Reading Around

I read a number of book- or writing-related blogs, including CrimeReads and LitHub, not in any orderly way (you understand) but sort of when they hit my email at the right time and when I’m of the right mind.

Just now I am between big deadlines. (What does that mean?) Last week I turned in my portfolio for my Creative Nonfiction Class, and, inspired by 1) a haircut (long story there) and 2)  this quote from an interview at LitHub, I decided to go back to my mystery novel and finish it. For real. If nothing else, I will give a copy to the woman who cuts my hair.

I decided to share the LitHub quote with you because I want to make sure I can find it again.

If you want to read the entire feature (“5 Writers, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers”), follow this link: https://lithub.com/lit-hub-asks-5-writers-7-questions-no-wrong-answers-4/

Talia Lakshmi Kolluri is the author of What We Fed to the Manticore, a collection of 9 stories. This is her response to the last question:

How do you contend with the hubris of thinking anyone has or should have any interest in what you have to say about anything?”

Talia Lakshmi Kolluri: I think I contend with it by assuming that nobody has any interest in what I have to say about anything which is why it’s always a nice surprise when people do! I wrote this book because I needed to write it. That’s the only reason I ever write anything, because the words must leave me through some avenue. Nobody is required to be interested in them at all. But if they are, I hope it’s because they needed to read them, and that they were helpful in some way.

As Music Isn’t Just Notes on a Page

I love this quote, which I found over at The Poetry Department, so I’m sharing it with you. I’ve been working on a new book of poems, many of which touch on music in some way — a result, I’m certain, of taking piano lessons for the last several years and practicing daily. (No, I will not play for you.) I would love to write a blog post comparing playing music to writing poems, but I’ve never been able to hang onto the fleeting insights that sometimes come to me. Something about notes and rests and counting (also repetition!).

I know that being a complete newbie learner at something is very useful in understanding people’s process in learning anything. But, as I said, it’s a bit elusive; maybe that’s because I’m not trying to write music, only to play it. Garret Hongo says it better:

“As music isn’t just notes on a page or within an improvisatory passage, poems are not simply individual words on a page. They are collections and sequences of language that strike both familiarity — whether that be in meaning or a recognition of its form, its rhetorical scheme — and work a notable change or transformation of meaning and its scheme that defamiliarizes that which had been previously known, that makes it new, as Ezra Pound said poetry had to.”

Garrett Hongo
(b. May 30, 1951)

Meanwhile, I have two fresh publications to share with you, and both are available on the Web. I have a poem, “Pear,” that just posted today at Rust and Moth, and I have an essay, “My Mother’s Birthday in Ireland,” at Chautauqua Journal.

“a poem is getting at something mysterious”

I loved this quote from J. I. Kleinberg’s  The Poetry Department so much that I am compelled to share it with you:

“…it’s the nature of the work that a poem is getting at something mysterious, which no amount of staring at straight-on has ever solved, something like death or love or treachery or beauty. And we keep doing this corner-of-the-eye thing. I remember when we were in training to be night fliers in the Navy, I learned, very strangely, that the rods of the eye perceive things at night in the corner of the eye that we can’t see straight ahead. That’s not a bad metaphor for the vision of art. You don’t stare at the mystery, but you can see things out of the corner of your eye that you were supposed to see.”

William Meredith  (January 9, 1919 – May 30, 2007)

“Omit needless words”

If you are still wondering what to buy the fiction-writer on your Christmas list, I am happy to recommend Alice McDermott’s What about the Baby?: Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021).

McDermott’s 2013 novel, Someoneis one of my favorite novels of all time. At some point I decided that where McDermott leads, I will follow, and I snapped up her craft book in hardback the minute it was published. For a few months, I was happy simply to own the book. But now that I’m finally reading it, it’s  proved a great way for me to procrastinate getting my poetry book finished and my mystery novel revised. A series of lectures given at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference over a twenty-year period, What about the Baby? is utterly brilliant, chockablock with gems about stories, sentences, and faith.

Because in my writers group we often debate whether to cut a word or not, I wanted to share this passage, which is not McDermott but E. B. White of Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style. We all know his famous advice to “omit needless words,” but I don’t think I had read this elaboration that White, himself, offered a reader who objected:

It comes down to the meaning of “needless.” Often a word can be removed without destroying the structure of a sentence, but that does not necessarily mean that the word is needless or that the sentence has gained by its removal.

If you were to put a narrow construction on the word “needless,” you would have to remove thousands of words from Shakespeare, who seldom said anything in six words that could be said in twenty.

Writing is not an exercise in excision; it’s a journey into sound. How about “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”? One “tomorrow” would suffice, but it’s the other two that have made the thing immortal. (E. B. White, qtd on pp. 62-63)

McDermott surrounds this with her own notions about style, for instance about sound: “read your sentences out loud in order to discover your own sound: the rhythm, pattern, refrain, reprise of your prose” (63).

…of your prose, and your poetry.