Thursday, January 30, 2014

`They Have Already Come More Than Halfway'

There’s always talk of the “ideal reader,” that gryphon gifted with precognition, whom every writer conjures and none can afford to believe in. At my day job as a science writer for an engineering school, it’s easier. Most of my readers are self-selected and tend to be students (former or present) or teachers of science, math and engineering. All are educated (most better than I –ah, but can they write?) and predisposed to reading about stochastics and fluid dynamics. Short of resorting to equations, we can talk shop. Engineers like things simple even when they’re complicated, and I haven’t yet interviewed one who, sooner or later, doesn’t pull out a scrap of paper and draw a diagram – a good lesson for every writer. 

Otherwise, it’s more of a crap shoot. An honest writer knows he can’t sufficiently contort himself to guarantee universal readership. Think of writing a blog like this as an exercise in the applied taxonomy of readers. Literate? Check. Literary (whatever that means)? Sort of. Academic? Not likely. Interested in prose written with care? I hope so. Interested in the books and writers who interest me? Who knows? Here’s a loose rule of thumb I follow sometimes, when I remember it: Is what I’m writing something I would be interested in reading if I were alone in a room and wasn’t trying to impress someone? To disregard the reader is arrogance. To contrive to please him at any cost is to pander.  David R. Slavitt muses thoughtfully on such things in a poem from his latest collection, Civil Wars: Poems (Louisiana State University Press, 2013), “Intimate:”: 

“To imply, to suggest in a subtle manner, to hint
but not in a coy or teasing way, to assume
that those to whom you speak will understand,
having so long understood so much. You need not
blurt it bluntly, if you are not so disposed,
but may indicate, with the slightest gesture, a mere 

“change in your tone of voice, and they not only
know but understand deeply what you say
without saying, or try to say but can’t.
These are intimates; this is intimacy.
That long a at the end, as you see, shifts
ever so slightly, relaxes, becomes a short i, 

“or a mere schwa, and this at once transforms
the verb into another part of speech,
an adjective or even perhaps a noun,
meaning those close friends to whom you need not
go to any great lengths to make yourself clear,
because they have already come more than halfway.”


Don said...

Thanks as always for your blog. For the record, I am alone in a room and not trying to impress someone by what I am reading. (I'll save that for later.)

Guy Walker said...

Interesting that you write today about the business of writing a blog. I write one ( which is different from yours in that every sally I make, be it poetry, aphorism, prose, philosophy or comic pieces is intended to have literary value as the primary thing which recommends it. I feel my work deserves an audience otherwise it is a play without an audience. I'd love advice, comment etc from one such as you as to how to succeed in this aim or whether the work, indeed, has merit that deserves it. I don't expect you to publish this but, if you have time and inclination, perhaps you could visit my blog and add some comments on the pieces you will find there. Alternatively, you could email me on