typewriter-vintage-old-vintage-typewriter-163116Call & Response is back! We’d love to hear your voice in conversation with one another in an erasure challenge. Erasure is a form of poetry where the poet literally erases words from an existing text as a way to reframe, protest, simplify, or challenge the original meaning. So we’re challenging you to do the same.

Here’s the skinny: We want you to have a conversation with a piece of literature that’s already in the world by erasing it according to your own voice and sensibilities. Below is an excerpt from Manners and Rules of Good Society, Or Solecisms to be Avoided, a 19th century guide to manners for young women, written anonymously. Intriguing, right?

Respond, reframe, reflect, challenge, narrate–the opportunities are endless! Experimental work is welcome. Be innovative, ambitious, and bold.

So here are some guidelines: 

Take the text below and erase as you see fit! What’s left will be the poem you submit. Your poem should give the erasure some new meaning–whether it still speaks to manners is up to you.

You may add punctuation, capitalization, or combine words, but don’t change the order of the words on the page! Please add a title for your work–it can be of your own making or erased from the original title.

Once you’re done, submit here http://www.frontporchsubmissions.com/ under the Call & Response genre. In your cover letter, please mention that this is for the erasure challenge and tell us about your process. Is your erasure a response, an argument against, or a complete departure from Manners and Rules of Good Society, Or Solecisms to be Avoided?

Our Poetry editor, Katherine Stingley, will choose her favorite piece(s) for publication on our site.

Deadline: November 15, 2017

 

Source Text

MANNERS AND RULES OF GOOD SOCIETY

CHAPTER I

THE MEANING OF ETIQUETTE

What is etiquette, and what does the word convey? It is a poor one in itself, and falls very far short of its wide application. It has an old-fashioned ring about it, savouring of stiffness, primness, and punctiliousness, which renders it distasteful to many possessing advanced ideas; and yet the word etiquette is not so very old either, as Johnson did not include it in his dictionary, and Walker apologises for introducing it into his, and according to the authorities he quotes, it is supposed to be derived from stichos, stichus, stichetus, sticketta, and from thence to etiquette. But whether derived from the Latin or the French, and many incline to the latter opinion, there is no doubt that could a new word be found to replace this much abused one, it would be a welcome addition to our vocabulary. The word has unfortunately become associated in our minds with forms, ceremonies, and observances, in an exaggerated degree; and it has been so constantly misused and misinterpreted and misunderstood that ridicule and contempt have been most unjustly and unfairly thrown upon it. The true meaning of etiquette can hardly be described in dictionary parlance; it embraces the whole gamut of good manners, good breeding, and true politeness. One of the reasons which have no doubt contributed to bring the word “etiquette” into disrepute, is the manner in which the subject has been handled by incompetent people, who, having but a very hazy and obscure knowledge, if any knowledge at all, yet profess to write guides to polite manners, rambling and incoherent guides, which not only provoke a smile from those better informed, but mislead and bewilder any one rash enough to consult them, without previous inquiry as to whether they are safe to follow. A little caution on this head would insure the most correct and reliable work being secured amongst so much that is unreliable. Some people read everything that is written on the subject of etiquette, not only those who are ignorant and wish to learn something of its laws, but those who are thoroughly well versed in them and who, one might suppose, had nothing to learn; still these latter like to see what is written, to feel the satisfaction of being supported in their own knowledge by a well-informed writer; or of finding amusement in the absurdities gravely advanced by some one writing from another sphere than that where savoir vivre reigns. Others attach a very narrow meaning to the word etiquette, and neither accept it nor understand it in its true sense; they have an idea that its rules influence and govern society in general. Rules of etiquette are from their point of view but trammels and shackles; let them be cast off or burst through, say they; let every one do as he likes; let all behave as they like; we are in a free country, why should we not wipe our mouths upon the table-cloth if we please? Others again, devour books of etiquette on the quiet; they are very much in want of instruction as every one knows, but they have not the courage to confess that they are awake of this want, and are trying to pick up some knowledge of this kind to be useful to them; as their aim is to rise in the social scale, they would not let their friends know for worlds about this new study, but they know it, and find that they have improved, that they do not commit as many gaucheries as heretofore; still, they have caught the letter rather than the spirit of etiquette, they have read the rules it prescribes, and act up to them as far as their memories serve them; but they have failed in one essential particular of understanding that courtesy, consideration towards others, and unselfishness, are the sources of true politeness from which etiquette springs.

There is an idea amongst some few people who have mixed little in the world, and moved but in one fixed groove, that the more exalted the sphere, the more perfect the manners. It is needless to attempt to refute such a fallacy as this, for examples of the most perfect manner are to be met with not only amongst those who can boast of long lineage and high birth, but also amongst those who lay claim to neither.

Our present code of etiquette is constructed upon the refinement, polish, and culture of years, of centuries. Wealth and luxury, and contact with all that is beautiful in art and nature, have in all ages exercised a powerful influence on the manners of men; we do not say on the times, as unfortunately these advantages did not reach down to the many but were confined to the strictly few; but in these modern days the many have come, and still come, within the charmed circle; the ring broadens, ever widens; it is not now as in olden days that “their lot forbade.” On the contrary, the possession of wealth or of talent is the open sesame to the most refined and cultured circles. The word etiquette is too narrow for all it embraces; it must be viewed in a double light, and be taken from a moral point as well as from a conventional one. A kindly nature, and an unselfish spirit are never wanting in true politeness, but the conventionalities of society give the finish and completeness to the whole, the colour, as it were, to the picture. In some the conventional spirit is uppermost and they have at best but a surface polish. In others the kindly feelings of the heart are allowed full play, and no act of genuine politeness is omitted or left undone in their intercourse with their fellows, and these graces of kindly politeness linger in the memory, trivial though they may have been, years after one has lost sight of this true gentleman or thorough lady, and one says of him, “What a charming man he was, how courteous and considerate, and how kind!” and of her, “She was the sweetest and prettiest-mannered woman I ever met.”

It is only given to the very few to be thoroughly and unaffectedly charming without a shadow of self-consciousness or effort. To assume a would-be charming manner for the moment, with the desire to be unusually pleasing to some one in particular, does not confer the enviable reputation of having a charming manner. It does not sit easy enough to be altogether natural; it conveys the idea of being put on for the occasion, and, like all other imitations, it hardly ever pleases and seldom deceives. Etiquette and true politeness would have us go further than this, and our manners of to-day should be our manners of to-morrow, and not variable according to place and persons. The world is quick to note these uncertain demeanours, and every one’s measure is readily taken and retained.

The rules of etiquette are indispensable to the smooth working of society at large. Take, for example, the etiquette of precedency, in force both in public and in private: on every public occasion, and in every private circle, precedency steps in to render assistance, and is as necessary in the smallest private circle as in the largest public gathering, because it assigns to every one his or her place as far as claim can be laid to place. Mistakes in the matter of precedency are not only committed by those who have enjoyed few social advantages, but by those also who have had everything in their favour. Young ladies, for instance, when married from the schoolroom, as it were, often make grave mistakes on the question of precedency, if they do not ignore it altogether.

The etiquette of card-leaving and that of paying calls are indisputably necessary and only the very ignorant would attempt to gainsay their utility; without these aids to order and method all intercourse between friends and acquaintances would be uncertain and chaotic; as it is there is little excuse when the right thing is not done, and any departure from the simple rules laid down on these heads, is the best possible proof of the standing, position, and associations of the one at fault.

Any one point of etiquette if brought to the bar of common-sense would be pronounced reasonable, proper, and sensible; and there is strictly speaking no question of etiquette that cannot be thus judged and upon which a like verdict would not be given. There is no one rule of etiquette that can be described as absurd or ridiculous, arbitrary or tyrannical, and taken collectively the rules are but social obligations due from one person to another. Why should we not be a well-mannered people? Why should we not be refined, cultivated, and polished in our demeanour and bearing? Why should we not seek to charm if we can? Why should we not cultivate and encourage in ourselves consideration, thoughtfulness, and graciousness towards others in the smallest details of daily life?

Manners and Rules of Good Society, Or Solecisms to be Avoided is a guide to manners originally published in 1897 anonymously. Its author lists him- or herself only as “a member of the aristocracy.” This excerpt has been taken from the 39th edition found on Project Gutenberg.