Sunday, December 27, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 14: Poems

Of the millions of poems in print, I have read only a few thousand. Here are some that have moved me, which means they still move me after a hundred reads. Some I could not find online and some of the links may be broken, but I still urge you to read them. The list will grow as time permits.

  1. Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost
  2. After the Dinner Party by Robert Penn Warren
  3. Archaic Torso of Apollo by Rainer Maria Rilke
  4. Ask Me by William Stafford
  5. Because I could not stop for Death by Emily Dickinson
  6. Death, Be Not Proud by John Donne
  7. Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas
  8. Fable of the Water Merchants by Stephen Dunn
  9. Forgetfulness by Billy Collins
  10. Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden
  11. Harlem by Langston Hughes
  12. The House on the Hill by Edward Arlington Robinson
  13. Howl by Allen Ginsberg
  14. I Am a Little Church by e. e. cummings
  15. I Am Waiting by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
  16. I Knew a Woman by Theodore Roethke
  17. I'll tell you how the sun rose by Emily Dickinson
  18. If I Could Tell You by W. H. Auden
  19. In a Dark Time by Theodore Roethke
  20. Ithaka by C. P. Cavafy
  21. Last Gods by Galway Kinnell
  22. Little Girl Wakes Early by Robert Penn Warren
  23. Losses by Grace Schulman
  24. Love's Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley
  25. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot
  26. Mad Girl's Love Song by Sylvia Plath
  27. Mortal Limit by Robert Penn Warren
  28. My Papa's Waltz by Theodore Roethke
  29. No Man Is an Island by John Donne
  30. O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman
  31. Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood by William Wordsworth
  32. Ode to Ironing by Pablo Neruda
  33. Ode to a Lemon by Pablo Neruda
  34. One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
  35. Preludes by T. S. Eliot
  36. She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron
  37. Sisters of Mercy by Leonard Cohen
  38. somewhere i have never travelled by e. e. cummings
  39. Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare
  40. Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare
  41. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost
  42. The Stranger Song by Leonard Cohen
  43. A Supermarket in California by Allen Ginsberg
  44. Theme for English B by Langston Hughes
  45. This quiet dust by Emily Dickinson
  46. Touch Me by Stanley Kunitz 
  47. Traveling through the Dark by William Stafford
  48. Unable are the Loved to die by Emily Dickinson
  49. The Waking by Theodore Roethke
  50. When One Has Lived a Long Time Alone by Galway Kinnell 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 13: Theater Companies

I almost never go to musicals, except for obligatory ones with relatives visiting from overseas, but I go to dozens of straight plays each year. Working playwrights should learn what's out there, and attending productions by these theater companies:    

New York

  • Classic Stage Company introduced me to Harold Pinter and Tennessee Williams's lesser known works in the 1970s, so I'm glad to know it's still thriving.
  • La MaMa is what brought Sam Shepard and Lanford Wilson to the world.
  • Some of our most famous actors flock to Manhattan Theatre Club to act in this company's deep list of contemporary plays.  
  • New York Theatre Workshop is hip in a cool East Village location and seeks to be on the cutting edge of drama. 
  • Pearl Theatre Company stages several provocative dramatic works each year.
  • The Public Theater, also known as Joseph Papp's Public Theater, has been a go-to company for actors like Robert DeNiro, John Malkovich, Al Pacino, and Meryl Streep.
  • Primary Stages has produced numerous new plays by prize-winning playwrights. 
  • Playwrights Horizons has lived up to its name for decades by being a central source for new American plays. 
  • Roundabout Theatre Company is one of the most upscale companies, featuring both classical and modern drama.
  • Signature Theatre, my favorite, is dedicated to the playwright and to selling reasonably priced tickets, which even students can afford.

New Jersey

Los Angeles
  • Mark Taper Forum, which is where Hollywood folks try their hand at real performance.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 12: Movies

Great movies always get me to think about the human condition, and that's what writers write about. Here are some lists of must-see movies: 

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 11: Speeches

Studying great speeches helps writers determine the pathos of a presentation, the emotional connection that speakers make with their audiences. Here are some sites to get you started: 

  • Nobel Prize website includes the Prize lectures of every winner who gave one. My favorites are the ones from the literature laureates.
  • American Rhetoric, a worthwhile first stop for the best in political and legal presentations.
  • History Place offers a bit more of an international selection.
  • See what Time considers the best ten speeches of all time--wow, does it miss the mark by not including more from international sources.
  • The best source, and once again Wiki wins, is this site, which crosses many centuries and nations.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 10: Bookstores

What is a hometown without a bookstore? Books are the greatest refuge a writer can have, and bookshops are their home, never to be replaced by Amazon, AbeBooks, and their like. So many great ones closed, like Gotham, Colosseum, Academy, and Skyline, all in New York. But many remain. Here are some that have made my life so much better:
  • Ten Best Bookstores in New York, a terrific blog post hawking the best bookshops that NYC has to offer.
  • Strand is the ultimate bookstore for bibliophiles with much more to offer than the 18 miles of books it claims.
  • Montclair Book Center, a perfect place to visit if you're in that neck of the woods. 
  • Cranbury Bookworm, a struggling but noble site for book collectors.
  • Labyrinth Books in Princeton, NJ.
  • Northshire in Manchester, Vermont, a gifted bookseller in a blessed location.
  • Traveler Restaurant, which is a great stop for eating and reading on US 84 in Connecticut on the Massachusetts-bound side.
  • City Lights, in San Francisco is American literary history--a must-see in your lifetime.
  • My list of Oakland bookstores, because Oakland is a much cooler town than it gets credit for.
  • The Book Den is a literary oasis in Santa Barbara, California.
  • Foyles, if you happen to be in London.
  • Aquilina Books, my favorite bookshop in Malta.
  • Agenda, also on Republic Street in Valletta, Malta, a few doors down from Aquilina.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 9: Blogs

Reading blogs keeps writers abreast of a broad range of hot topics. Here are some worth reviewing to keep you busy reading and watching maybe more than you need to:

  • Andrew Sullivan, if you are interested in what this insightful journalist calls his biased yet balanced viewpoint, even though Sullivan has stopped updating it.
  • Basic Thinking, for information on just about any topic of international interest.
  •, for lyrics of thousands of songs you might want to recall or memorize.
  • Mashable, which offers more comprehensive information from diverse sources than most esteemed news organizations.
  • The Write Life, for aspiring book writers.
  • The Writer, a longstanding source of helpful information for writers. 
  • Writers and Authors, a source of tips and inspiration for developing writers.
  • Writer's Digest, a heavyweight source to keep new writers on track with their production goals.  

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 7: Organizations

Like any professional, writers belong to organizations for support, inspiration, ideas, and industry information. Below are some you might want to check out and some of which I have been or remain a member.

  1. American Society of Journalists and Authors for independent nonfiction writers and freelancers
  2. American Screenwriters Association for screenwriters
  3. Authors Guild for writers interested in publishing industry challenges
  4. Dramatists Guild for playwrights and librettists
  5. Education Writers Association for education writers
  6. Editorial Freelancers Association for freelance writers
  7. Poetry Society of America for poets
  8. Writers Guild of America West for screenwriters

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 5: Exhibits

I often see ideas about human interaction and struggles through paintings, photographs, and structures, especially when they appear in retrospectives of an artist's entire career. This list includes painters, sculptors, and architects whose body of work has exhibited in Brooklyn Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York Academy of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Whitney Museum of American Art. Keep an eye out for them if their work shows up near you.
  1. Jean-Michel Basquiat
  2. Romare Bearden
  3. Chuck Close
  4. Salvador Dali
  5. Richard Diebenkorn
  6. Arthur Dove
  7. Audrey Flack
  8. Frank Gehry
  9. Keith Haring
  10. Edward Hopper
  11. Frida Kahlo
  12. Wassily Kandinsky
  13. William Kentridge
  14. Edward Kienholz
  15. Lee Krasner
  16. Barbara Kruger
  17. Jacob Lawrence
  18. Fernand Leger
  19. Piet Mondrian
  20. Archibald Motley, Jr.
  21. Edvard Munch
  22. Pablo Picasso
  23. Diego Rivera
  24. Sebastiao Salgado
  25. Bill Viola
  26. Frank Lloyd Wright
  27. Andrew Wyeth

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 4: Activities

Writers need inspiration, not only to drive themselves to write but to discover ideas to write about. My activities list has always served me well. While I am lucky to have boundless activities from which to choose in the New York City area, most communities provide similar local opportunities.

  1. Libraries - Get those books about whatever topics interest you for free.
  2. Theater - Watch live drama to hear how dialogue comes to life.
  3. Museums - Prep your visit by reading about the art exhibits you're about to see.
  4. Music - Catch live concerts to capture a deeper meaning of music.
  5. Travel - Go home or the home of your ancestors or just anywhere that isn't home to gain new perspectives on life.
  6. Lectures - Check out local presentations by scholars and experts on a broad range of topics, often sponsored by universities and libraries.
  7. Readings - Attend writer's festivals, poetry jams, and storytelling events to enrich your frames of reference and engage your intellect. 
  8. Webcasts - View massive open online courses and single web events to stay current on topics of interest.  
  9. Parks - Visit community, state, and national parks to get a deeper understanding of your environment and heritage. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 3: Magazines

What magazines or journals should a writer read? It depends on the type of writer you are, so here two lists, one for the business writer and the other for the creative writer, with a closing list for either's self-development.

Business Writing
Journal of Business and Technical Communication
Journal of Technical Writing and Communication
Technical Communication Quarterly
Technical Communication

Creative Writing
Poets and Writers
Writer's Digest
The Writer
The Dramatist
American Theatre

New Yorker
New York Review of Books

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 2: Books for Business Writers

Since I often field the question about a good reference book for business writers, I decided to list some right here:
  • The Business Writer's Handbook is an easy reference, as its entries appear in alphabetical order, and they include writing models as well as detail explanations and numerous cross-references.
  • Writing That Works has been a long-time standard because its tips are practical and its examples are relevant.
  • The Elements of Business Writing mirrors the classic Strunk and White The Elements of Style in structure, but its focus is business writing.
  • The Business Style Handbook considers business writing from the perspective of electronic communication better than most business guidebooks.
  • The Art of On-the-Job Writing, my book, follows the writing process in shaping a business document from conception to completion. 
These ought to keep the business writer busy.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Phil's Lists, Part 1: Author Interviews

Lists are such an important part of our culture. We make lists not only for our off-day chores and travel bags, but for information we need to know and goals we want to achieve. For this reason, I begin this 20-part series on lists that matter to me as a writer and teacher. They might also matter to you if you read WORD ON THE LINE in your continued development as a writer. In these lists, I mention sources for your review, but hyperlinks occasionally become obsolete, and you might find even better sources than these I recommend. So happy researching.

I begin the series with instructive and inspirational interviews of five established authors.

  • I like the way James Baldwin stands up to William F. Buckley in  this famous 1965 political debate. I share it not so much to draw attention to Baldwin's literary powers but to shed light on the author's ethical obligation.
  • Harold Bloom, the legendary critic, holds court in a humorous, insightful interview about reading and literature at the ripe age of 81.
  • Novelist and essayist Joan Didion speaks about her two most recent nonfiction books and her approach to writing.
  • Game-changing British playwright and Nobel laureate Harold Pinter talks about his writing process in the first half of his Nobel lecture; you can skip the back half if you don't like his politics.
  • Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and actor, talks about a broad range of topics, including how we invent myths of ourselves.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

On Demand: Evaluation Reports

The Well-Crafted Evaluation Report, one of my most recent webinars offered through Audio Solutionz, is available for purchase. It examines planning, status, and completion reports on programs and projects from a wide range of industries.

My Audio Solutions webinars are convenient and inexpensive ways to capture key information needed for improving work-related writing skills. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

On Demand: Writing High-Impact Executive Summaries

Writing High-Impact Executive Summaries, one of my 90-minute evergreen webinars, is available for purchase through Audio Solutionz, an online global educational consulting service. 

This webinar covers one of the most challenging types of work-related writing: the executive summary, which requires communicating detailed and complex information on the highest possible level. It offers 12 broad tips across 4 specific business-writing domains. You will find the examples and suggestions immediately useful in writing executive summaries of your own.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

On Demand: Writing Compelling Emails

Writing Compelling Emails, one of my most popular webinars, is for sale at Audio Solutionz, a well-established online education firm serving diverse industries globally. This webinar looks at writing audience-focused emails that get to the point while respecting the conventions of complete, courteous, clear, concise, and correct communication. It also offers tips for using the special features of email, such as reply all, attachments, forwarding, and blind copying. 

This webinar is indispensable for companies that want to create email standards for all employees to follow.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

On Demand: Writing Focused Audit Reports

My webinar, Writing Focused Audit Reports, is available for purchase at Audio Solutionz, an company providing online informative audio conference for the past 12 years. This 90-minute session takes you through the audit-writing process from content selection to workpapers to editing a focused, credible report.

This webinar will help you regardless of your experience in auditing. Senior auditors will immediately gain practical tips for the writing situation, which they might have overlooked or taken for granted. Junior auditors will gain a deep toolbox that will enable them to document an audit report from conception to completion.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

On Demand: Business Writing for Financial Professionals

My webinar, Business Writing for Financial Professionals, is now available in on-demand format through Audio Soultionz, an established online training firm. This 90-minute program covers writing in financial contexts from structure to style. You will find the relevant examples applicable to a broad range of business writing situations. Enrolling is easy and reasonably priced.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

On-Demand Audit Report Webinar Available

One of my most popular industry-specific webinars is Audit Report Writing, available through Bank Webinars. an outstanding organization with which I have had a relationship for the past five years. This webinar offers you 2.5 continuing education units at a reasonable rate without needing to leave your desk. It covers the following objectives:

  • Determine factors affecting the validity and reliability of an audit finding
  • Assess an audit report for the appropriate level of detail
  • Create a department-specific template to facilitate the writing process
  • Draft workpapers based on objective observations
  • Employ formatting devices to improve the visual appeal of an audit report
  • Craft fluent sentences to illuminate ideas
  • Develop a precise, clear, concise vocabulary for documenting audit reports

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 10: Sloppy, Lazy, Careless

Throughout this series, I've given nine reasons why we might mess up with commonly confused words. You can see I'm a tolerant guy when it comes to usage mistakes. 

But even I have my limits. The usage examples in the image are intolerable. Yet I must admit that I once texted a client, thanking her for stooping by. You know you've made your fair share of linguistic blunders too.

We're all human, yet none of us wants to be accused of being sloppy, lazy, or careless. The moral of the story: If you know the difference, then prove it. Happy writing.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 9: Our First Language Teachers

My parents were immigrants whose first language was not English. They were my first English teachers. By the time I arrived in the first grade, I was nearly six with set grammar and usage standards. The only way to overcome the mistakes I had been taught was by conscious effort.

The sentence in the image is not an exaggeration; it was what I was taught. My parents literally translated from their language into English. Don't laugh. I have heard educated television broadcasters and other articulate people make the same errors. 

Perhaps you heard other expressions from your parents if English is not their first language. If your parents are articulate, be grateful; they likely were your first language teachers. We have to work hard to break bad language habits—that is, if we know we're making them.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 8: Using Logic

Some people use the nonstandard conversate and orientate because they're trying to apply a rule that works for other noun-verb forms, such as communicate for communication, compensate for compensation, and enunciate for enunciation. Make sense? Maybe, but we're not talking about sense; we're talking about Standard English. Some ation-ending nouns go all over the place: condense for condensation, create for creation, and transport for transportation

Seeking consistent logic with English words will lead to many errors. For instance, the adjective forms of many verbs may end in able (acceptable limit, notable achievement, quantifiable result), al (emotional behavior, irrational judgment, transitional government), ed (affected parties, educated woman, involved participant), d (filed document, reconciled ledger, tiled floor), ing (misleading statement, overarching point, running water), ive (automotive technology, explosive temper, informative teacher) ory (compensatory skill, inflammatory language, mandatory training), and other forms. Lots of luck trying to find logical patterns here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 7: Language Evolution

Here are three entirely different situations concerning misused words in English.

Hopefully — The word hopefully was once an adverb, meaning it described a single verb meaning with hope (e.g., I think hopefully about the future). Now it is more often used as a sentence adverb, or disjunct, meaning it describes the entire sentence (e.g., Hopefully, I will arrive at my destination on time). The disjunct is accepted by most dictionaries.

To-day  If you read old books that have not been edited in their revised editions, you will find today hyphenated. I'm old enough to remember nondisabled and nonhandicapped as hyphenated after non. (While and accept these words with out a hyphen, does not as of the date of this post.) If you can read this, then you remember email written as e-mail. Once a word becomes commonplace, we often drop the hyphen.

Literally Many people use the word literally improperly in common conversation, as in the example. But if you try to correct them, they're likely to tell you to get a life. Most use it despite knowing its wrong. Some words just get misused at one point or another and become accepted in their new meaning. I admit to having using it "improperly" in speech, but I'd advise against using it in writing.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 6: Hairsplitting Rules

Note the two diction "errors" in the image. How many people really know about the proper meaning of momentarily? I know what grammar snobs are thinking: Well, they should know. Yet I have run across people more articulate then most of those snobs who do know the difference and don't care. For this reason, I do not correct people who use momentarily for in a moment. It's a hairsplitting rule.

The confusion between compose and comprise is another story. Their first syllable is spelled and sounded identically, and their meanings are close. As the note says, the parts compose the whole, and the whole comprises the parts, so this is an easy mistake to make. In fact, I see them used interchangeably so often in quality books and periodicals that some dictionaries are beginning to accept them as synonyms. You can look them up in,, or

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 5: Similar Spellings, Pronunciations, or Meanings

Three obvious reasons for our getting words wrong are homographs, words with the same spelling but different pronunciations and meanings (e.g., the noun lead meaning the metal and the verb lead meaning to conduct); homonyms, words with the same spelling and pronunciation but different meanings (e.g., the noun tie meaning neckwear and the verb tie meaning to fasten); and homophones, words with the same pronunciation but different meanings and spellings (e.g., to, too, two). 

But many other words are confusing because they are nearly homographs, homonyms, or homophones. Consider the verbs adapt (to modify) and adopt (to take as one's own), the verbs apprise (to inform) and appraise (to assess), and the adverbs farther (greater distance) and further (greater extent).

In this fifth of a ten-part series on why we get words wrong, I give a second admonishment besides the usual one about reading more: check spelling carefully, preferably leaving time between the editing and proofreading stages. You'll likely find more errors using this approach.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 4: Regionalisms

This fourth of a ten-part series on why we get words wrong looks at cultural differences. 

With all due respect to my family and friends across the Atlantic, the deleted words in the image represent the British spelling and the rewrites the American spelling. Regionalisms extend far beyond these examples (e.g., or/our and ize/ise word endings), but we should not consider such preferences as mistakes. Rather, we should just know for which audience we are writing.

Choose the preferred regional spelling on your word processor, but more than anything else, read material from both sides of the Atlantic to know the differences.  

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 3: Short Cuts

For this third of a ten-part series on why we get words wrong, think about how you actually speak when you are at your leisure. Do you really pronounce the t's in "We want to go to lunch" or the g's in "We're going swimming"? I know some people who do, but most of us do not. I admit that I don't, although I try harder when speaking in front of a professional group. At my casual best, I probably say, "We wannagoda lunch" and "We're goin swimmin." Linguists have a theory called grammaticalization to account for how some words morph over time as we look for short cuts when speaking.

Of course, we would claim that such pronunciation does not excuse us from misspelling want to, go to, going, and swimming. But this does account for spelling climactic as climaticcould've as could of, formerly as formally, ordinance as ordnance, and supposedly as supposively.

For the third time, I'll say we will get these words right by modeling from what we read, not what we hear.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 2: Popular Culture

In this ten-part series, we look at why some of us have so much trouble with getting words right in English. Part 1 mentioned the schwa, a vowel in an unaccented syllable which sounds unlike its short or long sounds. We mess up for many other reasons, one of them being popular culture. Here are three examples.

Bring vs. Take - The rule says you bring to a point and you take from a point, meaning you should take your laptop from work and bring it home. Yet we hear the popular fighting challenge, "You wanna take it outside?" Think about it: If Buddy issues that statement to Guy in a bar, he is taking the fight from inside the bar and bringing it outside the bar. The same holds true with the Doobie Brothers' song "Taking It to the Streets"; once again, they are taking it from wherever they are and bringing it to the streets. If everyone else is saying it that way, who are we to change it?

Alright vs. All Right - How many songs in your music collection spell all right as alright? Some might include "It's Gonna Be Alright" by the Gerry and the Pacemakers, the same-title-different-song later by the Ramones, "Well Alright" by Blind Faith, and the triple threat "Alright Alright Alright" by Mungo Jerry. True, Bob Dylan got it right with "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" as did the film The Kids Are All Right. But the other evidence remains powerful, so many people are amazed when they learn that alright is not Standard English.

Fewer vs. Less
- The sign in the supermarket usually says, "This aisle is for 10 items or less," although the rule tells us to use fewer with plurals. For this reason, we might understandably but incorrectly say, "I made less mistakes."

Again, how will we get these words right? Not by speaking more but by reading more.