Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Cult of Perfection: Reflections on Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte
I am certainly not the first to observe that writing workshops can sterilize one’s writing.  People like to point to Kafka or Woolf or any number of unconventional writers and laugh at the thought of them showing up to a workshop with their manuscripts.  The poor workshop comes out, in these portrayals, as never able to appreciate the genius before them.

I couldn’t help but indulge in that same thought as I re-read Wuthering Heights (my last reading was my freshman year of college, roughly eight years ago).  What if Emily Bronte had brought this to a writing workshop?  Immediately, people would comment on how the bulky narratorial structure leads to some contrived conversations.  The first-person narrator, Mr. Lockwood, hears the tale of Wuthering Heights from long-time servant, Nelly Dean, whose own first-person narrative fills most of the book. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Reading

Sheldon Marsh, Huron, Ohio
Summer vacation, at my family’s cottage on Lake Erie, used to be the time when I would get the most reading done.  Out on the porch glider or down on the beach I’d sit with a book for hours, or any smaller stretch I got.  Things change.  Now, though still at Lake Erie, I have a husband and in-laws in town, and my own family includes two toddler nephews.  And, since most of the year I’m 400 miles away, visiting takes precedence and—maybe for the first time—I didn’t read a single page during this year’s vacation.

I sound nostalgic, no doubt.  But that’s a perfect segue into this week’s featured reading.  Through editing work that I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been reminded of two poems that I am always surprised I like so much.  But like them I do.  They are simple and straightforward—not the types of work I usually like best—but there is a quality in each of having named something exactly.  In an MFA world, you often hear teachers and writers talk about telling the truth in their work, and while that can quickly sound abstract and even a bit cliché, these poems are indeed reminders of the power of truth-telling in literature.

The first is Matsuo Basho’s 17th century haiku that goes

Even in Kyoto
Hearing the cuckoo’s cry
I long for Kyoto

I mentioned it to my husband recently, and he said, “Oh yeah, I know that feeling,” which seems to me a perfect explication.  Any more would muddy the point.

And the other poem is Marie Howe’s “What the Living Do,” which you can read here

I hope your summer reading is well and full, and next week I’ll be back on track with a post about Wuthering Heights.