A river of words
Tunes for a Monday Morning

Bringing ourselves into our work

Encounter

From "Fail Better" by Zadie Smith:

"It is deeply unfashionable to conceive of such a thing as a literary duty; what that might be, and how writers might fail to fulfil it. Duty is not a very literary term. These days, when we do speak of literary duties, we mean it from the reader's perspective, as a consumer of literature. We are really speaking of consumer rights. By this measure the duty of writers is to please readers and to be eager to do so, and this duty has various subsets: the duty to be clear; to be interesting and intelligent but never wilfully obscure; to write with the average reader in mind; to be in good taste. Above all, the modern writer has a duty to entertain. Writers who stray from these obligations risk tiny readerships and critical ridicule. Novels that submit to a shared vision of entertainment, with characters that speak the recognisable dialogue of the sitcom, with plots that take us down familiar roads and back home again, will always be welcomed. This is not a good time, in literature, to be a curio. Readers seem to wish to be 'represented,' as they are at the ballot box, and to do this, fiction needs to be general, not particular. In the contemporary fiction market a writer must entertain and be recognisable -- anything less is seen as a failure and a rejection of readers.

"Personally, I have no objection to books that entertain and please, that are clear and interesting and intelligent, that are in good taste and are not wilfully obscure -- but neither do these qualities seem to me in any way essential to the central experience of fiction, and if they should be missing, this in no way rules out the possibility that the novel I am reading will yet fulfil the only literary duty I care about. For writers have only one duty, as I see it: the duty to express accurately their way of being in the world. If that sounds woolly and imprecise, I apologise. Writing is not a science, and I am speaking to you in the only terms I have to describe what it is I persistently aim for (yet fail to achieve) when I sit in front of my computer.

Encounter 2

Encounter 3

"When I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world. This is primarily a process of elimination: once you have removed all the dead language, the second-hand dogma, the truths that are not your own but other people's, the mottos, the slogans, the out-and-out lies of your nation, the myths of your historical moment -- once you have removed all that warps experience into a shape you do not recognise and do not believe in -- what you are left with is something approximating the truth of your own conception. That is what I am looking for when I read a novel; one person's truth as far as it can be rendered through language.

Encounter 4

"This single duty, properly pursued, produces complicated, various results. It's certainly not a call to arms for the autobiographer, although some writers will always mistake the readerly desire for personal truth as their cue to write a treatise or a speech or a thinly disguised memoir in which they themselves are the hero. Fictional truth is a question of perspective, not autobiography. It is what you can't help tell if you write well; it is the watermark of self that runs through everything you do. It is language as the revelation of a consciousness." 

Encounter 6

Encounter 6

Words: The passage above come from Zadie Smith's wonderful essay "Fail Better" (The Guardian, Jan. 7, 2007), which you can read in its entirety online here. All rights reserved by the author. Pictures: The hound and I have bovine encounters during our morning walk on Nattadon Hill.

Comments

Prism Light

“Throw the prism light, white hot,
on paper,” –Ray Bradbury

It is an illusion, these words
on the manuscript page.
Not a flat, polished surface,
but the raised tooth of paper
coated with stygian inks.

We illumine and illuminate,
reflect and are reflected,
throw color through the prism
of words. The light refracted
is both transparent and real.

And through that volcano of story,
that white hot light, we remake the world.

©2017 JaneYolen all rights reserved

Thank you Terri and Jane and Zadie as well as Alice and Charles and so many others
....

Our world desperately needs remaking right now so we'd all better keep busy supplying it with all the 'little magics' that it can use to build a better one.

Are they the herd of the 'Fair Folk' perhaps?

I agree with this, but if I may add another perspective: some write to share the truth of the story itself. That is, a thing as much as possible apart from the writer's ego and the readers' too, a thing that has been allowed to speak for itself. So some feel their literary duty is to the story, and whatever may come from that - entertainment, illumination, inspiration - is between the story and the reader.

It's not that I disagree with Zadie, who is wise and talented, only saying this is another approach some writers take.

I can't tell you how much I love the photos of the cows. Their eyes seem full of magic.

I love all that these thoughts and images portray. They comfort and inspire. Breath in. Breath out. The cows and hound bring aspirations down to Earth, beautiful.

Is that Nettle I spy in your last photo? Still growing in September on Dartmoor.

Writing Totems

you have to become the person you need to become
to write that book
Junot Diaz

Listless in the cool light
of afternoon, a lizard scans
the crevices along our wall
waiting for me to fetch
part of myself that's a blend
of "fence" and "skink"

clinging to language's strata
and burrowing under each crack
to find the hatched syllables
of a word. Then another and another
until a sentence leaps into place.

And n the drain pipe, a raven
bangs her body for attention, shaken leaflets
fall off the mimosa clustering
along her slick plumage. The Pleiades
sunlit in green. It's time for shedding
( as Winter's sister crispens the air)

and the bird baits me
to invoke part of myself
that arrives with risk, daring
to roost in the macabre rafters
of imagination.

Its beams splintered
and veiled with the intricacy
of spiders, the breath of characters
I have yet to raise from the dead.

Corrected version

Always, I seem to end up with a typo, that "n" without the "o" in front of it to form "on".

Writing Totems

you have to become the person you need to become
to write that book
Junot Diaz

Listless in the cool light
of afternoon, a lizard scans
the crevices along our wall
waiting for me to fetch
part of myself that's a blend
of fence and skink

clinging to language's strata
and burrowing under each
to find the hatched syllables
of a word. Then another and another
until a sentence leaps into place.

And on the drain pipe, a raven
bangs her body for attention, Shaken leaflets
fall off the mimosa clustering
along her slick plumage. The Pleiades
sunlit in green.. It's time for shedding
( as Winter's sister crispens the air)

and the bird baits me
to invoke part of myself
that arrives with risk, daring
to roost in the macabre rafters
of imagination.

Its beams splintered
and veiled with the intricacy
of spiders, the breath of characters
I have yet to raise from the dead.

Hi Jane

You have expanded the idea of Bradbury beautifully into your own perspective of the individual writing and what results from it.

We illumine and illuminate,
reflect and are reflected,
throw color through the prism
of words. The light refracted
is both transparent and real.

And through that volcano of story,
that white hot light, we remake the world

Yes, our words reflect experience, belief and the magic of creative thinking. In return, they are reflected on by readers and people who can relate to how we define or see the world. Our story erupts into a blend of ideas, characters, actions and intentions that can both change and influence humanity, in a small or large way. But within the
"white hot light" there is the spirit of language and that spirit is real, living with impulse and energy that drives us to create and express our view, ourselves in relation to what shapes and affects us.

Thank you for sharing this,
so much enjoyed,
Wendy

Been away for two days at a book festival so no time to say thank you before this, Wendy, but thank you from the deepest murmur of the heart.

Jane

In every poem of yours I've read, Wendy, I find a line or two that shatters my imagination and splinters my silken unprocessed and badly parsed idea of what a poet really should be.

This tie it was:

Its beams splintered
and veiled with the intricacy
of spiders. .. .

yes and yes and yes.
Jane

"...to roost in the macabre rafters/ of imagination". Wendy, every now and then you you lay out a phrase that stops the tangle and tumble of thoughts and worries and the everyday and makes me contemplate the wonder.

Hi Jane

Thank you so much for this wonderful comment, your words touch me deeply and I appreciate them very much. It's always good to know when a phrase resonates and works well.

Again,
Thank you!

Take care
my best
Wendy

Hi Stuart

I sincerely appreciate your comments and always value your perspective. Sometimes inspiration flies up into those "rafters" and takes me to different ideas and places that challenge, and at other times, I'm earthbound; but I think imagination and the progression of a poem or story is unpredictable, having a will of its own.

Thank you again!
Wendy

Hi Jane

I can think of no better place to be with the onset of Autumn, than at the center of ideas and a literary harvest of books. I love those kind of festivals, they're wonderful.

Take care
Wendy

Ah, but is it a blue-tailed skink, or an orange-tailed skink [assuming the tail has survived at all, or if lessons have been learned]? These details matter.

I enjoy your poems and comments.

I'll be thinking about this post for a long time. Thanks Terri.

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