I Shied Away From the Lyrical: Quirks and Perks

hugo-kemmel https://unsplash.com/search/night-sky?photo=oY9coVnhJL0

Quote: A bright star quivered in the sky; another star trembled closer by. The sky was night blue, with strands of day, with threads of day, feminine, seamstressy. The scissors of wind sounded as in a barbershop, and it was difficult to know if one’s own hair or the Chinese silk of the sky was being cut.

— Martín Adán, The Cardboard House (translation by Katherine Silver).

Growing up I shied away from the lyrical. I feared I would not “understand it”, or that “understanding it” was a matter of special education, verbal intelligence, and practiced sensibility. I took long enough to convince myself otherwise. So now I hope to convince others who share even a fraction of this misguided opinion to abandon it forthwith.

Ironically, my conviction stemmed from my own inclination to turn every school assignment into a string of poetic allusions; most of my classmates said they enjoyed my writing, but didn’t understand it. The teachers assigned me top marks for effort and “aether-ic effect” (am I misremembering, was it esoteric?), and asked that next time I write about a concrete event. But my essays were already about concrete events, only those that happened within me!

Later, when the essay topics concerned specific authors, I found ways to do intertextual analysis through the thick lens of metaphor. Fortunately for my grades, no teacher was bold enough to admit that my beautiful language was probably nonsense (euphony aside); unfortunately for my writing, no teacher was bold enough to instruct me how to write beautiful language that also conveyed the content I intended.

This just shows how people flounder when it comes to the lyrical, both as readers and writers.

Back to reading, and the Quote. Martín Adán (1908 – 1985) was a Peruvian poet, and his only novel, The Cardboard House, epitomises the lyrical experience outside of poetry: the novel is a loosely structured, almost plotless series of page-long vignettes about growing up in Lima surrounded by sky, sea, and city. His work is described as hermeticmetaphysical, deep, full of symbolic metaphors. The old me would have been daunted; what’s the point if I won’t understand any of that high-brow stuff? But the beauty of the lyrical—in well-written works—is that it first speaks to the heart, warming it like a hug or a smile, then to the mind. Mind is important, but heart is a heart is a heart is a heart.

I leave you with another quote from the same vignette.

We went to Lima. The automobile tires sparked along the sticky asphalt; a flash of golden satin at the end of each block; the telephone poles mirrored one another perfectly; the pigeons were still heralding the morning. We returned to Barranco at night.

(Barranco is a district in Lima.)

21 - Lima - Août 2008.jpg


Historic Centre of Lima by Martin St-Amant – CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

6 responses

    • Too much of anything is no good, but what what too much means is a matter of context. I’m not sure that metaphor has to be all “sugar”, indeed it can be cyanid if deployed in a certain way. A good metaphor spurs my imagination in ways good, plain prose can’t (and vice versa).

      Conclusion: To be fulfilled, I (we? the world? some people?) need to read both and write both.

      Liked by 3 people

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