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Dante, John Gardner, Revising Evernost

Last things first: I am revising Evernost-the-novel (as opposed to Evernost-the-compilation-of-poetry-and-pictures, which will take much longer to mature). This is very exciting and somewhat exhausting.

Sometimes to encourage myself along the way writing I’ll pick up a random or near-random book on writing. Today’s was John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist. I read his The Art of Fiction a while back. In both books, I find his arrogance thrilling, threatening, and irritating all at once, and I feel that I am learning something real about good taste (and the degree to which I lack it). I’ve never read any of Gardner’s fiction, but I ought to.

For the past week, I’ve tried to rewrite the second of nine novellas I wrote in my marathon last year into something I’d actually want to read. Practically, spurred along by Gardner’s wit, I tried to weed out cliches, blandness, and redundancies, making emotion more vivid and choosing the moments in which I explore it more carefully. Generally, I hope eventually to create a coherent, complex, not-neutral emotional effect with everything in the story—an emotional effect that fits both with the overall plan and with each particular viewpoint character’s outlook. I felt overall quite successful, at least for being able to focus excitedly for hours on only a few pages of writing (I’d begun to fear I’d lost the capacity to write prose fiction carefully, and I’ve always found revision challenging).

Here is the poem that begins this version of the novel (or novels—not sure how many volumes the thing will fill in the end):

I wove a dream for you of clean, cold lies,
albeit, to snare you, laced with honest thought—
and much between, beyond, unwise and wise.

You’ll tie your heart into an aching knot
if you pick apart my cloth for what is real.
Just know, friend: in this book, I lie a lot

about hard facts, the subtle things I feel,
and gritty details, not to mention any
thoughts beneath, which are, of all, least real.

Come to me for beauties, questions—many—
but not for truth. You’ll get no truth from Jenny.

(Jenny is my intrusive narrator. Her name is a long story)

Speaking of terza rima (the form I used for the above poem)…I decided to read the whole Divine Comedy, something I’ve wanted to do since reading excerpts from the Inferno in high school (also for inspiration, as Evernost, like Dante, gets rather cosmic in scope). I finished the Inferno in its totality this morning, and I share Dante’s relief on moving to somewhere with stars and grass and sunrises—the base of the mountain that is Purgatory. Sadly, I am not reading the book as it deserves to be read, in that I’m ignoring the footnotes; I don’t have the patience for them, and I’m aiming for an immersive experience rather than full understanding—but maybe later.

I’m reading Sisson’s translation, the translation of the complete Commedia I found at the public library—blank verse, extremely readable, sometimes effective but sometimes decidedly uninspired (example: in place of the canonical “abandon hope, all ye who enter here” we have “no room for hope, when you enter this place”). Still, it makes for a pleasant and absorbing reading experience.


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