanish grammatical structures and, in turn, has improved both my writing ability and speaking ability of the foreign language. Although not everyone learns a foreign language, for those of us who are, grammar is the template we shove all of that vocabulary into so we can communicate our thoughts.

One last point I’d like to make about grammar is that it contributes to our relationships and understanding of the world around us. After all, there is a large difference between “I’m sorry I love you” and “I’m sorry; I love you” or even “Twenty five-dollar bills” and “Twenty-five dollar bills.” To some, these distinctions may seem too strict about how we use language. To me, on the other hand, making simple errors like these leave me mortified because the meaning I wanted to convey was completely overlooked. Once you have mispronounced “brazier” in front of an entire class, context begins to matter more.

To those who wish to improve their grammar, there are two useful sources that I would personally recommend, for the sake of learning the technical aspects of grammar, as well as having a place to turn to when you are unsure of a grammar rule.amber_bush

First, I recommend Understanding English Grammar by Martha Kolln and Robert Funk. This book served as a textbook for one of my English classes and I found it extremely useful, seeing as it goes through sentence patterns and diagramming, as well as rhetorical grammar and punctuation.

Secondly, I would recommend a grammar dictionary, such as Garner’s Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner. Although it is a large book, it defines words, shows how to use them grammatically, offers alternative spelling if an alternative spelling exists, and often gives the proper plural forms of words. An example of one of these interesting nuggets is how the book explains the difference between “stalactite” and “stalagmite” and tricks to remember the difference, so that you use them properly.

We are in the 21st century and, while technology allows for programs that correct grammar for us or phones that automatically fix our spelling mistakes, there is still a purpose for learning the basics. For me, this purpose will become my career and I’d like to think that my work will positively impact the literature of the future.

– Amber Bush

Reading comes with more responsibility than people think.  In order to read effectively, the reader must pay attention to detail, read what the writer has not yet written, and find clues and hints the writer may purposely put in the book to make the reader think a little more.  Reading is more than looking at words, but it is grasping an understanding of the text.  To develop an understanding, the reader must work to discover the hidden messages; there exists in books codes that must be deciphered.  From personal experience, I have taken great interest in analyzing books.  When I read, I try to connect many of the details, read in between the lines, or think outside the box.  I love it when an author creates an event in the story without writing what literally happens. Creative authors need people to read their books effectively.

There is a way to be a smart reader.  The writer may do the work of putting the book together, but the work does not stop there when the reader begins to open the book and consume the words with his/her eyes.  It takes thinking about each sentence.  If the writer wrote it, it was likely for a purpose that may foreshadow events, form the characters, symbolize ideals, allude to other pieces of literature, etcetera.  If writers just wrote exactly what they meant all the time, then the books may be less interesting. Similes and metaphors are more ways the writers decorates their writing, but these decorations are not just there to look cute.  Every word in a book has a purpose, so it is important to note each of them. Paying attention to detail could be fun because it gives the reader a puzzle to solve.

In order to create these fun puzzles for readers, writers use literary techniques.  For instance, the reader may describe a character as a certain way: shy but sometimes bold, intelligent but crafty, romantic, envious, etc.  The traits of characters are more than what they appear; they can help the reader understand later why characters perform certain actions. The writer could make the story ironic by making a completely different character execute something that another character could have mostly likely done. Someone’s name in a book may symbolize the person’s purpose.  For instance, if a character is named after a Greek god, then he may also exhibit the traits and personality of the Greek god.  There is most likely a reason behind the famous name if a character is assigned it in the book.  The reader may then use this information to think about all the ways the character makes a difference in the book in relation to all the ways the Greek god made a difference in mythology.  Then, this information could help the reader refine the meaning of the novel as a whole.  These are ways authors create riddles for the reader to solve.

One of the books I enjoyed learning about is Moby-Dick, The Whale.  In class, my teacher taught this book by going through the process of close reading.  Each word or phrase was significant because it was a part of the meaning of the text.  It greatly influenced my reading skills. Another book I have read for an English class was a few short stories from the book, Dubliners. She pointed out that small details like a character’s name (Gabriel) reflected his part in the story.  These are my favorite memories of experiencing effective reading.

All in all, written sentences are alive; they live in the book for their readers to not only see them but get to know them.  A reader can only do this by putting some thought into the text.  This process can make reading more fun because it gets people to think about it differently and to appreciate an author’s creation.  Not reading more than the words one sees on the page could make the reader miss out on useful information.  When reading, it is helpful for the reader to think about why each word, sentence, passage, or chapter was written; in this way, a written work becomes more than its cover, length, and font; the book becomes more meaningful.

– Sasha Brooks

Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. These are more than the names of the three flagship heroes—the Trinity—of DC Comics. These are three of the most widely-recognized superheroes in the world, each leading a legacy of 75 years or more. These are characters who have inspired me to do better, to do good, since childhood. More recently, they have come to serve as a creative inspiration for my own writing. I hope to one day write characters such as these myself; to tell new stories with these modern-day icons and legends. Given their overwhelming presence in media over the last several decades, these characters have ingrained themselves into the public consciousness. Ask anyone on the street and they’re likely to be able to tell you at least basic information on any of the Trinity. They have taken on an almost mythic status in today’s culture.

This mythic quality is part of what makes superhero comics so unique. In a way, they have become the mythology of our times; an evolution of the classic myths of Greece, Rome, and elsewhere in antiquity. These are characters who are symbols, representing ideas about human nature and our place in the world, just as the ancient heroes and gods of myth did.

In this blog post, the first in a series of three, I will be examining the link between the myths of antiquity and the superhero comics of today. To begin, I will detail in brief some of the direct parallels between comics and myth, focusing on members of DC’s Trinity and the Justice League, the world’s finest heroes.

In 2011, DC comics rebooted their stories with the New 52, providing many characters with new origins and beginning new storylines to bring in new readers with a convenient jumping-on point. Released in the same year, the animated film Justice League: War is an adaptation of the New 52’s first story arc featuring the Justice League. Both film and comic show the New 52’s updated origin for the League, detailing how the disjointed heroes come together to stop an alien invasion of Earth. As the League are being honored by the President of the United States at the end of the film, Wonder Woman comments on how “it was good to walk among a pantheon again.” Wonder Woman, an Amazon warrior from the island of Themyscira, sculpted from clay and given life by Zeus, is intimately familiar with the Greek pantheon. She then names several of its gods as the camera pans across the assembled members of the Justice League, highlighting the connection between the two. Batman is Hades, the dark and brooding lord of the underworld. The Green Lantern is Apollo, radiant as the sun. The Flash is Hermes, able to travel at incredible speeds. Cyborg is Hephaestus, the “crippled” smith. And Shazam (or Captain Marvel as he was previously known) is Zeus, able to call down lightning from the heavens. Wonder Woman herself, as mentioned above, is descended straight from Greek myth. But what of Superman? The princess of Themyscira is forced to admit she’s never known anyone like him before.

Perhaps the reason for this is that Superman’s roots are derived from a different source. Like many of the early superheroes, Superman was conceived by two Jewish men: writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Schuster. The first superhero has perhaps the best-known origin: as an infant, the alien Kal-El was placed into a rocket by his parents so that he could survive the destruction of their home world, Krypton. The rocket travelled to Earth, where it was discovered by the Kents, farmers from Kansas who raised Kal-El as their own, naming him Clark. Earth’s yellow sun, which gave more radiation than the dying red sun which consumed Krypton, gave him tremendous power. And so Clark Kent became Superman, champion of the oppressed. The basics of this story were laid out in Action Comics #1, debuting in June of 1938, the iconic first appearance of Superman. But some of these elements go even further back. A child, sent away by doomed parents and raised under a new identity by those who found him adrift; who would grow to become a leader of the people, a voice for the voiceless. This is, of course, the story of Moses, who led the Jewish people from Egypt and into the Promised Land. In trying to create a new kind of hero, one to inspire and endure for generations, it is no surprise that Sigel and Schuster looked back into their own cultural heritage and modeled him on a hero from their own legend. Many modern writers tend to portray Superman as more of a Christ figure, a savior of divine power with the weight of the world on his shoulders. But his Jewish origins and identity can still be felt today, an integral part of the cultural icon.

Levi RaabMuch more recently, writer Scott Snyder has brought elements of Greek myth into his run on the New 52’s Batman with the “Zero Year” story arc. “Zero Year” serves as an updated origin of Batman, retaining the key elements while adding new ones to keep the story fresh. Some of these new elements are borrowed from the Oedipus myth, particularly his encounter with the sphynx. In the myth, the sphynx has taken over the city of Thebes. She keeps the people in fear, though promises to set them free if anyone can solve her riddle. When Oedipus arrives, he solves the riddle, defeating the sphynx and releasing the people of Thebes from her reign of terror. In the comic, the Riddler takes over the city of Gotham, promising to relinquish it if anyone can ask him a riddle which he can’t solve. Despite several defeats and setbacks, Batman eventually challenges the Riddler and defeats him, releasing the people of Gotham. During their encounters, Batman and the Riddler discuss various mythic concepts, ideas, and figures, including a conversation which takes place in front of an Egyptian sphynx. These parallels are more than a coincidence; they are a deliberate attempt by Snyder to add another mythic layer to the already mythic origins of Batman, to be discussed more in the next post.

– Levi Raab

When we think of poets, most of us imagine scholars – people old enough to be our grandparents – sitting on a beach as the waves roll in with a notebook in tow. Spoiler: this is unrealistic. The reality is that poets are all around us: in fourth grade classrooms, tapping their feet at the Secretary of State, and pushing their grandchildren on swing sets all over the world. Every human has experienced poetic moments in their lives, but it takes lots of practice to be able to relay these moments to others. For those of you (like me!) who want to write poetry but don’t care to learn how from Robert Frost, there’s hope for us too, because we can find traces of poetry just by taking a closer look at the things we love. This became clear to me the first time I ever listened to rap.

When I admit my love for rap to my peers, a lot of them don’t get it. They think of it as fluff: loud, offensive, and pointless. But the truth is that rappers craft their verses with the same techniques as the most renowned poets, and sometimes there’s as much to be learned from them as from Shakespeare himself. In fact, when you open your mind to the genre and the words that make it, you will find that nobody flips words upside down and back around quite as effectively as rappers. Although the best examples of their craft are, admittedly, too vulgar to post here, I found a few verses that get this point across:

1. RHYME

One of the most basic and entertaining poetic devices, rhyme is one of the best ways a poet can make a poem flow better. We’re all familiar with the snappy rhymes of Dr. Seuss, but have you seen – really seen – the rhymes rappers come up with? They’re far from being simple:

“Tryna do the remix with Pitbull
Tell the pilot land at Schiphol
Play the violin with dimples
Life’s ironic and it’s simple.”
– “Terry”, Action Bronson

“Well, to be truthful the blueprint’s
Simply rage and youthful exuberance
Everybody loves to root for a nuisance.”
– “Rap God”, Eminem

Consider the effects of the words these men chose as opposed to all the others they could’ve used. These verses showcase not only their grip of the English language but also how connected they are with pop culture: how often do people mention Pitbull and the Schiphol in the same breath? I revisit these verses whenever I need a reminder of how any word can be used in a fun way.

2. ALLUSION

Another popular poetic device is allusion, which is an indirect reference to something that is widely recognizable. Allusion is used often across all sorts of mediums, especially in relation to the bible. A good example of this can be seen in Richard III when Shakespeare writes, “The sons of Edward sleep in Abraham’s bosom.” (Richard III, 4.3.45) Although he didn’t explicitly address that this image was pulled from the gospel of Luke, this is a reference that the majority of his audience would have understood. This concept is ever-practical, and can be applied to anything culturally relevant:

“I control my own life, Charles was never in charge
No sitcom could teach Scott about the dram.”
– “Soundtrack to My Life”, Kid Cudi

“20 plus years of selling Johnson & Johnson
I started out as a baby face monster
No wonder there’s diaper rash on my conscience
My teething ring was numbed by the nonsense.”
– “Nosetalgia”, Pusha T

In these verses, each of these men references something specific without explaining away every connection listeners are supposed to make. Kid Cudi references a 90’s sitcom, Charles in Charge for two reasons: 1) because his first name is Scott, just like Scott Baio who played Charles in the sitcom, and 2) because, similar to the character of Charles in the show, Cudi’s persona is controlled by Scott (Mescudi, not Baio 🙂 ), and not the other way around. In Pusha T’s case, he makes reference to Johnson & Johnson baby powder in order to juxtapose innocence with corruption: baby powder vs. cocaine. This metaphor is further supported by the images of a rash on his conscience and a teething ring – another symbol of innocence – numbing him to the nonsense of his surroundings. This verse includes many other poetic elements including our final example, imagery.

3. IMAGERY

As far as poetic elements are concerned, imagery is meant solely to awe readers. It’s supposed to elicit a strong reaction through visual cues and often adds depth to a piece. This can be seen in the following verses:

“Passing through the hood with memories of the block
Left hand holding the wheel; our fingers are interlocked
Tinted windows but the rocks still glistenin’ on the watch.”
– “Dangerous”, Kevin Gates

“Young king bury me inside a glass casket
Windex wipe me down for the life after”
– “Hold On”, Pusha T. ft. Rick Ross

Mary WilsonAlthough the image Rick Ross presents is arguably a bit stronger than Kevin Gates’, both men really tap into their descriptive language skills in these verses. Gates’ image is used to reinforce his wealth through the idea that the diamonds on his watch are so big they catch the sun even through tinted windows, and Ross’ image is meant to reiterate his fame: people love him so much that they’ll want to see him even after he’s dead in his casket.

And, just for fun, a little WORD PLAY for you on the way out:

“…they’ll never ketchup to all this energy that I’ve mustard.”
– “You’re Never Over”, Eminem

So I encourage you, if you haven’t already, to let yourselves get carried away by the beat and digest the words of rap. Just like poets, rappers pick words apart by their bones: sounds, syllables, and definitions, and mesh them in the most unexpected and exciting ways. Whether you come out of it with all sorts of new ideas or simply a catchy hook stuck in your head, you’ll be better off because of it.

– Mary Wilson