c is for cat

Rules for Anchorites

Letters from Proxima Thule

Previous Entry Add to Memories Share Next Entry
Po-Po Shuts Us Down
eliot
catvalente
There are certain phrases in reviews of my work that I kind of want to fire. (Whilst not responding to reviews like a good author.)  "Not for everyone" is certainly one--dude, no book is for everyone, why does this need to be said, even the most popular books have entire cultures of hate around them, if books were either black or white, for everyone or no one, then there'd be five books published a year and that would be it. No one would have to write reviews.

Another, which is prompting this post, is the oft-repeated saw that I write more poetry than prose, that I'm passing off poetry as prose, that my novels are only "ostensibly" or "allegedly" novels but are secretly poetry SNEAKING INTO YOUR HOMES AT NIGHT TO RHYME THE SHIT OUT OF YOUR CHILDREN or something.

I've seriously been hearing this since my first novel. And if I count up the reviews per book that say variations on this, then you'd think I hadn't changed my style at all since I was 25, and gone from seriously dense surrealist prose to pretty damn complicated plots and YA hero's journey riffs. I'm still tiptoeing around in a robber's mask, chortling as I FOOL YOU ALL INTO READING POETRY.

I can't help but think this has to do with the way that poetry is being perceived and written these days. As an editor I see poems that are literally prose in a column, with no particular style, metaphor, technique, layered meaning or powerful language at all. This is 90% of my submissions. I don't think people actually know what the difference between poetry and flash fiction is since rhyming hasn't been a la mode for a good fifty years. So there is this idea that if all those things exist in a prose work with any frequency then it's suspicious somehow--even though seriously I swear to god there are plots and characters and dialogues and climaxes and denouements and they are seriously like 500 pages long and not poems for crying out loud. Not even narrative poems. But poetry is so little read these days and so much of it is passing off prose as poetry that a simile makes people clutch their damn pearls. That it is often used to dismiss my work is totally bizarre to me, but hey, I don't think poetry is such a wicked beast in the first place.

I'm not sure what the issue with sniffing out that dastardly poetry which might sneak in unless one is extra-vigilant. Perhaps it is suspiciously girly, and ought to keep its place in the kitchen, outside of the hardc0re muscular SF and seri0us Risk-board fantasy. I don't even know. But I promise, I am a novelist AND a poet, not OR, and even if I use pretty words, they are novels. My poems are poems.

Review drinking game: sip for "dense", drink for " not for everyone", finish your drink for accusations of poetic fraud.

Unfortunately, that's not what people seem to *see* about his style--they see relatively simple sentence structure, active verbs, a tendency to avoid adverbs and adjectives.

And teaching students to write like that can be counted as a good thing. That style does have its time and its place. Maybe the problem is that it's all we're ever taught to *read*. I got lucky and got a really excellent grounding in reading poetry by a few teachers over the years, but I get the feeling many people aren't nearly so lucky.

Teaching students to only write like that is not a good thing, in my opinion.