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Odd Words January 12, 2012

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.

Long time readers of my blogs e know I am fond of long sentences. Hemingway led one generation of writers toward the telegraphic imperative, John Carver another. I was schooled as a journalist in which the desire for a broad audience required we write in the religiously strict structure of inverted triangle and the eighth grade sentence. Somewhere along the way I became an apostate, succumbing to the Comma Heresy, preferring something approximating the rhythms of speech and not just any speech but the breathless accumulation of detail of a good story teller well into the whiskey, his porch audience rapt and respectfully silent as detail is piled upon detail, characters drawn and narratives slowly woven. This can all be done in simple, declarative sentences but you lose the sense of the speaker and the setting, the comfortable chair that puts the teller at the center of the room as if lit by an Old Master surrounded by an audience leaning in attentively, the sense that breaths the only real stops, the only other punctuation a pause for another drink.

So of course I’m going to have to post up a link to the Los Angeles Times article The Writing Life: The point of the long and winding sentence:

“…many of us in the privileged world have access to more information than we know what to do with. What we crave is something that will free us from the overcrowded moment and allow us to see it in a larger light. No writer can compete, for speed and urgency, with texts or CNN news flashes or RSS feeds, but any writer can try to give us the depth, the nuances — the “gaps,” as Annie Dillard calls them — that don’t show up on many screens. Not everyone wants to be reduced to a sound bite or a bumper sticker.

Enter (I hope) the long sentence: the collection of clauses that is so many-chambered and lavish and abundant in tones and suggestions, that has so much room for near-contradiction and ambiguity and those places in memory or imagination that can’t be simplified, or put into easy words, that it allows the reader to keep many things in her head and heart at the same time, and to descend, as by a spiral staircase, deeper into herself and those things that won’t be squeezed into an either/or.

Pico Iyer does not mention Faulker, who mixed of the laconic waterfall of Southern oral storytelling with steam of consciousness but my beloved Thomas Pynchon is mentioned along with Phillip Roth. Writing in a long sentence form differs from popular styles of writing (if i might repeat myself) as Old Masters differ from Modern Art, say, Mondrian. The long sentence layers the paint on thickly, with the disregard for convention in the service of the image of a dozen men around a table, each one’s expression and detail of costume, the use of light and shadow not seen again until film moved out of the daylight and into the sound stage. Such sentences are cinematic, not in the dry geometry of Robbe-Grillet (through whom we have all suffered at one point because someone said it was Important) or in the quick cut jitter of MTV that foreshadows Twitter but rather in the manner of the Sergio Leone’s lengthy shots of Clint Eastwood in the street, closwing in from the establishing shot that places us in the iconic weathered western street to the closer clues of posture that establish the Man with no Name’s essential character, the slouch as tense as the runner at the blocks, the gun on his hip jutting out just a bit, the flexing of his hand until we close in on a shoulder shot, every drop of sweat an establishing shot of the desert, Eastwood’s shark eyes over the slow baseball chaw of a Wee Williams No. 2, all in contrast to his fidgety, squinting opponent whose every bead of sweat speaks not of the desert but of the desperation of a cornered criminal. Oddly enough, if you go to Wikipedia to make sure you remember shot, scene and sequence in the proper order you read this:

  1. A frame is a single still image. It is analogous to a letter.
  2. A shot is a single continuous recording made by a camera. It is analogous to a word.
  3. A scene is a series of related shots. It is analogous to a sentence. The study of transitions between scenes is described in film punctuation.
  4. A sequence is a series of scenes which together tell a major part of an entire story, such as that contained in a complete movie. It is analogous to a paragraph.

But I go on. Read the article. Here are the listings.

& The week opens at Garden District Books this Friday the 13th (!) when Kresley Cole arrives to discuss and sign her new book book, Lothaire. Paul Marron, the LOTHAIRE cover model, will be accompanying Kresley to all events. I’m not sure if Fabio ever went on tour with the mostly anonymous authors of romance novels, but as a former publicist I can’t fault the idea of bringing along your hunky cover boy given the young, female demographic of vampire fiction.

& On Sunday the Maple Leaf Bar Reading Series features Poet Ron Primack reads from his work followed by an open mic.

& Monday the 16th brings John Barry of Rising Tide fame to Octavia books at 6 p.m. with his latest ROGER WILLIAMS AND THE CREATION OF THE AMERICAN SOUL: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty, “A revelatory look at how Roger Williams shaped the nature of religion, political power, and individual rights in America.” I know if you live in New Orleans you have probably read Rising Tide. When you finish this new book (as you should) you really ought to go back to The Great Influenza, which is at once a fantastic detective story, a narrative of the foibles of human nature confronted with the unknown, and a real life tale of the near fascistic home front of World War I as chilling as Orwell. If you have read both (but in my opinion specifically Influenza), this is an author who is going to deliver history and philosophy with style and poise and compelling narrative.

There I go again. For extra points, please diagram that last sentence.

& Every Monday, you can join the hardy souls who gather on the steps com amphitheater across from Jackson Square for The Writer’s Block, an open reading and performance gathering with no microphone, no list, with long pauses of whispered conversations and occasional banter between each reader as the audience of performers waits for the next speaker to climb down and speak his piece. It is a different experience from any other reading you will find in town.

& Tuesday bring us Susan Larson’s The Reading Life at 6:30 pm on WWNO-FM, which some of us anticipate as we do Garrison Keillor’s morning antidote to too much coffee The Writer’s Almanac. We haven’t quite worked out getting her guests into this column on Thursdays so you may want to follow Susan on Facebook so you know who is coming, not that you should need a particular reason to listen.

& Tuesday night at 7 p.m. also opens the student-sponsored 1718 Reading Series at the Columns Hotel with poet Kristen Sanders recently completed an MFA at LSU. Her work has appeared in Octopus Magazine and the forthcoming in New York Quarterly.

& On Wednesday the 16th at 6 p.m. Octavia will host lease join us for an exciting evening with bestselling author John Green presenting his new novel, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. John will be accompanied by his well-known brother, Hank Green, and together they will give an interactive presentation including words and music followed by a book signing. The who affair takes place at Temple Sinai and advance tickets, which include a copy of the book, are required.



1. Sam - January 12, 2012

One word: Katrovas and his marvelous unpunctuated incredibly long paragraph.


Mark Folse - January 12, 2012

Have I posted that sentence? I have it around here somewhere, run through OCR and corrected by hand.


2. MZell - January 13, 2012

Sorry to nitpick on a single line, but:

Mark, were you ruined by the Nouveau Roman (reference from “Bartleby & Co.)? Seriously, though, I don’t know that you’re being quite fair. Robbe-Grillet, Simon, Butor, Sarraute, etc. serve, if nothing else, a great purpose of influence as the French have in so many other ways, whether philosophy, culinary, and the like. As far as literature goes, perhaps Robbe-Grillet or Oulipians like Peret only influence American writers in a scant way, as Parisian fashion runaways do little to change American couture, but I would argue that it’s for the betterment of literature. The adventure of writing, of text which is not neutral, isn’t that something to be considered if not encouraged?


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