Monday, June 30, 2008

Poetry and Prose

It’s easy to identify certain writers by their work without so much as a glance at the book cover. A reader knows that writer’s style, and comes to expect it. It’s more than style, though. Yes, Hemingway’s spare verse brought his stories to life in a stark, yet vivid, manner. Readers have to intuit the characters’ emotions by their actions – or lack thereof. Divine the driving force of the story by its overarching flow, making even minimalist writing a kind of poetry.
I have to admit, I am more a fan of lush descriptions, poetic sentences that embroider an extra layer onto a story. Not padding a story for the sake of extra words, mind you, but strengthening the fabric of a story by weaving in additional threads of scenery or emotion to make a story real.
Much has been written about the writer’s voice. How to find it? Oh, if there only were some secret, magical formula. It seems the harder we try to find it, the more out of reach it can become, especially factoring in the market, or your editor’s style, or whatever.
Forget them all. Listen to your gut instinct, and go with it.
I think a writer can find her voice by sinking into the moment, and drifting away with it, pen in hand. By calling up a three-dimensional scene in her head, and describing it so succinctly, the reader will be drawn into it. People buy books for many reasons – to broaden their horizons, to lose themselves, to be awed by an amazing story, told in a unique way.
This last appeals to me the most. Authors such as Michael Chabon, Margaret Atwood, T.C. Boyle, Charles D’Ambrosio and Tom Robbins (to name a few of my favorites) are inimitable in their style. Michael Chabon’s prose is so lyrical, I take my time reading, or re-reading, because frankly, he knocks my socks off, to borrow a cliché. Within a moment of opening any of his books, I am there with his characters, part of their world, turning each page to find out what happens next and next and next. His latest book – nonfiction – lays out his view of storytelling in such a compelling manner it’s equally as hard to put down.
I know I’ll never reach the literary heights of these authors, but as (hopefully) illustrated by the poem below, oh, I love the ride.

Writing Under the Influence

Off to a slow start, I swerve and weave across the lines
of my pages, feeling stalled, but wanting
to hit the highway. I decide to pick up a few
hitchhikers, luminous transients that will lend
atmosphere to my dull ride, maybe give me
some direction, help me steer clear of the adverb-ridden gutter.
I throw open the door to Michael Chabon’s sad, elegant cartoonist hero,
then to Tom Robbin’s long-thumbed cowgirl (how could I not
offer her a ride?) We glide down streets, look into windows of
houses inhabited by Anne Tyler’s forlorn, love-worn couples.
We coax Sylvia Plath from the oven and her feisty recitations charm
the roadside cows, who gather to listen. We pass
Margaret Atwood’s forests – inviting, with
hidden paths throughout. John Irving’s stoic New England
landscapes slow us down, but we pick up speed
with Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen.
This road feels like mine now, and I’m burnin’ ink. When I stop
for Stacey Richter and Charles D’Ambrosio, the road
falls away, we’re propelled into the night sky, dazzled by fireworks
and the infinite universe beyond,
wide open and waiting.

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