Tag Archives: forms

The implication of expository and argumentative nonfiction is that the author is The Authority (the word’s right there!)

The implication of expository and argumentative nonfiction is that the author is The Authority (the word’s right there!) and those who would report or argue in different ways are, well, wrong. (This judgment is inherent in reporting (and not just arguments) at a deep level because what is a report (news, explication, interpretation, analysis, etc.) except a document making an implicit claim to be accurately prioritized and thorough) …

Maybe it’s arrogant to seek new forms — but it also seems arrogant to adopt the authorial tone/voice/attitude when writing within the forms. And I also thought this morning that it’s forms that I have to teach — I’ve thought about this in Rhet & Comp for years, since Mom said she taught college kids who didn’t seem to have knowledge of the forms. It’s useful to get along (to succeed) in school and in business (and other institutions, other groups) if you’re aware of the common forms (and if you’re aware that there are such things as forms). Forms are a convenient way to communicate (how a science-journal paper has a different form — a form shared among practitioners in a discipline — from, say, a police report or a commemorative poem). But I thought about how I’m not directly teaching sonnet or sestina forms — well, the sonnet a little, in that I teach the iambic rhythm form — rhythm, rhyme, these too seem types of form — forms, familiar patterns, of language. The heroic meter: it exists, it is declared, and then poets try to show their ability to write to it — they show off. OK, it’s not just showing off to write in a meter, as a meter can aid memory retention (as would benefit, say, a singer of lyrics). But, well, partly what a writer of a form wants is to be seen as good, capable and clever at filling the form. What can a songwriter do, how much can be accomplished in, say, a 3 ½ minute pop song? And some artists claim to like or value limitations (Twyla T says that — something in her book on creativity says something like, to those whom the gods wish to humble they give enormous resources).

But — but. Openness — it doesn’t take resources to let go of the forms. I don’t have anything that I want to advocate to others — and I don’t usually seek to entertain others through my writing, though I do wish to inspire them. Sure, at my job, I’ll teach some forms — I’ll talk to students about rhythm & rhyme and I’ll say that these are the levers of the language machine and it’s good for writers to know what levers, what tools, they have available. If I don’t point students to some forms, some tools, then I’ve got a vague-as-sh*t class (and I have done that sometimes in my career, pointed students toward an ill-defined ideal, and it tends not to be a helpful/useful approach within the classroom form).

And I think how I’ve realized just in recent years that journals were the process (the quasi-form, because it’s defined more as a process than as a product) that suited me, and I’ve realized only in recent days a second quasi-form that suits and pleases (satisfies) me, a second art-ideal that’s mine, that fits me, that satisfies me, something I don’t feel too limited in, and something that isn’t imposed from outside (my erasure & random-word poems). I had to find these on my own, and that I’ve done, and it’s deeply gratifying — and it’s just satisfying when something clicks in its proper place. Finally, I find something that meets my needs (which needs too needed discovery and refining) and so of course it was only me who could find what suited me. And so I probably can’t teach this to kids — I can’t teach them, each of them, what suits and fits them. They’re 17, 18, too young to fully understand themselves, though I actually did (I can see in retrospect) have some urges, impulses — feelings more than clearly defined ideas — that I, even as a teenager, liked certain types of poems (such as Brautigan’s as an example, but I even wrote that poem that poetry is for things that don’t fit in prose — not exactly what I believe now, but also not wrong — hinting that I liked openness) and that I liked Vonnegut’s less-traditional stories and that I liked to journal, to record my life experiences (sh*t, going back at least to my vacation journals of 1986, aged 12! And I started journaling regularly in my first year of college! I have journaled because I liked doing it and because it seemed valuable. I did things and liked things before I ununderstood well why I did them and liked them — and that’s not bad advice for young artists, too. Do things, try things — see which feel right (even if they don’t feel easy, exactly, but they feel valuable to do) and which don’t (I didn’t want to stay a reporter).

So, yeah, I think my experience in becoming myself is cool as hell — I can share that with students. Basically, try lots of things but trust your gut as to which are yours and which aren’t.

[From journal of Sun., 28 Aug. 2022, Journal 366, pages 60-63]

Amazon, bookstores, and me

This recent article from Salon points out that most people still find out about books not online but from physical bookstores, and so, as physical bookstores find it hard to compete with Amazon’s prices and go out of business, Amazon might be hurt, too.

I have loved bookstores since I first started going to them in high school — I’ve loved finding books at new-book and at used-book stores, I’ve loved sitting in them and reading, etc.

And I used to love buying books — more than I could really afford. But for some reason, I seem to be less interested in books these days, and I think there are a couple, intermixed reasons.

I’m really writing more than reading these days. Writing is what feels natural, like I have authentic energy to do it, and reading long works doesn’t feel that way. I used to really enjoy reading long works, but now I feel less inclined to read both long narratives (of fiction or nonfic) and long works of analysis or philosophy.

I want short texts, like poems, or brief nonfictions (an example by Charles Simic here) — not because I’m busy or my attention span is short, but because I’m not sure I see much value in length, in duration. I don’t know why stories have to take a long time (I don’t read, generally, to escape into a story); nonfiction histories and biographies feel like compilations of arbitrary ideas, and philosophies/”big idea” books seem arbitrary and pointlessly thorough — like the world’s shiniest turd.

The Simic piece prompts a new thought — I’m appreciating that piece for its lack of familiar structure. I’m tired of regular structure — I teach the five-paragraph essay to high-schoolers, and while it’s useful for them to know, it’s a form I want to avoid in my reading and writing.

And when I go to bookstores now, I feel like the books are dead, in a sense. They are works that are complete, that are no longer being edited (with some possible exceptions — Whitman revised “Leaves of Grass” extensively, for over 30 years, after first publishing it). In recent months, I’ve been wondering about how commerce drives publishing form — namely, why it is that most books are carefully written and edited, and then many copies are made — instead, I’ve been writing small, one-copy volumes. These books are texts I can make all at once, in a short time (an hour or so), straight from my mind, with almost no revision — in this way, these books match a writing process that has come to feel right to me: writing spontaneously, writing what comes to mind, writing without having an outcome in mind (I’ll have a filled book at the end, but not be sure what words or ideas or drawings will fill it). This is an aesthetic/artistic choice that has seemed valuable to me recently.

And the wonderful thing about the Interwebs is that, as a form, as a publishing possibility, it too allows for work to be written quickly and published quickly, and revised in an ongoing way, and shorter texts seem to fit well within a blog or other electronic format.

[An aside: As this article points out, e-books are still a fraction of paper-book sales, and

But we do read things differently when they’re on a page rather than on a screen. A study this year found that people reading on a screen tended to skip around more and read less intensively, and plenty of research confirms that people tend to comprehend less of what they read on a screen. The differences are small, but they may explain the persistent appeal of paper. Indeed, hardcover sales rose last year by a hundred million dollars.]

This is not intended to be an argument against books themselves, or against bookstores (where I spent many hours reading and finding books that shaped the mind I have now) — and I still own many paper books, and may publish my own someday.

But right now, I don’t feel the Amazon vs. bookstore thing needs to be a big deal. Books aren’t perfect, and why not question the assumptions of the publishers, of the writers, and of the readers.