In the Studio · On Creativity - Art, Jewelry, Writing

On the Hidden Poetry of French Grammar

And now, a not-so-shocking confession: I’ve never been the biggest fan of French grammar. Or grammar in any language, really.

Okay, maybe that’s a little shocking, what with my whole career as a writer and all. Like many Americans my age and younger, I learned English grammar through immersion and usage, and only learned about grammar per se while studying other languages. For me that was French, in junior high school — when I hated apparently arbitrary rules even more than I do now.


In fact, I only came to own this circa 1940s handbook on French grammar because I intended to tear it up. I got it for a dollar at a thrift store, mostly because I love the feel of vintage paper, and because it has some fun olde photos of Paris.

I dug it out of my stash the other day because I’m making a small series of necklaces featuring commas. (My ambivalent feelings about grammar do not include punctuation marks, which I adore.) I thought that the mellowed color of antique paper beads would go well with brushed nickel and copper, and I like the idea of using a grammar book for this purpose. Here’s a look, in progress.


But when I started to make the beads, I was struck (and then delayed) by the phrases the authors chose to use as their pedagogical examples.

They seem to hint at some deeper meaning, like they’re fragments of a deeper life philosophy:

much money
how much coffee
less money
little bread
so much money
too much time

Or notes for a complicated French film.

the husband’s room
the children’s room
to the brother
to the brothers
at the windows

The italics are theirs, which I think  add to the effect.

Here’s one more that I especially like, hinting at a complicated (potentially gay?) romance.

Of the man
To the man. 
Of the woman
To the woman. 

So of course, I couldn’t bear to slice these particular pages into paper beads. (Where only one word is visible, thus destroying the inadvertent poetry.) Luckily there are plenty of other pages in this book that aren’t so fab, so those became the beads I needed.

I’ll make something else with these pages that will preserve these tiny mysteries. I think that last fragment wouls work well in a piece for Valentine’s Day. N’est pas?

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