Joyce: soldier, poet ... and man. (Thanks, readers)

I recently quoted some lines of poetry which started as follows:

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.

This poem, I reported, was written by Joyce Kilmer, about whom I knew nothing except that she had died young, at 30, in the year 1918. Well, I know better now. At least three readers have written in to say that Joyce Kilmer was not a woman at all, but an American male soldier, a sergeant in the 165th Infantry, who was killed in action on 30 July l9l8; in other words, agonisingly close to the end of the war.

Perhaps I should have suspected that I had got something wrong. After all, I knew that Joyce Cary was a man, so I knew that male Joyces occur. And I knew that male Kilmers do sometimes adopt apparently female names, as in the case of the film star Val Kilmer.

To complete my education, the Rev Ritchie Gillon of Paisley took the trouble to send me the complete text, which goes as follows:

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day

And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear

A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.

"Not quite Wilfred Owen, perhaps," he comments, "but then, who are we to judge?" I'll second both halves of that.

This is one of the ways one learns things as a newspaper writer, from one's readers, and having got this far riding a surfboard on waves made by readers, I shall see if I can keep afloat to the end of this column on their energy.

For instance, I had a letter a month ago that offered me a topic ready- made for the issue of 16 October. It was from Dr Adrian Padfield, a consultant anaesthetist, who wrote to say that this was the 150th anniversary of the first use of ether at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, thus marking the birth of modern surgery. Dr Padfield was going to be in Boston on that day for the celebrations, so he probably doesn't know that I hadn't the faintest idea how to use the information, and that therefore I didn't. Moreover, I happen to know Alan Coren is married to an anaesthetist, so if he didn't write about it, it certainly isn't my place to do so. I'm just happy to know of the anniversary.

I have also had some suggestions from readers in answer to my proposal that various loathed current buzzwords would make good titles for autobiographies. Justin Potts suggests three interesting ones: Synergy by the Bishop of Argyll; Mind Set by Andre Agassi; and Judgemental by Judge Pickles.

Geoffrey Sherlock suggests Obnubilation by Michael Fish, which I am passing on to you even though I have a horrible feeling that the word (which I can't find in my dictionary) is either non-existent or obscene. Henry van Wyk suggests Preterition by Tony Blair, and John Greensmith suggests Archetypal by Robert Runcie and Stressed Out by Stephen Fry, as well as Substantive (before the diet) by Nigel Lawson.

"Substantive" is actually a word that brings James Goodchild of Glasgow out in a nasty rash. He says that in the series of meetings about Northern Ireland's future the word has, very oddly, been used from the start to mean "substantial", even though he has never come across the word elsewhere.

Bishop Rodger of Edinburgh has a shortlist of words he has it in for: "Simplistic", which nine times out of 10 just means "simple"; "fortuitous" when used to mean "fortunate", which it doesn't, and "unacceptable", the bishop's pet hate, a typically prissy word for people who can't or won't bring themselves to say "bad", "wrong", "evil", "dirty" etc.

I quite agree, except that even more than that I dislike the word "inappropriate", which is used by people who cannot bring themselves to use the word "unacceptable".

And finally, apropos of nothing, a heartfelt plea from Michael Yudkin of Oxford.

"Can you suggest a word or phrase that one can use at the end of a speech to let the audience know one has finished? In Roman times speakers used to say Dixi, so the audience would know it was time to applaud the speaker or make a dash for the bar. Lacking any English equivalent, people at scientific meetings say things like `That's it'. Sometimes they say `I think I'll leave it there', as if to imply they have another couple of hours' worth of material but have made a snap decision to finish. I myself, being irredeemably stuck in a pre-war age, say `Thank you for your attention', but we badly need a modern equivalent to Dixi. Can you think of anything?" No, I can't. Can anyone?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Breakdown Engineer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: ACS qualified Domestic Gas Brea...

Recruitment Genius: Product Packager / Stock Assistant

£16250 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Product Packager / Stock Assistant is ...

Recruitment Genius: Head Chef

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Garden Centre complex base...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen