Wit, and't be thy will, put me into good fooling!
Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft
prove fools; and I that am sure I lack thee, may
pass for a wise man. For what says Quinapalus?
'Better a witty fool than a foolish wit.'
On writing poetry
The other day, Mother Reader pointed me to an article found online at the Poetry Foundation entitled How To (and How Not To) Write Poetry by Wislawa Szymborska. The entire article is well worth reading, but here are two items that particularly amused or resonated with me:
"To Mr. K.K. from Bytom: 'You treat free verse as a free-for-all. But poetry (whatever we may say) is, was, and will always be a game. And as every child knows, all games have rules. So why do the grown-ups forget?'"
"To B.L. from the vicinity of Wroclaw: 'The fear of straight speaking, the constant, painstaking efforts to metaphorize everything, the ceaseless need to prove you’re a poet in every line: these are the anxieties that beset every budding bard. But they are curable, if caught in time.'"
From the introduction to Malcolm Gladwell's book, The Tipping Point, something that spoke to me as a writer, even though I cannot clearly articulate for you what it is that resonated. It's more than the loveliness of his writing, or the simple point he is making. I think it's about risks and leaping. See if it sings to you:
I remember once as a child seeing our family's puppy encounter snow for the first time. He was shocked and delighted and overwhelmed, wagging his tail nervously, sniffing about in the strange, fluffy substance, whimpering with the mystery of it all. It wasn't much colder on the morning of his first snowfall than it had been the evening before. It might have beeen 34 degrees the previous evening, and now it was 31 degrees. Almost nothing had changed, in other words, yet — and this was the amazing thing — everything had changed. Rain had become something entirely different. Snow! We are all, at heart, gradualists, our expectations set by the steady passage of time. But the world of the Tipping Point is a place where the unexpected becomes expected, where radical change is more than possibility. It is — contrary to all our expectations — a certainty.
On being a woman writer
I checked a few books on writing biography out of the local library last week, and have started skimming them. First, a girl-power kinda quote from chapter 3 of Telling Women's Lives by Linda Wagner-Martin:
It is important for both women writers of fiction and women biographers who attempt to tell women's lives truthfully to recognize that they must tell the stories they want to tell with integrity, regardless of criticism about structure or genre. They must understand the way their culture views women and the patterns in their lives, women's roles, and women's narratives. And biograhers of women have a further responsibility: to understnad both their subjects' cultures and thier own and to provide their readers with a bridge back into history, so that they understand why certain behaviors then were approved or disapproved.
On writing literary biography
From (appropriately enough) Literary Biography by Leon Edel:
[T]he writer of biography must be neat and orderly and logical in describing this elusive flamelike human spirit which delights in describing this elusive flamelike human spirit which delights in defying order and neatness and logic. The biographer may be as imaginative as he pleases—the more imaginative the better—in the way in which he brings together his materials, but he must not imagine the materials. He must read himself into the past; but he must also read that past into the present. He must judge the facts, but he must not sit in judgment. He must respect the dead—but he must tell the truth.
On writing a biography of a woman writer
Also from Telling Women's Lives, chapter 4 ("Relinquishing Stereotypes"):
The writing of women's biography is also caught in a web of genre conflicts. What rules of biography exist are sporadic, but most assume that biography means an adulatory recounting of events in the life of a male subject. So far as structure is concerned, then, the narrative begins with a subject's ancestry and birth, follows the events of his life, and ends with his death. As the structures of recent women's fiction suggest, women's lives often break away from conventional patterns; sometimes the breaking away is, indeed, the story worth telling. Accordingly, the voices of women characters and narrators must appear in a format that lets them speak for their own emphases—their own sense of event—in a structure that may need to differ from the traditional.
Let me say this about that: I laughed aloud at Wagner-Martin's ballsiness in defining "biography" as "an adulatory recounting of events in the life of a male subject," but I don't happen to agree with her that a male subject is necessarily expected. However, her ancestry to cradle to grave remark is pretty close to the typical formula for biographies, and I suspect is what most of us are used to. In the prior chapter, Wagner-Martin assessed modern novels by women authors and determined that in many cases a linear approach was eschewed as women moved away from the "marriage novel" and into other areas. In some cases, a back and forth technique is used, in others, an almost circular trajectory. I suppose that Wagner-Martin thinks such devices can (and maybe should) be used in biographies of women (particularly literary women, which are the focus of her novel), as a means of employing a true female voice and perspective. I'm still pondering all of that, but I am encouraged by her exhortations to choose one's own path in charting a biography, which is what I've done with the Jane project.
A word from Jane
And since Wagner-Martin got me thinking all girl-powery, here's a great quote from Jane Austen's Persuasion, which I finished reading on Friday evening (a hearty thank you, by the way, to the television programmers of the world for making both Friday and Saturday evenings (and several others as well) completely suitable for extensive reading through the absence of enjoyable programming):
"Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."