Content vs Style vs Context

What is more important your content or the style in which it is written?  This has been an ongoing debate in my Prose Stylistics class.  I say content is primary, with style playing a secondary role and context coming in third – this is a photo finish fall these three. 
Style involves things like sentence structure, tropes and schemes (like alliteration, metaphors, syllepsis etc.), word choice, punctuation and so on.  It is how you write your content.  Content of course is what you are saying.   
As an author I know I don’t take style into consideration at all (at least not consciously) when I’m writing for the first time.  If I’m doing a rough draft of fiction, I just write.  I don’t’ think about my word choices, sentence structure, or anything else – it is just a matter of getting the story out of my head and onto the paper. 
When I’m editing, I make all those tough choices.  It is then I look at my metaphors and similes to see if they are tired.  I look at the structure of the sentence – does it sound right?  Often I will read it out loud to see how it sounds.  This is when style comes into play. 
If I’m writing for a particular publication, I look at their writing guidelines and issues to see what has been successful.  Depending on what it is – an essay or fiction or ??? – I will model my work after what has already made it into the publication.  The one caution about this though is that you have to remember to keep your approach fresh.  Following someone else’s format too closely may make your own piece seem a bit stilted and tired. 
For me, I just want to write a good story, essay, directions, or whatever it is I’m writing.  I want it to entertain, instruct, or persuade.  You do that with great content and great editing to adjust the style to the context you want the piece to fit.

The Muse

One of my poems has been published in The Muse.  It is a university press literary magazine.  I was thrilled to learn that it would be published as the poem published was one of my favorites. 

When they sent me a notice they were doing an event where all the artists were going to read their work (if they wanted to), I felt ambivalent about getting up in front of a room full of people I didn’t know and reading my work.  It took me a while to answer and I’m sure they were wondering if I would respond.  I did finally decide to attend and read my poem. 

Thursday I wasn’t stressed about the reading at all.  I was so busy during the day I just didn’t have a lot of time to think about it.  I think I was more stressed about getting home to pick up Ken and get back in time then I was about reading my poem. 

We sat through the readings of all the other poems and prose.  There was artwork each artist spoke about.  Some of the work I really enjoyed and others not so much.  My poem was one of the last ones.  When I realized mine would be next, I had a momentary panic attack but I squashed it. 

Standing before the crowd, I can’t remember anything more than a sea of faces.  I know I looked around at the group.  I know I looked up in spots as I read my poem.  There were places where I was choppy and stopped when I didn’t want to but mostly I think I did a good job reading my poem.  I came down to the last stanza and slowed down to really stress the words.  When I was done, I was just relieved to have the whole thing over. 

But as I finished my poem, I realized that it wasn’t just me in that room.  There was a room full of people riding the emotions of the poem along with me.  When I read the last line there was a gasp – drawn out aaahh of satisfaction.  Then a lot of applause.  More than I expected. 

There was more artwork after me, a great shot of a cornfield in fall with a blue sky overhead that was impressive and a stairway in a yard that was gorgeous.  The Muse picks out editor’s choices for one piece in each of the three categories.  The three pieces that won were highlighted with being read or discussed. 

The Muse was raising funds by having a silent auction of each of the pieces.  The authors and artists were supposed to sign the piece.  I signed mine.  My sister, Alicia, bid on mine.  We waited after as they announced who won the auctions.  I thoroughly expected Alicia’s name to be called when it came to my piece.  It wasn’t.  I was surprised. 

Immediately after the winning poem was read, some woman behind me leaned forward, tapped me on the shoulder and said my poem should have won.  I was surprised.  I submitted my poem for publishing, winning would have been icing on my cake.  I didn’t like the poem that won but I could see why the editors would have as it was very relatable for women their ages. 

I won when my poem was accepted for publication.  I won when people I loved came out and supported me.  I won when a stranger though my poem was worth bidding on.   I won last night when the audience loved my poem.