Poets in Prose

“Always be a poet, even in prose.” ~ Charles Baudelaire

Month: February, 2013

That one feeling, you know?

Sometimes I get this feeling when I’m thinking about, well, stuff.  Something of nostalgia, something of insight, something of treasure.  Ephemeral, yet persistent.  I can recall its shadow at will, remembering what it felt like, but I can never (and I mean, never) summon back the thoughts and connections that conjured it.  It’s as if that feeling belongs to the company of my muse, and heralds her presence like a perfume.

What cues tell you its time to write? That what has come into your head isn’t yours to keep up there, but must be recorded or lost? Or have you captured the secret to recalling those flitting bits of inspiration so you can pursue them to completion?

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Escape

“I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Editing, or The Process of Not Insulting Your Readers

So, as I worked on my last post, tweaking and wordsmithing and deleting and shifting, I wondered to myself how it is that other writers edit.  Would it be interesting, helpful, whatever, to see what my posts begin like, and then what they end up as? A “Before and After” showcase?  I do quite a bit of editing as I write, (for example, I scratched the phrase “their stuff” just after it appeared after “other writers edit” in that first sentence), but I still do a lot afterward, as well.  I watch the use of conjunctions and juxtapositions, ruthlessly hunting down every word that doesn’t need saying.  But honestly, the culling thrills me.  Yes, it’s rather hard on word count . . . but the results shine as their own reward.

“It has often been said
there’s so much to be read,
you never can cram
all those words in your head.

So the writer who breeds
more words than he needs
is making a chore
for the reader who reads.

That’s why my belief is
the briefer the brief is,
the greater the sigh
of the reader’s relief is.

And that’s why your books
have such power and strength.
You publish with shorth!
(Shorth is better than length.)”

― Dr. Seuss

Maybe this works better in shorter works; articles or blogging rather than novels.  Then again, I’ve read novels written just that way. Nothing flabby, nothing redundant. Every word brought images to life or advanced plot.  Every. word.  I have a hard time reading novels (or whatever) with extraneous language.  (Remember the Kiss of Death? And “that”? Yeah. That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout, and more.)  I don’t claim to always, in everything, write without a single extraneous word, but I do try.

And as for not insulting your readers, that’s most often done with extraneous language.  Or condescendingly repeating introductions/titles every time a name appears.  It’s possible to give the reader clues to identity without writing “Susie, her sister” every. time. Susie. appears.  Sisterly affection/rivalry could come into play, or knowing one another as only siblings can.  Poetry relies on associations to provide mountains of information with a few words. Good haiku does it every time.

The piercing chill I feel
my dead wife’s comb, in our bedroom
under my heel . . .

—Taniguchi Buson

And then there is William Carlos Williams’ apology.

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

And one of my ultimate favorites, Girl Help, by Janet Loxley Lewis.

Mild and slow and young,
She moves about the room,
And stirs the summer dust
With her wide broom.
In the warm, lofted air,
Soft lips together pressed,
Soft wispy hair,
She stops to rest,
And stops to breathe,
Amid the summer hum,
The great white lilac bloom
Scented with days to come.

 The next time you put quill to paper, remember these.  Remember to show your readers . . . start a movie reel in your mind, and describe what you see.  Don’t settle for “Julie cried.”

Try something like: “Julie swiped at her cheeks, leaving muddy, uneven trails that her tears tried to wash away.”

Or, in another story: “Julie closed her tear-blurred eyes, her chin rising of its own accord in strange contrast to her shoulders still shuddering in silent sobs.”

When you write, think of what your character is doing right then . . . imagine you’re describing the scene to the blind; after all, no reader is clairvoyant.  Or at least few enough of them to make vivid description necessary. ;o)

Now, your turn.  Tell me who you think Julie is in each of those . . . how old could she be? What situation might she be in? What might have just happened?

Lies speaking truth.

“Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent.”

― Neil Gaiman

That quote has swirled in my mind ever since I read it early last week.  Eddying and flowing, it picked up old thoughts and conceptions, tossing them about like playthings, shaking loose their cobwebby respectedness, their longstanding honor of establishment.  And, as I sit here, eating a late lunch of Justin’s Hazelnut Chocolate nut butter by the spoonful, I can’t remember a single one of them.  That’ll teach me to let life sweep me so far into frenzied activity that I can’t reach the keyboard.

But the beauty of that paradox—lies that tell the truth, often in ways far more powerful than our own stories, our own experiences—follows me still.  It sheds its particularly-colored beam on my thoughts, illuminating and lending color.