Bug on Board: M. A. Griffiths at Sonnet Central


M. A. Griffiths’ first appearance on the Sonnet Board was in July of 2002, under the pseudonym “grasshopper.” The poem, headed “Ding Dong Bell,” introduced her to us, as seen by her own cat, in whose eyes she was a woman bustling about her apartment, readying it “to impress her friends.”

Great Bast, today she pulled out all the stops,
all faff and fussle to impress her friends;
the bedrooms were a whirl of cloths and mops,
much bathroom bleach sploshed all around the bends,
great waspiness of Hoover on the stairs.

She was wearing a gypsy scarf & a fetching dress; her furnishings were spit-spot, & the kitchen smelled inviting. We entered, as her guests, “in a festive mood.” How could we not feel for her when her feline narrator chose that moment to ruin the carefully orchestrated scene, indecorously peeing on the Persian rug?

She quickly showed us how varied her voice could be. Two days later she posted a poem called “Haemorrhage” which ended:

One day her mouth flooded with blood.
It did not come from her teeth or her
throat, but from the chambers of her heart.

Her “Rime of the Ancient Mountaineer” appeared the next day, written in response to a challenge to write a poem about mountains. It incorporated several mountaineering-specific terms, the meanings of which, she explained, “don’t really matter for the poem.” She was quick to reveal her own “misuse” of the word “crampon,” though whether it was a misusage or a metaphor was open to interpretation.

I raised my crampon — ah, my heart was rock —
Alas, ’twas I who shot the alpenstock.

Admitting the obvious source of her poem’s title, she was not overawed by Coleridge. “I don’t think he was a master of archaic English,” she said.

Archaicism was one bête noir; inversion, another. Here is a taste of her counsel on the subject from February 2004.

For me, art is about communication. We don’t communicate with the past, but with the present, and hopefully the future as well. Personally, I don’t think the poems of the past are better because of conventions that twist the natural order of an English sentence out of kilter, but I accept that they were using the contemporary literary conventions.

In modern verse, I find it more satisfying when the voice is a voice which is contemporary to me — when there is no barrier of antique poesy-ness. Such devices alienate me, and I know they alienate other readers, and the fact that wonderful modern sonnets are written without them proves they are not necessary. Forms evolve. The voice of the sonnet is evolving — hurray! Things that are fossilised tend to end up in museums.

I can’t deny some authors find [it] easier to write formal verse by using devices like inversions as standard. What is obvious about such an inversion is that it calls attention to a rhyming word, whether or not that word should be emphasized for the sake of the poem. The truth is that it’s for the good of the author — and that should be at the bottom of the list of literary priorities.

Often, the people arguing the opposite pole would take her defense of contemporary diction for a moratorium, a shoot-on-sight order against anything not contemporarily prosaic. Nothing could be farther from the truth. She could enjoy a well-turned inversion, even in her own work, so long as it was not a refuge for laziness. I hear much more in this than a mere diatribe against a particular device. I hear a need for a connection between the Art & the Human, a passion for the craft, & a low tolerance for preciosity. Even in the midst of an argument, she was careful to be clear & deliberate.

Sadly, the unchecked contrariness common to on-line communities, then as now, probably poisoned the well for Maz. As 2004 ran on, we saw less & less of Maz. She had other workshops, & life intruded, as it does. It was on the Sonnet Board that I heard she was gone.