Robinson, Rowland E.

Breaking Camp (from Danvis Tales)

If, while listening to tonight’s story, you come to the dialogue and have no idea about what I am talking, you won’t be alone. I staggered across tonight’s author by way of the great Hayden Carruth, whose introduction to Rowland E. Robinson’s Danvis Tales ranks among the most incisive layer-peeling short pieces of literary commentary I’ve read. And I assure you I’ve read a few. He says of the dialogue:

Robinson was an instinctive linguist; he understood the value of listening carefully and recording faithfully. And we may say as a matter of course that he applied the same care and fidelity to the larger aspects of his material, syntax, and speech rhythm…

… the most telling elements of Robinson’s skill are the least demonstrable, his sensitivity to the syntax and rhythm of colloquial speech. Notice the interplay of long and short breath-units in these sentences, and the mixing of grammatical structures, clause and phrase, different verb moods, and so forth. Only a very complicated chart could reduce all these elements to a form of linguistic analysis, but they are what account for both the verisimilitude and the esthetic liveliness of this speech. The truth is that Robinson’s dialogue, which is the largest and most important part of the Danvis Tales, is invariably better writing than his descriptive and narrative passages in the standard overblown English of his day.

So give it a chance, even if you have to suffer through my not entirely successful attempt at the colloquial speech of this time and place. “Folk tales” are not exactly my genre and narrative style of choice, but reading through these has been a welcome reminder of why I should slap myself on the hand with a ruler when I pigeonhole myself this way. And I’d slap you just the same; I care that much.

Stafford, Jean

The Interior Castle

I’m more than a little eager to introduce this bit of Jean Stafford– in fact, the last time I was this eager, I was about to jump out of an airplane, an activity I was undertaking using age-faked identification, which was, to the best of my memory, the only time I’ve ever vomited directly onto the feet of an airplane pilot (the pilot then said this wasn’t the first time his feet had taken ablutions this way). And wait, I don’t mean to conflate Jean Stafford with my own underage retching.

Well, actually, I mean to do exactly that. The pain as rendered in tonight’s story is as visceral as words can create, and while I know your constitution can take it, I wanted to give you a chance to brace yourselves. Which is not to say that this is a story about pain, or one of those gruesome hyperviolent boy’s club tales that are all the rage* in certain circles. It’s not even a story about coping (although there’s plenty of that). You’ll have to listen to get the whole extent of the way she handles the body-mind wrestling match. But again: brace yourselves.

For those of you who just listen and don’t bother with my introductory pap, perhaps now is a good time to put your eyes to the above. I’m not fooling!

And about those round food monks mentioned in the story’s introduction, my mind will explode if it doesn’t implore. What do you think?

*a pun.