I was in writing school again.
The teacher, Mr. Wiles, was tall and totemic.
He was disparaging a writer that was currently in the ascendant.
‘His prose is loose and lumpen’, he said. ‘It clumps along the hallway of sentences like Lurch in The Adams Family’
pic courtesy of Wikipedia
Why do you do it? she asked. Why do you copy other people’s poems and passages into your notebooks?
Why don’t you write your own stuff?
But I do, I answered. You know I do.
Then why this?
How do you explain the notion of a commonplace book to a non-writer?
For inspiration, I say, For enjoyment, the way people flicker through old photo albums
or their smart phone galleries.
But it wasn’t quite like that.
It was modeling too,
getting the feel for writing at the top of its game, to remind you how it’s done,
for quotes like this: ‘I don’t believe in writer’s block … plumbers don’t get plumber’s block,
doctors don’t get doctor’s block.
Why should writers be any different and then expect sympathy for it?’
[ Philip Pullman]
But she didn’t get it.
You’ve got heaps of these notebooks in your cupboard, she said. What is wrong with you?
Have you no faith in yourself?
There was no point in arguing.
But when she came upon me ‘copying’ I would flinch as if caught in some shameful act.
I thought about what Fiona had said,
the female lead in ‘The Bear Came Over the Mountain’
about her developing interest in Iceland,
how she looked at travel guides,
read accounts of famous writers who had visited,
Auden, William Morris,
but didn’t really plan to travel there herself.
There ought to be one place,
one special place,
‘you thought about and knew about
and maybe longed for
but never did get to see’
have you a place like this?
When I was a kid in High School we learnt things ‘off by heart’:
poems by Keats and Coleridge, extracts from ‘The Ancient Mariner’,
soliloquies from ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth’, whole passages from Dickens;
chronologies of The Persian Wars, War of the Roses,
biographies of the Tudors; not neglecting the sciences, we memorized
physics and maths formulas,chemical equations, and slabs from The New Testament —
we were walking Wikipedias; now I’m a big kid, into my senior years,
I’ve grown rusty, which is why I’m in the backyard walking up and down —-
the bees must think I’m mad —- learning by heart my NEW mobile number
which everyone but me knows
what things did you learn ‘off by heart’? do you still remember them ?
I was chatting with Worms the other day about Proust,
about his masterpiece, ‘Remembrance of Things Past’
and how neither of us had read it; Worms even found
the name ‘Proust’ intimidating; and I thought how many
of the world’s best known works I have never read,
like Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’, Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’,
even Shakespeare’s ‘Titus Andronicus’ and even though
everyone has heard of it, who’s read Dickens’ ‘Little Dorrit’?
There’s even a short story by David Gilbert devoted to
the George Elliot book that no one I know has ever read,
and few have heard of: ‘Adam Bede’. There must be others.
can you think of any?
ave you read any of these books?
* what h
as put you off reading them?
pic of Proust courtesy of Wikipedia
I don’t like the way the branches slouch,
my grandfather would have said.
It shows a lack of moral fibre.
Grandfather did not approve of droop
though I think he could have cut the branches
The best people slouch at times.
Oscar Wilde certainly did though he was no slouch.
And Tilda Swinton and Anne Hathaway were spotted
slouching at the Golden Globes.
I like the way Fridays slouch towards the weekend.
Poems should slouch a little too.
They should not appear cinched and pained
as if wearing a tight pair of underpants.
pic courtesy of Wikipedia
I wasn’t going to wear it. ‘A hoodie is not a cardigan’, I said.
‘Anything that does up at the front is a cardigan’, he insisted.
‘A flack jacket does up at the front; is that a cardigan?’ I said.
We were off and running like the cabbie who couldn’t get us
to the venue fast enough. And then he started on my silver hammer,
why I used the word ‘silver’ when the important word was ‘hammer’.
I could have hit him over the head. And then he said I was embellishing
the tale. ‘I’m a writer’ I pronounced from the saddle of my high horse.
‘It’s the writer’s prerogative to embellish,’
‘You call yourself a writer,’ he said. ‘Your poetry doesn’t even rhyme.’
Now I admit calling him a ‘Neanderthal’ didn’t help matters.
But it’s not just writers who are prickly.
I am about to read a book called ‘The Ninth Crypt’,
A novel I acquired for twenty dollars at the supermarket
But fear I may have made a grave mistake:
Browsing through the blurb I see mention of only
The ninth crypt, all well and good, but what about
The other eight? Perhaps the author is planning prequels
Based on the success of this volume but seeing he is
Now a septuagenarian who came to writing late,
This is most unlikely; perhaps if I bury myself deeply
in the text I shall disinter enough cryptic clues
To keep me happy — but at 800 pages !!! I await
Clarification; in the meantime this tombstone of a novel
Shall stand on my shelf of great unread books.
h ave you got any big unread books on your bookshelf? photo by Grangeburn on Pinterest
Many creative writing classes and manuals will stress the importance of the first sentence, that it must grab the reader’s attention. Even Hemingway espoused this fallacy. But the first sentence is never enough.
Yes, it must grab the reader’s attention, If it doesn’t the reader will go elsewhere. There are plenty of options — but if the second sentence is flaccid, all will be lost. The second sentence fulfills the promise of the first.
But it is the third sentence that seals the deal. The third sentence assures the reader that the writer is authentic, that they are worth listening to, that they have something to say and have the command of language to say it with flair and authority. They can be trusted.
After that the writer will be ‘in full swing’. The reader will be committed; will go along for the ride.
bursting with life
life spilling out
like clothes from a suitcase
of a jalopy