Saturday, January 29, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
When I had barely begun as a creative writer, I was lucky enough to take a class with Verlyn Klinkenborg. He focused our attention on sentences. Every week he harvested sentences from all of our submitted papers and handed out a sheet entitled "some sentences." It would more appropriately have been entitled, "some sentence disasters." Each class period, we revised these mistakes into clear, useful sentences and discussed why the earlier versions were confusing, unclear, and grammatically incorrect. It was eye-opening to me. I had taught first year writing seminars at my college holistically, as I was taught, emphasizing essay structure and ignoring sentences. Now I was caught by sentences, their simplicity and complexity, by how some people could write a whole page sentence that I could understand easily, by the way that others stuck to the simplest forms of sentence.
A new book by Stanley Fish explores sentences and argues convincingly for writers to pay attention to them. Here is one of Fish's favorite sentences: "And the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities that we call meaning." He cites Anthony Burgess's novel Enderby Outside. I like the way this sentence portrays words, sentences, and meanings.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
As I've started observing, collecting, and savoring details from my daily life to use in my writing, I have become more and more interested to read what others say about how they relate to their environments. David Hockney, the British artist, lived in Hollywood from 1978-2005 and I've enjoyed much of his art reacting to that experience. But then he returned to Yorkshire. In an article in the New York Times, Carol Kino records how he described the scene to her as they approached a group of trees along a narrow country lane. "As we drew close to the trees, he fretted over the sun’s position. “The lighting is made for going the other way,” he complained. Then he slowed down so we had time to appreciate each tree individually, and began issuing orders about how to look.
“Watch!” he called out. “The ash tree now comes in — look at the shape of it! And now then on the right, another tree. There’s a point where each one stands on its own. There. Now. It’s surrounded by sky. Now the next one, and it stands on its own. You see?” It was as though he were giving director’s notes. " He told Kino he had seen this area many times and wanted to make a painting of it, but could not yet get it to work since he had to synthesize many perspectives into one. He said he hadn't yet figured out how to do it, but he would.
It's a new idea to me to take in an experience repeatedly and consider how to synthesize it. I like this concept a lot, and I'm thinking over how I'll use it in my writing. I haven't yet figured out how to do it, but I will.