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2 posts categorized "On Reading"

November 29, 2006

On Reading “Four Chambers for Tyler David Tandeski”

Thank you again to Danielle Crawford for her poem, “Four Chambers for Tyler David Tandeski,” which I posted earlier this week, on Monday. I was moved by the poem when I first read it—and continue to be. And I thought I would offer a few reflections here—not analysis so much, but, simply, one reader reading—a snippet of my own reading and reflection. The poem got my attention with the first line: It stinks like cotton swabs. Oh, I thought, I’m in some kind of clinical setting—cotton swabs—a strong smell—and someone is going to say something honest about it—a visceral sensory impression. And then the next image that got through to me: that inhospitable bed. A play on hospital bed? But it’s inhospitable-----yes----(I’ve seen this bed. I’ve been in rooms like this.) And then the images accumulating: the October sky. . . the peppered linoleum. . . naked. . . Pain given concrete detail. (The kind of concrete detail that’s essential both to poetry and to the process of mourning. Thinking of what Chekhov’s cab-driver needs to say: the details of his son’s death, the trip to the hospital to fetch his clothes.) The details then, in this particular poem: the starchy parchment paper And those words----It’s done. (I can see that. I can hear those words.) And then—Part II— A sense of the child that would have been— A sense of strong feeling trying to find language And then the name—there near the end—Tyler-----the importance of remembering the name—making memorial. Peter Elbow, in Writing Without Teachers, says, that when it comes to writing, our biggest fear is not rejection—but its absence—the absence of acceptance and rejection. Our biggest fear is that no one has heard at all. He writes:

I’ve often had a kind of surreal, underwater vision of social reality. . . Everyone walks around mostly out of communication with everyone else. Someone has turned off the sound, cut the wires. It’s all fog and silence.

I think one of the things poetry can do—and other kinds of writing can do—and reflection on writing can do—is cut through the fog a bit. I’ve tried to offer, here, a few snippets of how this occurred for me—a cutting through my own ordinary layer of fog as I read Danielle’s poem. A sense that I could hear and see something of those images she offered. To put this another way, I had a writing teacher who used to say that we all walk around half-asleep and writing has the potential to wake us up. Yes, it’s rather like that. Sometimes it’s like that. We come across an image—fresh language—and we stop in our tracks. We see something—something perhaps familiar—but in a new way. 

June 14, 2007

What Piece of Writing in All the World Do You Most Want to Read?

When I think about practicing revision and creation—the thread for this month—I think of it as having 2 parts---

1. Revision: Looking again at some pages you’ve already written
2. Creation: Deciding what you want to create out of what you’ve already written. (For instance: A poem? A letter? A short story? A story for your grandchildren? A journal that you can look back at later? Something else?)

The following passage speaks to the second task: Creation.
(And, paradoxically, sometimes it’s helpful to have some idea about the second task—some image for what you want to create—before you take on the first task of looking again.)

Back in February, I wrote a bit about a memo that Seymour Glass, the central character in Salinger’s Seymour, An Introduction, writes to his brother Buddy. Here is more advice from that same memo.

If only you’d remember before you ever sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world [you] would most want to read if [you] had [your] heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself.