Thursday, March 19, 2009

why I can't write fiction

I was talking to someone recently about why I don't write fiction even though narrative always seems to be something I'm striving for (or running away from) in my work. It's partly an endurance thing. Probably I'm sort of just lazy, the thought of writing that many words seems sort of exhausting. Or maybe not even the writing of them, but having to maintain control over that many words makes me nervous. Poems have to be so tight there's no room for things to go awry (though things occasionally do but I'm better at controlling them these days and knowing when NOT to control them). But in a short story, or god forbid a novel, there's all sorts of room for chaos, anarchy. Things that don't belong. Redundancy. Triteness or cliche. God forbid, predictability.

While one of the coolest things about poetry for me is the ability to twist language in all sorts of ways, fiction depends far too much on meaning, on conveyance, to allow too much twisting or prodding before you lose your reader. Even in my own reading exploits, the point from which I enter a piece of fiction is entirely different from the state of mind in which I enter a poem. Anything can happen in a poem, jumps of logic, of image, of meaning, and I'm totally along for the ride. The same things that work for me in a poem probably just give me a headache in fiction. Poetry allows for a certain scattershot approch that I wouldn't allow in fictions point A to point B approach.

There are of course exceptions, and I've gotten very adept at reading more hybrid poetry/prose based works (and even my new longer project is something of the sort..moreso a novel in short prose poems--if that makes sense), but things like this (I'm thing Selah Saterstrom as a good example in particular) force me to put on my poetry specs and read accordingly. Maybe it's just that I like my fiction to be easy and straightforward (and apparently sometimes a little trashy).

And I did once try writing fiction, but I found myself two wrapped up in the single sentence, the single line. I had, as my undergrad fiction writing instructor said, a serious case of Faulkner-itis--long rambling sentences in which you found yourself lost in and unable to glean meaning. Very bad, unless you are, of course William Faulkner..(who I still harbor a love of to this day.) He said he was sure I was a closet poet masquerading as a fiction writer. I thought he was an asshole. In the end, not a terribly productive semester, but it did swear me off writing fiction, for a while anyway. After I finished grad school the first time around, was jobless, and wallowing in self pity, I breifly tried my hand at it again, but really only because there was a possibility that it would actually earn me some money where poetry did not. I filled about four notebooks by hand with vapid short stories that summer, but it was very lackluster and half-hearted. It was almost a relief to give it up and go back to doing what I wanted to do.

Still there is the problem of narrative. The story. It's always there, even in the shortest of poems, though as a poet, I can choose how much to reveal. And maybe this is also true of fiction, though the aperture is just much bigger, what they tell vs. what they don't tell. In that way, maybe poetry is a bit more like playwrighting, how we know what happens onstage and off..

1 comment:

kirsten said...

i think it would be extremely interesting to see you write a novel-length story in vignettes. they're short enough to be hybrid prose/poetry, but the whole work tells a story. something a little more like the architect's daughter.