Like last year, I made some resolutions on New Year’s Day. In fact, I made one resolution months prior to January 1, so as to begin work on it early. I planned to read one book per week: specifically, one of the 400-some I own but have not yet read. Then, if said books were not worth keeping, I would hurl them away lest they needlessly burden my bookshelves. Back in October, I made a lovely little list of the 52 books of 2013, so that I would not be set back by hair-pulling indecision each week.
Surely you’ve noticed my use of the past tense.
Not because I’ve abandoned the project, no; but I am rather far behind. The third week of this year is drawing to a close, and I’m still on the first book of the year.* I’m barely halfway through it, but that half prompted me to send Thalia a copy, so I figured that – in the name of trichobezoar prevention (this year’s watchword? I think so) – I would tell you about it.
Three Genres: The Writing of Poetry, Fiction, and Drama (Seventh Edition)
Perhaps you can understand why it’s taking longer than a week. This 400-page volume was assigned as a text for a composition class my sophomore year at Hillsdale – and I was, indeed, a Wise Fool, and neglected to read it at that point. “Dr. Sundahl didn’t tell us what parts to read; he just told me to write How I Take Hold Of Things. Whatever that means.”
More fool me. Halfway through the first section, The Writing of Poetry, I kicked myself for failing to pick it up earlier. What Stephen Minot has done, unlike every other poetry text I’ve met with, is combine definitions of poetic terms, exemplar poems, and verbal exercises with an examination of how poetry must be compressed, how it must approach a point indirectly, how it must utilize the sounds and shapes to give meaning flesh. Also notable is his list of Pitfalls to Avoid. Some readers find it annoying and restrictive, but I wish someone had told me much earlier in life to write poems without intrusive meter (still a problem for me, ha!), impenetrable obscurity (Davey of Davey’s Daily Poetry gently chided me for this once), or a heavy-handed recapitulation of Generally Accepted Truths.
Similarly, the section on stories describes the components thereof, as well as means to go about transforming experience into a narrative which will carry some weight or impact. Minot is not without biases – one comment unfavorably comparing comic strips to Catcher in the Rye sat ill with me – but his is generally sound counsel, exhorting nascent authors to take care in their work and strive for subtlety.
We’ll see what insights the remainder of the book holds. My copy is the 7th edition; an 8th and 9th edition have been released since, and the differences between them may not be simply cosmetic. But the latest edition runs some $67.00, the 8th $5.00+, and the 7th a penny-plus-shipping. It’s not exactly a cavern map of How to Write a Good Poem, or How to Write a Good Story. But it is rather like being armed with a flashlight and a compass when setting out to write a poem or a story (or, presumably, a play) in itself. Quality, we are assured, comes with experience and years of practice.
*In fairness, I did spend some four days zipping through The Hunger Games trilogy. But they’re on loan and thus not part of The Lyst of Greate Doome.