Seriously, this is writing, good people. Hill William is a book that should make us all stop and rethink what we're doing with the written word. Look for some thoughts on it at length here soon.
Monday, November 4, 2013
Thursday, October 31, 2013
When I was seventeen, one of my teachers gave me a copy of Raymond Carver's “They're Not
Your Husband”. I had only read a couple of short stories up to that point—Sherlock Holmes mysteries,
Kafka, Poe--and while they were all beautiful in their own right, it never occurred to me that fiction could be anything other than dense and/or cerebral. I didn't know what to expect when my teacher handed me this short story, but I had an ugly feeling that this was going to make me rethink everything I learned. You see, a couple of years earlier, when I was completely new to high school and the idea of taking English classes, this same teacher had torn my writing apart sentence by sentence. If I was going to get anywhere with him, I needed to accept the fact that we had totally different views on what good writing is, and that anything he gave me was going to make me feel completely uncomfortable in my own skin.
From the first paragraph, “They're Not Your Husband” shocked me in how terse and honest it was, in how much it covered in a small amount of space. More than that though, the blunt approach to the subject matter at hand, the fact that Carver can describe a woman who starves herself (“I pick at things”, she says, when asked about her weight loss.) and not shy away from showing you the most brutal details in her life...that resonated with me in a way that nothing I read before really did. The further I stepped from the story, the more concrete the image of the woman at war with her own body became. It wasn't long before I started to connect her to my own self-image issues—the chronic dieting, the compulsive need to exercise, the desire to be smaller, always smaller...
I don't remember if I wrote my first short story immediately after that class, but I remember staying in my seat long after everyone else had left, trying to think of a way to frame all of my feelings into some kind of narrative. The names and faces came to me, but the words that came with them felt inadequate somehow—too lush, too big. If I wanted to get across what his stories made me feel, then I needed to write more openly and honestly, to strip away the dense language and the heavy prose.
Since that class, I have had several stories published in various indie presses. My topics have evolved beyond dieting and body image, but I still try to write as openly as I can. Sometimes, this means feeling uncomfortable with what ends up on the page. Sometimes, this means going to a reading and having a style that is completely different from everyone else's. But no matter what happens, no matter where I am in my life or what I'm working on, I never regret reading that story.
Monday, October 21, 2013
(Note: This is the first of what I plan to be four guest posts over the course of the next month or so. I hope you enjoy.)
Hazel Dickens provided music for the soundtrack, and her selections – her own songs and the works of others – are a perfect fit for Kopple’s film. I’m taken by the voice and story of Nimrod Workman at the very beginning.
by Sam Rasnake
Here’s one of those friend-of-a-friend stories. In my college days, a friend showed me an old house in Roan Mountain, Tennessee, a house that shared a history, she said, with a young, New York City-would-be filmmaker Barbara Kopple. In my friend’s story the director worked and lived at the house while editing and shaping her film – a film I’d just seen on its initial release. I didn’t – and don’t – know the lines in this tale between truth, legend, and invention – the poet in me doesn’t worry about such things. What I do know – I was fascinated. The idea of the filmmaker hold up in a house off the beaten path in the Tennessee mountains near the North Carolina state line – a safe distance from the violent subject matter of her work, while she finishes her film Harlan County USA – is an image that has stayed with me. Kopple’s work is a brilliant document of a 1970s miners’ strike at Brookside Mine in Harlan County, Kentucky. The film, winning an Oscar for best documentary, is a great work of art – great, not because of any award, but great because of the truth in life it presents. This was Kopple’s first Oscar; she has since won a second. So much for “would-be”.
Harlan County is a living organism of a story, skillfully and honestly told by a cast of characters so real I feel I’ve known them all my life. During the making of the film, Kopple became committed to the people in the community – and they to her. It’s a powerful film, and certainly on my list of favorites.
One of my poems – “Which side are you on...” – originally published in FRiGG and later included in the collection Cinéma Vérité, attempts to connect – not with the film – with the house and the filmmaker at work. The title of the poem comes from a song by Florence Reece about the deadly 1930s confrontation in Harlan County between striking miners, strikebreakers, and security forces from the mining companies. Both Reece and the song appear in the film.
As a creative work, Harlan County is a story with a reality beyond truth, and the music as well as the voices throughout deliver. Unforgettable.
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