Them and It: Terrors from Beyond . . . Reference

Much of my mis-youth was spent lying on the floor of Saturday morning before a portable black-and-white television, watching classic 50’s science-fiction movies. The titles were less than revealing: It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Them!, The Thing, From Hell It Came, It Came from Outer Space, It Came from Beneath the Sea, It Conquered the World. “It” was a menace, and if it wasn’t It, it was a Beast, Monster, Terror, Creature, or X, a danger invisible, unseen, or unknown, and always unnamed.

Under these circumstances, I might be forgiven my abiding distaste for pronouns. I hate them, and by “them,” I mean pronouns. For speakers, pronouns are bad enough, but for writers, they, and by “they,” I mean pronouns, destroy clarity and meaning. They, and by “they,” I mean pronouns, are even worse in poetry.

Among the many sharp, pointed fragments of wisdom tossed at me as I read, studied, discussed, and first composed poems was a statement, attributed to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, or Mediocrites, and definitely repeated by Emerson, that “Poets are namers.” This fired, fossilized bit of wisdom is like so many shards of the once-useful vessels of past civilization. The gloss and glaze are pretty and smooth, but this piece alone is not enough to hold water anymore. In fact, only now can I make these words make sense.

Names, both proper and common, are nouns. So if poets are namers, nouns are the fundamental particles that constitute and create poetry. Pronouns, on the other hand, are anti-poetry. They direct you away from it, leaving one wondering what it all means or if they even know it. Pronouns annihilate poetry.

As Gertrude Stein could not abide commas and Richard Hugo could not endure semicolons, I cannot tolerate pronouns. Do I use them? Yes, but rarely. There is not a sentence on the planet that would not be improved by replacing every pronoun with a noun, and there is not a sentience on the planet that would not be improved by kicking ass by naming names.

Eric Shaffer