Don’t Knock the Vernacular

I read (again) The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams. I was reminded how Williams assembled a small group of simple words. They were just words, but imported great meaning in a brief space. Williams, a pediatrician, became inspired to write the poem while making a house-call for a patient. Did the chickens represent payment for his services? Could payment even be considered as his thoughts also lingered over the condition of his patient? We may never know, but what we can infer, is that nothing in this poem is insignificant. Every word is dependent upon the other, much as the imagery in this piece is so dependent upon what happened that day—the details that none of us will ever totally know.

As a writer, I know at times that I fall short of connecting to my audience through the vernacular of common language. This is the same vernacular that bred me. I’ve experienced the same hardships endured by many other people. It’s what connects us on a human level, and it’s the connection that literature creates between writer and reader. Good writing is not meant to be a mere exhibition of fine-tuned grammar and an assemblage of words that boast of our education and prowess. It is an instrument that gives hope—something that has gone missing in recent time.

Williams’ poem is far more than a simple collection of words. These are words styled with care that demonstrate a dedication to craft tailored to keep the audience in mind. On its face the words of “The Red Wheelbarrow” are simple, but all words when singled out can be described in that way. Williams has taken these words and portrayed a scene that could evoke any emotion, or none at all. In its simplicity lies its complexity, showing that the writer’s gift is making that connection to the reader, whether the metaphor is accepted or portended to be something else.

The vernacular is lost by writers attempting to string words across the page that separate themselves from the world they interpret. It is not the writer’s cause to give meaning or understanding to circumstances, but insight. That is what words do when assembled with care and disseminated for all to appreciate. Word size and counts don’t matter. Substance always takes the prize in the literary arts.

Art can teach or alienate. The writer has failed when their art strays from the point of entertainment or enlightenment and caters only to a small fraction of society. The writer’s purpose is to take their perspective and make it accessible. When that accessibility is denied, the medium falls flat and loses influence and credibility.

We’re at a turning point, a time of great change, in history. Many are anxious, and wake to the fear of what the day will bring; security is escaping from the segments of society that need it most. Recent events have disturbed us from the comforts we knew too well for eight years. Trying as the future may seem, for the writer it is a time of opportunity, a time to connect with readers struggling to come to terms with an uncertain future filled with fear.

These are the times when the written word exerts its utmost power. Sometimes metaphor isn’t necessary, and sometimes a grammatically superior sentence stifles its own message. Simple words, crafted with care, can convey the complexities of emotions being felt across a nation turning its eyes to the future. It’s the vernacular that writers can wield with power and make a connection only few others dare to attempt.