18 May 2006

One Sentence

I'd say that 99% of the time that writers get summarized into a sentence it is for the purpose of attacking them cheaply, except that I have yet to witness the 1%.


david raphael israel said...

The question of summarizing "writers" aside, I'd say that 99% of the time, poetry involves a summarizing of experience & imagination into a sentence -- except that I've yet to see that 1% when it's not.

Be as that may -- if a writer is to be summarized into a sentence successfully, typically a sentence from the writer's own writing would be a good place to start. Perhaps the elusive 1% can be found in such sentences. It's limiting, no doubt; but it still has a kind of imaginative accuracy. Thus, "No thoughts but in things" (Williams), or "Make it new" (Pound), or "Only myself I do not know" (Villon), or [paraphrase from memory] "You must admit, a complete lack of verisimilitude [in an insuciant painting of bamboo] is not so easy to achieve!" (14th century Ni Tsan), or "The world exists with the aim of being made into a book" (whoever that 19th cent. French chap was), or "Cogito ergo sum" (Descartes), or "This is not a cigar" (Magritte) -- well, they may at one level be not far from cultural cliches; but they have the advantage of presenting in compact form something essential, not really trivial, I'd hazard. Ah that reminds, I've one to add: Lou Harrison (contra John Cage): "I'd rather chance a choice, than choose a chance." And for Cage, "I've nothing to say, and I'm saying it!" Or for that matter, Gautama Buddha: "Savro dukham" (all is suffering). Or Ghalib: "The colors of the tulip and the eglantine are different, but witness to the time of spring in every shade is needed." Or Merwin, "And in the mail-box, around the key, / A handkerchief for good-byes" (Route with No Number).

Perhaps the endeavor of poetry involves a shifting search for summary sentences. But perhaps this is, from another angle, a rather incomplete conception.


kevin.thurston said...

holy shit

Ian Keenan said...


You win the All About Your Caste Post of the Month contest.

Of the people you mentioned only Pound utilized the dramatic monologue. That is perhaps why the line you cited is the least representative of the author’s, or at least a symptom of that cause.

What the ‘topic sentences’ of poets you cite amounts to is a dramatis personae of literature. “All the men and women merely players” (Shakespeare)

I think the intent of my original statement was to describe reduction of essayists or philosophers, or makers of characters. The use of the author’s own line would by that logic not be one of the 1%. Cage’s and Magritte’s lines you cited the lines play at an unstated antithesis.

With poets it is more complicated because it would be convenient for a poet if s/he could get it into one sentence, to bet it all on a red wheelbarrow.