Monday, March 23, 2009


I hope JS Porter doesn't mind my borrowing the title of his book. Over the last few months I've been nosing through his collection of essays again, sipping at the fluid bits, holding the crunch between my teeth for a time. The two thoughts keep playing tag under and in my consciousness: can I capture the essence, the spirit of an author I admire in one word? and what word could I choose to reflect my spirit as expressed in my written words?

The answer to the first question is a qualified "yes." I hope that this is because I understand the reasoning and the ideation behind Porter's way of looking at and attaching the authors he has consociated to a single word which is more than a word. I like narrative, but prefer a novel that carries more than a well-told story, something others might call "mood" but which is more than that, something Porter calls "spirit.

I'll give you a couple of examples that work for me. When I read Tony Hillerman's books, no matter what the story the feeling I have is "open." Always, of course, there is the space and distance of the landscape. But beyond or below that is the effortless openness of his characters and that wonder which is needed to approach a different culture on its own terms. Another is James Lee Burke's tales set in Louisianna. I have never been there, but once I had the chance to taste authentic gumbo; whenever I read Burke's books, I can feel and taste "gumbo" again in my mouth as well as my mind. Then too there is a poet who shall remain nameless. Whenever I read some of his work I can hear water rushing over stone: sometimes rough, sometimes smooth, but always, no matter what the subject of his poem, water on stone.

And what word would I use to sum up what I'm trying to impart, to radiate in my own work? I think about it now and then, but often come to a different conclusion. Perhaps it's better to leave that to someone outside of me. Perhaps you.

We have so many words that can do and be so much. And sometimes one word can hold a lifetime of expression as Porter shows so well.
Just feel all the concepts that are part of the word "dance." The marvel of language is the ability of one combination of sounds to carry and share so much. As much, as infinitely much, as being alive. In all its pain and glory to be distilled into the perfect word. This is a true Zen concept.

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