October 11, 2011KR BlogBlog

Short Takes: Editing the Epics

Remember that eternal editorial refrain, “Avoid the passive voice?” Maybe you should, maybe you shouldn’t—it seems to depend on the case. But is it largely a superstition?

Not just the passive voice gets the axe, though: so does using the first person, split infinitives, and beginning a sentence with “and” or “but. And writing in fragments. All of these might be immediately pigeonholed as faux pas in academic writing, until you hear what a senior manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press has to say about them.

Alice Oswald, on why she rewrote/retold The Iliad: “I’ve always felt, with The Iliad, a real frustration that it’s read wrong. That it’s turned into this public school poem, which I don’t think it is. That glamorising of war, and white-limbed, flowing-haired Greek heroes—it’s become a clichéd, British empire part of our culture. Every translation you pick up is so romantically involved with the main story that the ordinariness of Homer, which I love so much—the poem’s amazing background of peculiar, real people, just being themselves—is almost invisible.”

Oh, to spy into the book-filled offices of other people and read their letters on the spines. Telling, or not?

From Van Gogh to Plath, artists and writers have left behind troves of letters fascinating from a cultural as well as personal standpoint. Now, a collection makes public the correspondences between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz.

(Speculated: father of Frances E. Newton, English missionary. Via kladcat.)

John Matthew Fox on writers versus Writers: “If written language was emptied of meaning, most non-creative writers would never write again. Hey, even most creative Writers would never write again. Or at least they’d be put off for some time. But I think many Writers would come back, drawn by the allure of letters mashed up against one another and the sounds created. The need for language, written language, is deeply embedded.”

In my first post on this blog, way back in May, I linked to several pieces about rejection in the literary world. It’s such a pervasive reality, though, that I think the topic deserves revisiting.

Maybe it’s the most recognizable face of modern poetry, or maybe it’s “the death of art,” as Harold Bloom termed it. Whatever the case, the art of the poetry slam is going strong.

Congratulations, Tomas Tranströmer. (Don’t worry, Adonis fans; he’ll have his day.)