Writer Must See
I write a poem. My sister sees it. Memories flood— creek days, lilac days, pine and pond days. So she writes within my poem, turns it on its side. Suddenly, surprisingly, deliciously, a different slice of past is brought to light. A past I lived but did not remember from that perch in the fir (she was a climber, never I).
Then sweet Ann says this (and I cannot resist putting it in poem dress)...
Sandra and you
are twins... words
in the womb
waters that you both
have birthed here,
have this seeing thing
in your genes...
Ann's words happily recall for me lines from others (and from Ann herself) who have spoken about my book Stone Crossings. Like bookseller Byron Borger, who said, '...I want to write about something else, one of the best books I've read in a while...She has a great eye for details, and a luminous style that revels in God's presence in the day-to-day.' Or Eugene Pratt, who remarked, 'She possesses an eye for striking detail...' And Ann Kroeker who mentions, '...she offers...beautiful detail...'
All this talk about detail, about seeing, sets me to pondering. Maybe seeing is the beginning of good writing, whether poem or prose, comedy or tragedy. Perhaps the first task of the writer is to see or hear, taste or touch, inhale the moment that is right under his (or her) nose. Having done this, the challenge is not to let go of the memory in favor of abstract words.
Let's ponder this together, with an example from my own work. In 'The Watching' (previous post), I originally wrote...
of a mother's mud-patched efforts
to provide comfort and nurture.
But no. Is that what I saw as a child, when I leaned to look into the robin's nest year after year? Can you see comfort and nurture? This is abstractness and has little right to be in a poem (or good writing of any sort). So I went back to my memories and saw the single blue egg that would prematurely crack, ooze yolk. The single egg that was lost despite robin-mother's hard work. And I wrote this instead...
of a mother's mud-patched efforts
to prevent a deadly cracking.
To say cracking is a better choice. It is something we see, understand means death. (Now I think perhaps I needn't have even said deadly, so inherent is death in the cracking itself). Another nice thing happens with the new choice. Cracking has a rough sound that hints at the ominous nature of my childhood setting.
So here is the writer's challenge:
see, taste, touch, smell, hear. Write it down. Excise the abstract where possible. Choose words with sounds that mirror meaning. Suddenly, deliciously, a slice of life is steaming, fragrant, golden, mouthwatering.
If you'd like to try this, here's a line to open (or close or middle) with...
I close my eyes and I can still see... [try to insert a single setting here, or person, or activity, so as to make yourself focus on detail]
Try a short piece. A poem or a vignette (no more than 200 words or so). Take the writer's challenge outlined above. Publish it at your blog and let me know and I'll link to you. Then I'll choose a few to feature at The Seeing, at High Calling Blogs. Try to finish up by Thursday afternoon if you want to be eligible for a possible HCB feature.
I close my eyes and wait for what you will lift from the past... pressed white linens and shined silver, fishing rods and emerald dragonflies, the cracked window at the back of the red shed, lilacs pressed by chubby childhood fingers.
Dried Fern Detail photo, by L.L. Barkat.
YOU TRIED IT:
Beth's Back from the Clinic
Rebekah's Little Girl
Katrina's The Hayloft
Laura's The Long Ride Home
Rain's Innocence Hill
nAncY's ~eyes closed~
Joelle's Pinto Beans
Hope4Today's I Close My Eyes and I Can Still See
Tina's The Journey
Sarah's Life is Not All About Forward Motion
Nikki's Seeing Detail, Writing it Down
Liz's I Close My Eyes
Unknown Contributor's vignette Pink Frilly Underpants
Erica's Grandmother's Kitchen
Ann's Make Pearls
LL's Stand Still, Let Go, and See
Katrina's I'm Seeing, Noticing
The Seeing, at High Calling Blogs