Posts Tagged Tattoos
A few years ago, I heard Joan Didion read from The Year of Magical Thinking at the 92nd Street Y. A strong reading, but what has stuck with me most is a comment she made after the reading during the Q & A session. Someone asked (via slips of paper passed to the host) about the difference between writing fiction and nonfiction. She made a comment such that the problem with fiction is that you always have to wrestle with the question, Does the world really need another novel?
In my own work, I find that the background static of pop culture and its hundred thousand tendrils has the cumulative result of reducing the value of what I’m trying to accomplish. The world’s talking about everything except fiction. It’s much too easy to become disheartened by the final irrelevance of yet-another-damn-novel. In order to be productive at all, I find that I have to write entirely for myself (which, I think, compromises the quality of the work — if I’m the only reader, why polish a piece to readability?), or pace and drink coffee and read old favorites until I’ve convinced myself that, yes, fiction still does matter, still does hold a place in the public arena.
Two website stumbles have, recently and unexpectedly, helped a little in the daily struggle to feel relevant. Contrariwise is essentially a gallery of literary tattoos. A collection of aphorisms, excerpts, and one-liners that have mattered enough to a small handful of folks that they’ve etched the words into their skin. Fiction and poetry still speak to people, and often so strongly that they feel compelled to carry it with them through their lives. I find this strangely heartening.
Along the same lines, the Academy of American Poets has been hosting the Free Verse Project, asking contributors to write “lines from a favorite poem on a sandy beach, assemble twigs on a hillside, or chalk the sidewalk…” then submit a photo of their work. Some of the photos are right on the edge of brilliant. I find a new and unexpected melancholy, for instance, in the quote from Prufrock drawn into a spilled tablet of non-dairy creamer.
It’s something to aspire toward, I think. Writing well enough, and persistently enough, to finally come up with a line worthy of being drawn into a powdered food substitute.