Writing for the public: the good, the bad and Stephen Fry’s

One important thing I’ve learned in my journey through the blogo-land is that no matter how much effort you put into a piece of thinking, how crafty you are with words, you are bound to find someone who said it before and he or she did it better. Here lies the real value of the social media of the modern-day: if you are playing your cards right you are in there for a gain by both giving and taking, but at a bigger scale and at a higher speed than when you are in the physical relationships with people.

I’ve gradually learned, and reluctantly at first, to try to not give much more than asked to give, and look for help and wisdom in places where honesty is highly valued and used. Honesty is basically the main reason for any offer I meet out there to consider it worth investigating. Practice will give you the skill of smelling fakery and dishonesty from a mile.

Arrived there, where you find somebody talking openly about his feelings, his life story or any story, there’s still something missing in the criteria to make it really worthy. Here I will introduce Stephen Fry to help me find the way in. In his book The Ode Less Travelled he speaks about poets and writing poetry. I took the liberty to take his definitions and comments on what makes a poet or a poem what they claim to be, which is artist or art, and apply them to any text destined to the public.

Laziness is the worst vice a poet can have. Sentimentality, cliché, pretension, falsity of emotion, vanity, dullness, over-ambition, self-indulgence, word-deafness, word-blindness, clumsiness, technical ineptitude, unoriginality – all of these are bad but they are usually subsets and products of laziness.

[…]

David Hockney once said that his working definition of a piece of art was a made object that if left in the street, leaning against a bus shelter, would cause passers-by to stop and stare. Like all brave stabs at defining the indefinable it has its limitations, I suppose – it is not, as Aristotle would say, necessary and sufficient – but we might agree that it is not so bad.

[…]

The poet Robert Graves offered the Game of Telegrams as a way of defining poetry. […] If you could take a word out without losing any sense, then the poet was indulging himself unacceptably. […] The fact is, the Telegram Theory is nothing like good enough. We all know that repetition is a valuable and powerful rhetorical and poetical tool.

In the last two paragraphs he is presenting the definition of art by to great names. According to the first, art must be awe-inspiring, make you stop and stare as at a wonder or an oddity at least. The second is stressing the capacity of the art to compress reality in the right amount of physical expression. Fry says that both are correct but incomplete. He does not go further to give his own definition; I believe partly because there can’t be one and partly because art it is a sissific attempt to perfect a forever imperfect world, therefore it cannot be put, frozen, in a frame.

I’ll close this with a paragraph from his book, where he tells us what made him, one time, stop, and stare, and fall in love with poetry:

The line is from ‘The Eve of Saint Agnes’:
And Madeline asleep in lap of legends old.

It is very possible that you will see nothing remarkable in this line at all. I had been dizzily in love with it for months before I became consciously aware of its extraordinary consonantal symmetry.

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One Response to Writing for the public: the good, the bad and Stephen Fry’s

  1. I found this post interesting because I just attended a poetry reading where a similar subject was discussed. It was about challenging yourself to be in awe of not your own words, but those that come to you when least expected. When that happens then others will also be in awe. Thanks for sharing.

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