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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Note for two writers


                After our conversations earlier this week, I recall that once the exchange of letters helped to sustain friendships.  The absence of hand-written  letters doesn't make a friendship less genuine.  It simply leaves a friendship bereft of ritual, the art of penmanship,  imagination with a feeling. The latter was most important when letters were in vogue.

                By accident, I found several instances of creative sparkle in some letters Hart Crane wrote in the 1920s to people I assume were his friends or close acquaintances.  In a letter to Harriet Monroe,  justifying phrases in his poem "At Melville's Tomb,"  Crane made well-designed comments on the reader and metaphor: "The reader's sensibility simply responds by identifying this inflection of experience [ Crane referred to inflection of language] with some event in his own history or perceptions  --  or rejects it altogether.  The logic of metaphor is so organically entrenched in pure sensibility that it can't be thoroughly traced or explained outside of historical sciences, like philology and anthropology."  Crane had the common sense that many young and not-so-young  makers of popular culture  often lack; he knew the operations of writing and reading are not democratic or universal but constrained by time , culture, and humbling knowledge of tradition.

How can one write, and expect to gain approval,  if one is dismissive of a tradition of extending and/or challenging?  When I consider that some third-class work earns top dollar, I realize the question is lame.

We older writers can only suggest to those who come to us for advice that standards, values, and discipline do matter.  Many of them have obese egos. They  over-rate their skills and talents.  Many of them are not brave enough to risk getting a rejection slip.  So be it.  If they do well in the world with  work that repeats what they don't know has already been done and  that appeals to the sensibilities of people who don't give a damn about inflection of language, so be it.  I don't want to block their success.   Why do they bother to ask for our approval?

Finding Crane's poem "Black Tambourine" in the same paperback with his selected letters was also a fortunate accident.  He did not ask Jean Toomer's approval to borrow images and metaphors from Cane in the first stanza:

The interests of a black man in a cellar

Mark tardy judgment on the world's closed door.

Gnats toss in the shadow of a bottle,

And a roach spans a crevice in the floor.

Likewise, I'll not seek the approval of Hart Crane's ghost when I write about the evil of a white man on a screen,  about a carpenter known as Z-Mann  Zimmerman.  Perhaps we are asked for approval  because we know what a letter can mean and have the skills to steal as effectively as William Shakespeare.

Jerry W. Ward, Jr.            May 19, 2016

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