AGAINST DRABBLES

NOTE: This is an unrevised entry from my old blog from August 5th, 2016

I don’t usually write gratis (out of principle this is one of my jobs) and I don’t usually write fast enough for commission, but I made an exception this week. I saw an open call for ‘drabbles,’  which are little hundred-word stories.  Collections of them are surprisingly common, this particular one had a Hallowe’en theme. So I gave it a try. It seemed like a challenge. It took nine seconds to write and another eleven to edit.  My home internet connection is a little slow so it took about fifteen seconds to send the submission by email.

I like the little story that I came up with, but I am not fond of the form. When laid out in textbooks the drabble looks as weird and arbitrary as the sonnet. But it isn’t — because the sonnet is not a set of arbitrary rules — poetic forms are made for the ear (and that mid-century America Literary critics couldn’t hear shows no problem with the sonnet, or any other form, but a problem with tin-eared critics).

Waltzes have value because when we hear them we have a background in waltzes, we know the dance.

The same is true with poetic forms. The cultural baggage is an aspect of the aesthetics and the meaning.  Whoever is experiencing the art provides  part of the meaning by knowing other things in the form. No one (or no one In-the-Know at least) has to count the beats to know the waltz, and no one has to count the lines to know the sonnet. They are just part of the world we live in.

The drabble, however, is just an arbitrary bit, it doesn’t have any distinction resulting from rhythm or repetition.  So a reader wouldn’t know what it is without counting the words, and there isn’t any reason  why a story with 100 words would differ in anyway from a story with 102.

Art has to have restraint, but the restraint has to have meaning for the both the one who experiences and the one who creates.  Which is to say you ought to know that you are reading a drabble, while you read the drabble, but there is nothing inherent in the drabble that would let you know this.

*****

 

Perhaps I shouldn’t be too hard on the drabble. I like what I wrote. I have read some by others that I liked. Maybe the discipline of word-counting is good practice.  And, if one is reading a book of drabbles, one is likely to acquire a drabblish sensibility.  The form does have a meaning in the context of an anthology, if not on its own.

And, reservations aside, I do look forward to seeing the other pieces by the other contributors, when the book is published.  And when it is I’ll post a link so that you may judge for yourself.

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After Avalon

The long awaited After Avalon anthology got back from the printer yesterday.  This is a special joy to me because I wrote the piece Paste-Bones and Ragdolls many years ago and never thought that it would find its way into print, in spite of it being one of my favorites.

The anthology itself is about the world after the king left Camelot, and what happened to its survivors, and those who tried to find it again.

My own story is of Gawain and Bleys — an old memory of an old time far removed from the buying and selling of the world — the sort of thing that might serve on a rainy day. It is a strange piece, but perhaps a good one, at least if you are open to it — and to tales of the old days, and to the old style, and to the belief in wonders.

DEAR MR. SONDHEIM,

NOTE: this is an unrevised version of an entry from my old blog from August 12th, 2016

NOTE: this is an unrevised version of an entry from my old blog from August 12th, 2016   

I have become fascinated by a  60s TV special that you were part of  — an adaptation of John Collier’s Evening Primrose.  Collier was one of the greatest short story writers of the 20th century, and you, well I suspect that you don’t want to be flattered, but you are quite good yourself.

This should have been the first big feather in your cap.  You completely understood the story and used bits of Collier’s dialogue to great effect.  But there is a falling off after the first number.  It isn’t you of course.  The screen play is trash.  I don’t want  to spoil it for everyone else, but the brilliant sideways love story gets — well you know what happens. The very end is fine but the queer genius of the story is thrown out entirely and replaced with something barely plausible and trite.  I don’t think that the screen writer (or maybe some officious producer) knew what the story was about, and ruined it, or, if he did understand, he might have thought that  it was too edgy for viewers.

These are old complaints I am sure.  And I know that you are 86 and semi-retired.  Nineteen sixty-six must seem like a thousand years ago, but, for the sake of the rest of us, would you mind writing a few songs to go along with the proper plot of the story?  If you like, go right ahead and someone else can tidy up the script.  Certainly I want that person to be me, but anyone on earth would do it if you asked (remember though, if by any chance they do turn you down, you have a volunteer).

Collier’s story has the quality of earthy unreality that you handle so well.  You did it in Into the Woods, and Sweeney Todd.  Please do it here.  I heard a rumor that you were doing another version of Road Show.  I love that production.  Leave it as it is.  The public should come around eventually.

Just give us, not the Primrose that we have, and certainly not the Primrose we deserve, but the Primrose that only you can deliver.

With great admiration,

Thomas Olivieri, August 2016

 

 

Tags: Officious Dolts, Open Letters, Road Show, Passion

On Watches

For the first few years that I had a cellphone I didn’t wear a watch.  I didn’t make any kind on conscious decision about it. I just stopped.  But a year or two ago I decided to wear one again.  It was a practical decision: it is much easier to discreetly look at a watch than it is to pull a phone out of one’s pocket and hit the button to see the time.  At first I had only planned on wearing it to work.

The more I wore one, however, the more I got to like it.  I bought a new watch — nothing fancy, a big round face with clear numbers and solid easy-to-see hands — and ever since the new watch has been an instrument of liberation.  The phone isn’t a tool of communication anymore.  It is just a gew-gaw to stare at.  I look at my phone less now.  I turn it off more often.  When I think that I can get away with it, I leave it at home. My watch weighs about the same as my cellphone, but it is teaching me the joys of being unencumbered.

Priceless Treasures and Ghastly

My new book of Hallowe’en stories  is back from the printer earlier than expected. If you want to get a jump on the horrific and the fantastic before the holiday,  this is your chance.

It is a short lavishly illustrated collection of tales of horror, the uncanny, and Putin.

Leonard Cohen: Working Steady

NOTE: this is an unrevised version of an entry from my old blog from August 26th, 2016

NOTE: this is an unrevised version of an entry from my old blog from August 26th, 2016   

Leonard Cohen just published an unpunctuated poem with the following lines:
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I was always working steady
But I never called it art
I was funding my depression
Meeting Jesus reading Marx
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I assume he means:
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I was always working steady,
But I never called it art.
I was funding my depression,
Meeting Jesus reading Marx.
.
Rather than:
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I was always working steady,
But I never called it art.
I was funding my depression,
Meeting Jesus, reading Marx.
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The ambiguity in the poem, in a few places, is Cohen’s little joke on us (if you can’t see it look in the kitchen).  But it’s satisfying that the man we have long thought of as an old troubadour is doing the proper troubadour thing.  The poem was just published an hour or so ago, but I already like it.
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I may post about it again when I have had time to think on it a little.