Guy Davenport has got to be the smartest guy in Lexington, Kentucky, and probably in all of Kentucky and many adjoining states. I hope he ambles over to Keeneland, one of the most beautiful race tracks in the country, but if he wants to stay home to think and write, that’s okay too.
Here’s a quote from one of his books. (“The Hunter Gracchus,” for the record.) “Without desire, the imagination would atrophy. And without imagination, the mind itself would atrophy, preferring regularity to turbulence, habit to risk, prejudice to reason, sameness to variety.”
Aren’t those lovely words — turbulence, risk, reason, variety? Especially turbulence and risk. Sameness can be wonderfully narcotic. And then there’s his soporific pal — safety: the craft book opening to a novel with one quirky character and two-and-a-half similes, the clever poem like a dozen other clever poems. Sometimes it just makes me want to drink the Kool Aid. And I’m talking about my work. Though I know I’m not the only one.
I remember chatting with a talented young writer in my community college night class and asking him what he was ashamed of. “Oh, man,” he said, “I can’t tell you that.” Even without the specifies, I suggested that there was an energy to shame that really shouldn’t be denied. His prose was serviceable and he knew the rules-of-writing. But his work didn’t make my heart beat fast. It didn’t take me hostage and make me want a tattoo. There was too much reason, frankly, but not enough turbulence and risk.
I know — easy to say. But Christmas is coming, friends. You’re never going to get that pony, anyway, and if turbulence and risk aren’t to your taste, ask for something seraphic. Guy Davenport quotes a stanza from a Shaker hymn that just kills:
Love repays the lovely lover,
And in lovely ranks above
Lovely love shall live forever.
Loving lovely lov`ed love.
Rain yesterday in South Pasadena. Sun today.
Can you have turbulence and risk when it's sunny and mild? I believe Garrison Keillor: snow/cold builds character.
I avoided writing YA for about three years because I couldn't bust out of the sameness and safety of what I was doing. Had you mixed a pitcher of Kool aid, Ron, and offered it around the faculty table during that stretch I would have asked for a tall glass rather than go back to YA. But lo and behold, last winter I went back to it. Part of what recharged me was the decision to allow myself to write a story that quite possibly only I want to read. Very liberating. When one is convinced no one is looking, it's easy to say, Yes, go ahead and put a porn model in the story. And once you've done that, all hell breaks out in the writing. Most satisfying.
Okay, Marsha, you are quickly becoming my favorite writer, and, while I love all your work, my very favorite novels/poems are the ones you won't let me read!