On Poetry and Culture Shock

The T. S. Eliot effect (How Not To Write, 1)

I am going to repeat myself here. Every artist that has stopped to theorise about the creative process, about What Art Ought to Be, reaches a simple and easy conclusion. Art ought to be what I do. Of course, I have no intention of being an exception. When I have written about why I like what I like, the result has been in the negative: instead of a list of things to do, I have a list of things that kill poetry. When I write (poetry or prose: it doesn’t matter) there are a few things I always try to avoid. Good writing is often a matter of leaving things out; most of the stuff I’ve read by bad or mediocre writers was so because of what was superfluous, not because of what was missing.

It probably sounds destructive, but in the hope of offending someone (oh yes, please, disagree), I’m going to blog a number of “effects”, flaws to be avoided like the plague. This is the first one: the T. S. Eliot effect is a double-edged sword. It is impossible to write without having influences. Really impossible. Sometimes those influences are evident, sometimes less so. Influences are good. But if your work has influences that are both obvious _and_ obviously better than your creations, be careful. T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland is a poem I used to hate because it screams


And what’s the point of that?

(Brought to you by the composer of haikus who has stolen quotes straight out of Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, Pink Floyd, Beowulf, William Butler Yeats and Amaral).

2 comentarios

Nia -

Aurora, who said anything about insignificant details? When I say "excessive" or "unnecessary" I do not mean "description". What I mean is that when I read something by an amateur or a mediocre writer, I more often think "this word, phrase, punctuation mark, etc. shouldn't be here", rather than "I miss something". For example, it is easier to write badly in long sentences than in short sentences. Long sentences are harder, not worse. Same goes for complex syntax, "elevated" language, and the like.

Aurora -

Ahí se vuelve a cumplir el dicho que el libro de los gustos está en blanco, porque yo me deleito en los detalles insignificantes (el color, el aroma, la textura, la luz; tengamos en cuenta que mis gustos van por la prosa en que suceden cosas constantemente, luego detenerse tanto en los detalles sí es superfluo) y en que todo quede atado y muy bien atado, luego cuanta más información, útil o no, contenga el escrito, más lo disfruto. Eso sí, a veces no me interesa saber qué comen los personajes en cada comida que hacen, pero eso también depende de la forma en que se redacte lo superfluo, ¿no? En fin, cada novela es un mundo.