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Fret Over The Sentence

25/01/2011 Comments off

FT.com / Life & Arts – The art of good writing.

I fret about writing a sentence: whether to make it concise, minimalist and pared-down or, exuberant and rhythmic to match the tone. Are the rules that dictate brevity and concreteness enduring? My new year resolution was to craft the best sentences I could.

‘How to Write a Sentence’ by Stanley Fish and ‘The Elements of Style’ by Strunk & WhiteAdam Haslett’s feature ‘The Art of  Good Writing’ is one of the best pieces I’ve read about the sentence dilemma in the ungovernable activity of writing.  He looks at the forthcoming book from Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One.

He quotes from William Trevor’s story ‘A Day’ to illustrate how the aural effect and rhythm of a sentence matches the pathology of his character.

Haslett counts himself among those readers who fell in love with literature not by becoming enthralled to books but ‘by discovering individual sentences whose rhythm and rhetoric was so compelling they couldn’t help but repeat them’.

At the Lake of the Jewel Mouth

17/01/2011 2 comments

 

I was back on the hills this week, in the heart of the Galtee Mountains, at Lake Muskry; back to where the pulse beat of the walking helps to pattern the rhythm of story and words.

Appropriately, it is the place of the ‘jewel mouth’. For folklore has it that the ancient name for Lake Muskry was Lough Beal Sead – Lake of the Jewel Mouth. This refers to the powerful Coerabar Boeth who was attended at the lake by her maidens and wore a necklace of red-gold with a sparkling jewel at its centre.

Many writers have put on their walking or running boots, seeing the fluidity of movement as an aid to their literary work. Joyce Carol Oates spoke eloquently of the connection between the ‘literary mind’ and ‘literary feet’.

Talking about her running routine she says, ‘the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain, in rhythm with our feet and the swinging of our arms’.

So I plan to keep the literary feet moving this year and hope for some fluency benefits from the place of the jewel mouth high above the Glen of Aherlow.

Post a Week – I’m on board

07/01/2011 Comments off

I took my time about it but now I’m committed. I’m joining the post a week challenge.

I suppose I could really have pushed myself and gone for the post a day. But my problem is that I can’t rush the posts out; I find I need to ruminate, let a post idea churn around in my brain for a while, take shape, dissolve and re-form itself again.  For me, this rhythm is not suited to a post a day. Or, maybe I’m just lazy!

But post a week – here I go.

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Biography Poem from Painter Poet

05/01/2011 Comments off

Jo Slade’s biography poem The Artist’s Room traces the artist Gwen John (1876-1939) through Paris at the start of the twentieth-century: ‘I looked for her in Paris…/ walked from place to place, lived the smells, the sounds, / followed a plan I’d drawn.’

A painter-poet, Jo Slade uses her artist’s eye to distill the essence of Gwen John’s biography in a precise poetic structure where the artist’s decade-long relationship with Auguste Rodin is central. ‘Look, she’s holding out a hand to him / something like torture has begun.’

I envy those who, like Jo Slade, can write with a painter’s eye and express themselves with tone and precision in paint or ink: ‘Learning the habit of colour / raw umber, yellow ochre, burnt sienna.’

Sean O’Faolain provocatively wrote in an Introduction to Paul Henry‘s autobiography An Irish Portrait (1951): ‘Very few painters have written books and few of these are satisfying.’  Henry himself had a fascination with writing and finding the exact word to convey his emotions.

Jo Slade’s slim volume portraying Gwen John’s ‘passionate melancholy’ contrasts with the efforts of Mary Taubman – another writer and painter – whose work on the life of Gwen John became a life commitment.  When she did publish a book in 1985 it was not the expected comprehensive biography but a succinct monograph covering the events of Gwen John’s life.

Jo Slade says of Gwen John’s artistic impulse:  ‘She felt changes of colour, subtleties of tone / each of the other everything seeping together / making the world seamless, complete.’

Right Sentence: A New Year Resolution

30/12/2010 3 comments

Only a day to go  and I will start over. Another year. Another set of writing resolutions: nonfiction manuscript to finish; dig through more research; get back to writing morning pages.

But an image has dogged me. A child in ringlets scraping a nib across a school copybook in a first attempt at joined up writing. Every letter, every word, every sentence laboriously built.

And I know that this should be my writing resolution: to craft and shape each sentence and make it as crisp and pure and strong as I possibly can.

Hemingway favoured short minimalist sentences with vigorous verbs. You can read about his 5 tips for writing well here.

Janet Fitch says Write the Sentence, not just the story: ‘try to heighten in every way your sensitivity to the sound and rhythm and shape of sentences’.

So this is my simple writing resolution. To go and craft the best sentences I can.  Easier said than done, you might say. Maybe you have advice on how to make great sentences?

Photo credit.

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