Short Takes: Cutting It Out, Keeping It In

Andrew David King
June 8, 2012
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Gangs of robots, social expectations, and charting syllogisms: if George Saunders, Lewis Carroll, and many others had written the much-maligned Twilight series.

C. S. Lewis on “the thing” writers write about, and “getting it across.”

Art by Jonathan Callan made using books.

Rest in peace, Ray Bradbury: “My favorite writers have been those who’ve said things well. I used to study Eudora Welty. She has the remarkable ability to give you atmosphere, character, and motion in a single line. In one line! You must study these things to be a good writer. Welty would have a woman simply come into a room and look around. In one sweep she gave you the feel of the room, the sense of the woman’s character, and the action itself. All in twenty words. And you say, How’d she do that? What adjective? What verb? What noun? How did she select them and put them together? I was an intense student. Sometimes I’d get an old copy of Wolfe and cut out paragraphs and paste them in my story, because I couldn’t do it, you see. I was so frustrated! And then I’d retype whole sections of other people’s novels just to see how it felt coming out. Learn their rhythm.”

Looking for guidance? Look no further than the art of bibliomancy—books as prophecy, only more explicit. (Or: the moment the lines of your favorite poem “spoke to you”; imagine Ginsberg having his famous auditory hallucination while reading Blake.)

“Like a flower with rain in the autumn, autumn has now come to my love. I remain alone with my shaggy head of hair, uncomprehending. My heart has been sad for a long time.” (From a recently released anthology of never-before-translated Taliban poetry.)

Allen Ginsberg's illustration of the Buddha's Footprint, taken from his journals.

Natasha Trethewey, the next poet laureate: “One of the most wonderful things happened to me. I had a reading in Charleston, North Carolina [after she won the Pulitzer], and my husband went with me—it was my birthday. We needed maintenance on the air conditioner of our hotel. A man came and fixed it, and waited with us for 10 to 15 minutes to see if it would kick in. We had a bottle of champagne a friend had sent, and this man asked about it. My husband told him, and he was very impressed. He opened my book to my poem “Incident.” He looked at it and read it out loud. Then he put it down and folded his hands in front of him, and recited Countee Cullen’s “Incident” [a short, powerful poem from 1925 that still resonates, about an African-American boy remembering only of his visit to Baltimore that a white boy he smiled at called him a derogatory name]. I found that stunning. This guy carried around in his memory that poem. I like to think lots of people carry around poetry.”

Shattuck, Richter, Poggioli, Bürger, Perloff, and more: here’s your introduction to the colossus of criticism written about the avant-garde.

More news in the disturbingly convincing story that Pablo Neruda was murdered via lethal injection by the Pinochet dictatorship at a health clinic he was ostensibly supposed to leave alive.

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