The Power of Words

Watching and listening to the ceremonies surrounding the 44th President of the United States take the oath of office, I was struck by many things. But chief among them was the power of words.

President's Obama's address to the nation was powerful, compelling and infused with imagery with the ability to galvanize an active mind around ideas:

"we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united."

The poet Elizabeth Alexander, in her reading, directed us, through simple phrase and well constructed verse, to consider an imperfect and productive past:

"Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the
dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the
bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the
glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of."

And so I got to thinking about the power of words and verse and phrase. The words left on this blog are utilitarian at best. The posts that appear in wine blogs, the stories in wine publication and on winery websites and in wine newsletters, and wine reviews in general are also utilitarian, at best. There are and have been some writers that concentrate on wine whose turn of phrase rises above the rest: Alice Fiering, Michelle Anna Jordan, Gerald Asher. But not many.

I'm not sure if this is something to lament. And I'm not sure I have any business comparing the rhetorical flourish of President Obama or the phraseology of poet Elizabeth Robinson to wine writers and such. It's probably not fair.

But perhaps thinking about wine writing in the context of what we heard in Washington yesterday is enough to get me thinking more intently on how I delivery the content on this blog and maybe it's enough to inspire me to do better.

18 Responses

  1. Arthur - January 21, 2009

    I think that the writing style is as much a reflection of writer’s personality as it is their philosophy.
    Those that write with Whitmanian flourish, peppering their prose with allegory, metaphor and idealism are more likely interested in framing wine and its experience in a different context than those that use plain, direct, concrete language that skirts evocative terms for the benefit of focusing on the message and not its envelope.

  2. Phil - January 21, 2009

    I think there’s a time and a place for everything. Journalistic style is flat for a reason: it’s the most appropriate for the medium. Blog style is personal and idiosyncratic for a reason: it’s the most appropriate for the medium. And inaugural style is elegant and artful for a reason: it’s the most appropriate for the medium (and they get to work on it for two months). In short: I wouldn’t worry about it.

  3. Thomas Pellechia - January 21, 2009

    On my end, I keep practicin’ the art o’ writin’.
    I know I’ll get it right one day…

  4. Westoakland - January 21, 2009

    Please let me complement you on your efforts. Most of the time I find them interesting, appropriate and insightful. However, part of an editorial (Blog even) effort includes responsibility for accurate English. Specifically, if you wish to be taken seriously, please use a convention like Spellcheck, and/or have your editorials proof-read before posting. Thank you.

  5. Tom Wark - January 21, 2009

    I be sure to do that.

  6. Westoakland - January 21, 2009

    Yo be da man
    go fer it…

  7. Thomas Pellechia - January 21, 2009

    Are you sure Westmapleland wuzn’t talkin’ to me?
    Incidentally, its dangerous to truss Spellcheck to catch all miss steaks.

  8. Westoakland - January 21, 2009

    Inspiration, perspiration, perhaps even editing, Fiering, Jordan, Asher, et al. ain’t gonna go off this way. Editing does make a difference.
    While I admire your effort, and appreciate the damn hard, daily work – on a topic I (like you) dearly love – being self-enthralled (often) at the expense of accuracy, is a conundrum. I still wish you the best.

  9. Westoakland - January 21, 2009

    Mr. Pellechia,
    As a fellow Md. grad, and a reader, I see that your site comments on your technical training and education -sincerely wonderful attributes. I also notice that your writing is free from distracting errors leading to doubt about the quality (efficacy) of what you offer.
    Your sideways support – Spellcheck, miss steaks, etc. is clearly friendship at it’s best. Molto bene. But, come clean, can’t this ‘communication’ dude represent himself better than ‘delivery’ and the other whoppers in there from time-to-time? Symbolism over substance – or what? And still, I offer – we are on the same side.

  10. Dylan - January 21, 2009

    Phil is correct in saying that there is a time and a place–not every topic demands poetry but necessitates pure utility.
    Imagine how odd it would be to hear an inspired weather report; “Today, clouds will torment the sky, as greedy grey blankets gorge on the remains of its bright blue carcass. These jackals will laugh loud at our Wednesday anguish, cheeks bloated fat with the tears of our smothered sun. They will spit on us, determined to reach heights of 2″-3″ before a defeated sun retreats under night’s restful curtain.”
    Alternatively, also known as, reality: “Wednesday, will have thunderstorms with rainfall expected to accumulate between 2″-3″ before nightfall.”
    Some may find it nice to hear it the first way, but most people just want to know whether or not they should grab the umbrella any time soon.

  11. Thomas Pellechia - January 22, 2009

    For the sake of accuracy: I attended, but didn’t graduate from U of Md! They couldn’t hold me down…
    As you can tell, I take pains to present my writing as “edited” as I can. That’s because it’s my living. And I often do cringe at some of the “miss steaks” I read on the Web.
    If I were a better typist, I’d probably have less of a time keeping my writing free from glaring typos and such, and I presume that much of the cringe-making online has to do with poor typing skills.
    Still, I agree with you that communication skills are important–especially when one purports to be communicating. But I was just having some fun with you.
    By the way, who the hell are you???
    More important, as Phil says, poetry is one thing, place and topic are soemthign separate (I left the typo on “something” in to show how badly I type).
    When I read (or write) about wine, I certainly am not looking for poetry. Some writers have poetry in them, whether or not they write poetry, and to the extent that their poetry gets in the way of the information they are trying to communicate, then the poetry is misplaced, miss placed, missplaced (which of them did Spellcheck catch and which didn’t it catch?).

  12. Thomas Pellechia - January 22, 2009

    PS: I do wish Spellcheck could be rigged to catch the differences among palate, pallet, and palette!

  13. Westoakland - January 22, 2009

    Mr. Pellechia,
    I enjoy it too, and I welcome your mollifying influence. Thank you.
    Good to read the academics didn’t keep you down. When that happens, it’s a damn shame.
    Fermentation isn’t my blog, but I appreciate the effort and the product enough to care. It also may be beyond me to organize such a giant effort, while maintaining other professional responsibilities.
    The cringe for me comes when I see a noble effort as Mr. Wark’s smudged from time to time.
    Who the hell am I – caused me to check my reflection – sorry Townshend.
    Just a wine drinking fool who loves to read about it too; also influenced by growing up with ample amounts of garlic and olive oil.

  14. Thomas Pellechia - January 22, 2009

    Townshend! Didn’t you review one of my books on Amazon?
    Re, U of Md. I completed two years there (first while under house arrest as a 4-year enlistee in the Air Force; second year at College Park) and then I realized I needed to get back to NY–for some culture and some real education 😉

  15. Westoakland - January 22, 2009

    Mr. Pellechia,
    The Who (the hell are you) thing and Townshend (as in Peter) went unappreciated. Dio mio. Must be really cold in NY.
    Book reviewer (huh), I should be so important!. No, I’m just a pilgrim (non professional) in search of great wine, good reading, a full belly of good food, and freedom.
    Hey, and once again, we agree, College Park was just too damn close to the simians in DC for any comfort (culture too) for this man too.
    I believe your didactic education after Md. exceeded anything possible at the U. For me it was good – but to each his own. Looks like we both got lucky. So, you are drawing me out. Voi siete bravi!

  16. Thomas Pellechia - January 22, 2009

    Peter Townshend. I’m not old enough to know the reference–but I did have my share of American Women.
    Did you know that Robert Parker is a graduate of U of Md? Sure, you knew that. You probably are Parker. So how come you refuse to answer my email, Bob???
    My education was far from didactic. It was by fire, man, by fire. Or was it smoke?
    Do you think Tom is enjoying this poetry of ours?
    OK, Tom. It’s your blog again. I quit.

  17. JohnLopresti - January 22, 2009

    I think there is a synergy between eloquence and wine, and some kind of magnetic symbiosis between grandiloquence and internet. I am waiting before I decide to listen to the recent speechifying in the news, maybe to see if it ages well, but mostly because the lyric of politics seems threadbare in these difficult economic times globally. I thought one post on Van Morrison as spirited as a linked article by Feiring; both writers about wine reaching beyond their individual expertise and experience, telling a story which has meaning in several spheres.

  18. The Art of Successful Cooking - January 24, 2009

    I think you should be proud of what you write and it must reflect who you are otherwise it will sound false and we will stop reading you!

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