Essays and Excerpts

Greg Gerke essay on Willam H. Gass’s new story collection, Eyes

Garielle Lutz on ‘the sentence’ and working with Gordon Lish

“…every sentence had the force and feel of a climax, in which almost every sentence was a vivid extremity of language, an abruption, a definitive inquietude. These were books written by writers who recognized the sentence as the one true theater­ of endeavor, as the place where writing comes to a point and attains its ultimacy. As a reader, I finally knew what I wanted to read, and as someone now yearning to become a writer, I knew exactly what I wanted to try to write: narratives of steep verbal topography, narratives in which the sentence is a complete, portable solitude, a minute immediacy of consummated language—the sort of sentence that, even when liberated from its receiving context, impresses itself upon the eye and the ear as a totality, an omnitude, unto itself. I once later tried to define this kind of sentence as “an outcry combining the acoustical elegance of the aphorism with the force and utility of the load-bearing, tractional sentence of more or less conventional narrative.”

“You might wonder what would become of a word at one end of a sentence if an affix were thrust upon it from a word at the other end, or what might happen if the syntactical function of a word were shifted from its present part of speech to some other. And as the words reconstitute themselves and metamorphose, your sentence may begin to make a series of departures from what you may have intended to express; the language may start taking on, as they say, a life of its own, a life that contests or trumps the life you had sponsored to live on the page. But it was you who incited these words to shimmer and mutate and reconfigure even ­further—and what they now are saying may well be much more acute and more crucial than what you had thought you wanted to say.”

“…words in a sentence no longer remain strangers to each other but begin to acknowledge one another’s existence and do more than tolerate each other’s presence in the phrasing: the words have to lean on each other, rub elbows, rub off on each other, feel each other up.”

“For starters, make sure that the stressed syllables in a sentence outnumber the unstressed syllables.”