Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lead Me Not Unto Distraction

The only thing I can hear in my head is "The Sound of Silence" playing over and over as a familiar darkness crawls through me. However, I know that this is just a symptom of a more immediate letdown--that of finishing Ted Kooser's "The Poetry Home Repair Manual." It's rare to find a book on writing that inspires me to put pen to paper and blue moon/hen's tooth amazing to find one that inspires me to revise.

Kooser's work isn't about a set of publish-your-bestseller-now rules, it's a manual of close observation, of vocabulary in all its farmer's market glory, fresh, ripe, and meaningful to the dish. His examples prove his points and his deconstruction of those examples into less polished imagined drafts seem painfully familiar. I've made these mistakes! But, thankfully, I now understand the ways they break the structure or undermine the meaning.

This insight is what I look for in books about writing. I understand how to put a sentence together and I am familiar with story forms, but I get impatient and I hurry and I skip drafts that I shouldn't. Kooser reminds me that I should take the same care and joy in the crafting that I did in putting together a set of procedures. He calms a little of the I'm-getting-old, everyone-else-is-better fear and reminds me to focus.

If you've ever picked up a writing guide, you may have come across the breathless insistence on simplification, formulas just obscured enough to get by, and general treatment of writing and just another way to make another disposable product in everyone's hand today and pitched for the next one tomorrow. If you treat it like a distraction, it will be nothing more, something screaming from the sidelines and sliding away from you like sweat. The Poetry Home Repair Manual is about works that are the towel that helps you see more clearly, despite the distractions and the effort of the day (a million apologies for the graceless metaphor).


  1. Sounds like it was worth the read!

  2. So do you recommend it for writers even if they are not poets?

  3. I would--many of the suggestions are for considering how a reader would react and planning for your reader, which applies to both fiction and poetry.