Monday, March 01, 2010

The mother tongue

As I mentioned before, during February I presided over a creative writing seminar with a dozen island residents, ten adults and two high school students. Some terrific writing but let me quote here a single sentence from Tamika's final essay:

The wind on my face was a sweet relief for the fire I felt on my skin.

I suggested at our last gathering that this is what it's all about. At first glance there is nothing complex or "writerly" about the sentence. No five-dollar words or big ideas. Just words of one syllable, except for "relief," and honest emotion.

But read the sentence aloud. Catch the rhythm. Hear the way "wind" plays off "sweet," and "sweet" eases up to "relief." Hear the five "fs" beat out their neat tattoo. And note the way "wind" and "skin" bracket the sentence.

Behind the apparent simplicity there is a carefully constructed loveliness, a writer at work, perhaps on autopilot, but with an unerring sense of sound and syntax.

Good writing is not pompous or pretentious. It does not preach or prattle. It can be as effortless as breathing, or, rather, it should appear as effortless as breathing.

Go, Tamika. Fill your life with such sentences.