photo by TommyOshima.
i’ve read confessional poet extraordinaire anne sexton a lot lately particularly as i have developed the series on depression that i started posting this week. i don’t think there are many people who have written about the disorder better than sexton. she writes about most things better than anyone else but depression is a particularly difficult subject to describe because of its tendency to eat away at your senses. sometimes, i feel like i have huge holes in my memories from periods of my life when depression strangled my world. i know a lot of people must feel that way because of the distortion that depression causes. how then do you write about something that you can’t even see clearly?
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i love sexton’s fairy tale reincarnation transformations and kurt vonnegut jr’s foreward in the book:
I asked a poet friend one time what it was that poets did, and he thought awhile, and then he told me, “They extend the language.”
Anne Sexton does a deeper favor for me: she domesticates my terror, examines it and describes it, teaches it some tricks which will amuse me, then lets it gallop wild in my forest once more.
–Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
i love his interpretation of her writing. sexton writes about the most intimate corners of her life but it never seems narcissistic or overdramatic; she allows a voice for every one of the emotions running rampant in you.
i remember the first time i read transformations. i was staying with an ex in brooklyn who had the most amazing little apartment. his roommate had decorated the living room with a small sofa, wooden statues that resembled different parts of a tree, and piles of piles of books in every corner. for days i wanted to walk around the room barefoot and touch all of the different books. i didn’t though because i’ve always felt like looking through someone’s book collection was too intimate for a stranger to do (his roommate was away on assignment in africa — i never met him) but my ex, a devout writer yet very reluctant reader, laughed at me and laid a giant pile of books on my lap. it was then that i found transformations and entered the mind of sexton for the first time.
i have yet to read any of vonnegut’s books (he’s on my to read list). however, i do love to read and reread his eight rules (particularly #7) for short story writing which are from Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction:
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
He qualifies the list by saying that Flannery O’Connor, and other great writers tend to break all the rules except for #1.
i love the fact that he adds that little clause at the end about breaking the rules. rules and tips are great especially when writers are first developing their style and voice but who needs rules when it comes to creativity?