November 14, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

Richard Ford’s 3×5 Cards

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend a wonderful dinner at the Four Seasons in NYC and then the Kenyon Review Literary Festival in Gambier, all honoring Richard Ford. Ford gave a gracious, funny and inspiring talk for his Denham Sutcliff Memorial Lecture. In addition to making his case for the desperate need for fiction in the surreal America we now live in (ah, Sarah Palin and her nifty syntax), he referred many times to a collection of a 120 or so 3×5 notecards he carries with him wherever he goes, each containing a quotation integral to his life, and his life as writer. His wife has even copied these cards down for him, he told us; he keeps the backups in his freezer. Amazing.

It was hard not to be put in mind of a wonderful moment in an essay by Ford’s old buddy Raymond Carver called “On Writing.” But before I go further, here’s a picture of Ford and Carver hunting (they’re the ones on the left):

Anyway, in that priceless essay of Carver’s he tells us:

“Isak Dinesen said that she wrote a little every day, without hope and without despair. Someday I’ll put that on a three-by-five card and tape it to the wall beside my desk. I have some three-by-five cards on the wall now. ‘Fundamental accuracy of statement is the ONE sole morality of writing.’ Ezra Pound. It is not everything by ANY means, but if a writer has ‘fundamental accuracy of statement’ going for him,he’s at least on the right track.

“I have a three-by-five up there with this fragment of a sentence from a story by Chekov: ‘…and suddenly everything became clear to him.’ I find these words filled with wonder and possibility. I love their simple clarity, and the hint of revelation that’s implied. There is mystery, too. What has been unclear before? Why is it just now becoming clear? What’s happened? Most of all– what now? There are consequences as a result of such sudden awakenings. I feel a sharp sense of relief– and anticipation.

“I overheard the writer Geoffrey Wolff say “No cheap tricks” to a group of writing students. That should go on a three-by-five card. I’d amend it a little to ‘No tricks.’ Period. I hate tricks.”

So… Carver and Ford put great ideas and great quotations on 3×5 cards. I’m gonna start doing that, too. Maybe I won’t keep them in my freezer; for sure I’ll never be so lucky or talented as to write, say, “Rock Springs” or “Feathers.” But at least I’ll have me some note cards.