Truth

Crispin Sartwell’s half tongue-in-check defense of texting and Twitter (Sept. 22) as a “golden age of the written word” ignores all evidence of the opposite (“Texting and Twitter Make This a Golden Age for the Written Word,” op-ed, Sept. 23). Those of us who ban laptops in the classroom he labels “schoolmarms,” and he cites the old charge of they-hated-comic-books-too for the millionth time, and to equally empty effect.

He skips the fact that the SAT added a writing component in 2006, and scores have dropped every year save two when they were flat. A recent Hart Research Associates poll of employers found barely one quarter (27%) think that recent college grads are well-prepared in writing. The ACT’s college readiness scores in English have actually dropped six percentage points in the last five years.

All of this has happened while youths have texted away the hours. Mr. Sartwell calls it writing, but he doesn’t realize that tweeting and texting don’t make them better writers. They make them better tweeters and texters. To say, “Perk up, young people, and keep on texting,” as he concludes, isn’t whimsical or cute or provocative. It’s irresponsible.

~ Mark Bauerlein,  Texting Isn’t the Same as Writing, or Even Thinking  (In a Letter to the Editor, wsj.com Sept 27, 2017)


Photo: “Texting” by Noa agravante

 

That – and no more, and it is everything to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything

In one of the rare interviews he did, the fiction writer and poet Denis Johnson — who died on Wednesday at 67 — was asked about his craft, and he quoted these lines from Joseph Conrad: “My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything.”

In his own novels and poems, Mr. Johnson fulfilled that task with extraordinary savagery and precision. He used his startling gift for language to create word pictures as detailed and visionary, and as varied, as paintings by Edward Hopper and Hieronymus Bosch, capturing the lives of outsiders — the lost, the dispossessed, the damned — with empathy and unsparing candor. Whether set in the bars and motels of small-town America, or the streets of wartime Saigon, his stories depict people living on the edge, addicted to drugs or adrenaline or fantasy, reeling from the idiocies and exigencies of modern life, and longing for salvation…

Mr. Johnson’s America, past or present, is uncannily resonant today. It’s a troubled land, staggering from wretched excess and aching losses, a country where dreams have often slipped into out-and-out delusions, and people hunger for deliverance, if only in the person of a half-baked messiah. Reason is in short supply here, and grifters and con men peddling conspiracy thinking and fake news abound; families are often fragmented or nonexistent; and primal, Darwinian urges have replaced the rule of law. And yet, and yet, amid the bewilderment and despair, there are lightning flashes of wonder and hope — glimpses of the possibility of redemption…

“What I write about,” Mr. Johnson once said, “is really the dilemma of living in a fallen world, and asking: ‘Why is it like this if there’s supposed to be a God?’”

~ Michiko Kakutani, excerpts from Denis Johnson’s Poetic Visions of a Fallen World


Find Denis Johnson’s Books on his Page at Amazon here.

Sunday Morning

Q: Several poems in this collection speak to a desire for silence—an even bigger appetite for it than the speaker originally had thought was needed. How much silence do you usually need to write, and how do you get it?

JH: I need more and more silence, it feels. Poems don’t leap into my mind when I’m distracted, turned outward, with other people, listening to music. It’s more for me as with going into a forest: if you sit quietly for a long time, the life around you emerges. As the world grows ever more clamorous, my hunger for silence steepens. I unplug the landline.

~ Jane Hirshfield, from Of Amplitude There Is No Scraping Bottom: An Interview with Jane Hirshfield (Tin House, March 15, 2016)


Notes:

 

Hearty Soup

Yes,
I like seven pounds of short ribs and
twenty-three cloves of garlic in barley soup.
Some will settle for less
but they’re not writing barley poems.

~ Jim Harrison, from “Courage and Survival” (Brick, November, 26, 2012)


Notes: Photo: thefoodcharlatan.com. Quote: Thank you The Hammock Papers

300 Arguments

300-arguments-sarah-manguso-book-cover

It takes x hours to write a book and some percentage of x hours to wish I were a different writer, writing a different book.
____

A great photographer insists on writing poems. A brilliant essayist insists on writing novels. A singer with a voice like an angel insists on singing only her own, terrible songs. So when people tell me I should try to write this or that thing I don’t want to write, I know what they mean.
____

I don’t write long forms because I’m not interested in artificial deceleration. As soon as I see the glimmer of a consequence, I pull the trigger.
____

My least favorite received idea about writing is that one must find one’s voice, as if it’s there inside you, ready to be turned on like a player piano. Like character, its very existence depends on interaction with the world.
____

Slowly, slowly, I accumulate sentences. I have no idea what I’m doing until suddenly it reveals itself, almost done.

~ Sarah Manguso, excerpts on writing from her new book titled “300 Arguments” (February 7, 2017)


Inspired by brainpickings:

I learned that, to be a writer, one has first got to be what he is, what he was born…. You had only to remember what you were.

~ William Faulkner, Essays, Speeches & Public Letters


Related Posts: Sarah Manguso

the simplicity, flexibility and tactility of the page

moleskine

“Sometimes, I just want to get rid of all the technology and sit down in a quiet space with a pen and paper,” she says. “There are so many apps out there and I feel like no one app gives me everything that I need. I’ve tried and really given them a go, doing those to-do lists of having your priorities or brain storming using lots of different apps … [but] when I get a pen and paper, or when I’m using my old-fashioned diary and pen, it just feels more flexible to me. I can always pull it out. I can focus.”

Angela Ceberano is anything but a technophobe. A digital native with a strong social-media presence, she splits her time between traditional and new media, and between Australia and San Francisco.  For certain tasks, she just prefers the simplicity, flexibility and tactility of the page.  But instead of spreadsheets and fancy smartphone apps, the Melbourne, Australia-based founder of public relations firm Flourish PR, uses notepads, an old-fashioned diary, coloured pens and a stack of magazines.

~ Alison Birrane, from Why paper is the real ‘killer app’


Photo of Moleskine Notebook by extrasist0le

Running. With a Red Butterfly.

red-tailed-hawk-feather

I run. I write. I post. In that order. With few gaps. Typically. But not Saturday. No. No. No. Disbelief. Fatigue on overdrive. Just not real. 

I marinated in it for days.

And then Rilke prods: “ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: ‘must I write?’ Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple ‘I must,’ then build your life according to this necessity.”

So I must.

And I write.

A series of interlocking coincidences which only rose to consciousness after a replay of events played forward from daybreak.

5 a.m.

A short reading. It was Leonard Bernstein, from Dinner with Lenny: The Last Long Interview with Leonard Bernstein:

I am frequently visited by a white moth or a white butterfly. Quite amazingly frequently. And I know it’s Felicia. I remember that when she died, her coffin was in our living room in East Hampton … and just a few of us were there—the family and a rabbi and a priest, because she’d been brought up in a convent in Chile. We were playing the Mozart Requiem on the phonograph. Everyone was absolutely silent. And then this white butterfly flew in from God knows where—it just appeared from under the coffin and flew around, alighting on everybody in the room—on each of the children, on the rabbi, on the priest, on her brother-in-law and two of her sisters, on me … and then it was gone … though there was nothing open. And this has also happened to me here, sitting outside in my garden. … White.

The appearance of a white moth. Or white butterfly…White.

7 a.m.

From somewhere, an unbeknownst longing for a punishing trail run. It had been months. I’m in the car. [Read more…]

My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive

mary-oliver-upstream

It is a silver morning like any other. I am at my desk. Then the phone rings, or someone raps at the door. I am deep in the machinery of my wits. Reluctantly I rise, I answer the phone or I open the door. And the thought which I had in hand, or almost in hand, is gone. Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.

But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist. […]

It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absentminded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the lost button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o’clock, rejoice if I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

~ Mary Oliver, from “Of Power and Time” in Upstream, Selected Essays (Penguin Press, October 2016)


Notes:

Bubbles came up on the water. Then blood came up, and the water stilled.

annie-dillard

A writer named Lorne Ladner described it. Bubbles came up on the water. Then blood came up, and the water stilled. As the minutes elapsed, the people in the crowd exchanged glances; silent, helpless, they quit the stands. It took the Seminoles a week to find the man’s remains. At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then—and only then—it is handed to you. From the corner of your eye you see motion. Something is moving through the air and headed your way, on two white wings. It flies directly at you; you can read your name on it. If it were a baseball, you’d hit it out of the park. It is that one pitch in a thousand you see in slow motion; its wings beat slowly as a hawk’s. One line of a sonnet, the poet said—only one line of fourteen, but thank God for that one line—drops from the ceiling.

~ Annie Dillard, from “The Writing Life


Notes:

Pirr, a light breath of wind, a cat’s paw on water

Robert-McFarlane

This is a book about the power of language – strong style, single words – to shape our sense of place. […]

The ten following chapters explore writing so fierce in its focus that it can change the vision of its readers for good in both senses. […] A book that brilliantly shows how such seeing might occur in language, written as it is in prose that has ‘the quivering intensity of an arrow thudding into a tree’. And for over a decade I have been collecting place words as I have found them gleaned singly from conversations, correspondences or books, and jotted down in journals or on slips of paper. […]

Many of these terms have mingled oddness and familiarity in the manner that Freud calls uncanny: peculiar in their particularity, but recognizable in that they name something conceivable, if not instantly locatable. Ammil is a Devon term for the fine film of silver ice that coats leaves, twigs and grass when freeze follows thaw, a beautifully exact word for a fugitive phenomenon I have several times seen but never before been able to name. Shetlandic has a word, af’ rug, for the ‘reflex of a wave after it has struck the shore’; another, pirr, meaning ‘a light breath of wind, such as will make a cat’s paw on the water’; and another, klett, for a ‘a low-lying earth-fast rock on the seashore’. On Exmoor, zwer is the onomatopoeic term for the sound made by a covey of partridges taking flight. […]

There are experiences of landscape that will always resist articulation, and of which words offer only a remote echo – or to which silence is by far the best response. Nature does not name itself. Granite does not self-identify as igneous. Light has no grammar. Language is always late for its subject. Sometimes on the top of a mountain I just say, ‘Wow.’

~ Robert Macfarlane, from Chapter 1: “The Word-Hoard” in Landmarks


Note: Portrait –  Wharfedaleobserver

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