In Discussion2Kurt Tidmore read at Merienda last night. Included in the reading was his story Prairie Song (a ballad of the old west).

I have a recording of Kurt reading this, embellished – if that is the correct word – with sound effects, and a soundtrack song from a yodelling cowboy with a painfully high voice. The sounds, and the song, fit the story, no doubt, but last night we heard, and saw, the story being read aloud in what you might call the ‘naked’ voice.

 

It was a gripping reading. It is a gripping story, of a homesteader and his wife who try, but fail, to establish a dirt farm across the Brazos River, in Texas. The story has the grit of the desert in its teeth, and the dust of hot, dry plains in its throat. The story is as uncompromising as the landscape in which it is set. Most amazing, in the recording, and in the stripped down au naturel version, is the calling of the Mocking Birds. These critturs don’t feature over here, but they are some species of crow or similar, with the propensity for mimicry. Whatever sounds, from hammer, or saw, or rifle, or human voice, these bird hear, they are likely to reproduce with uncanny accuracy, and this echo resonates through this story, to reach an unbearable climax.

 

What struck me most, and not for the first time, about Kurt’s writing, and perhaps about the American style of writing more generally, was the purity – I can find no better word for it – of the narrative thread. Complex trains of events are rendered simple, and comprehensible. We can imagine them with potency and clarity. Writing in this style has great immediacy, producing a string of crystal clear images. The story moves forward, not folding back on itself or foundering in indecision, not blurring or losing its way.

What drives this sort of text? It is, I am sure, to do with the structure of the individual sentences, and I suspect, is mainly built upon the positioning of the main verb. I have no written text here to consult, in the case of Prairie Song, but I suspect I would find that the main verbs come early in their sentences, and are followed by an open string of clauses and phrases that add clear pictures to pictures that we can already see clearly. I suspect that I would find few examples of pictures that are built up in incomplete fragments which we cannot picture to ourselves fully until some final jigsaw piece is settled into place.

Talking writing later in the evening over a glass or several of red wine, Kurt spoke about the importance of verbs, and the dangers of adjectives. Language, and narrative in particular, he told me, is based upon verbs, not upon adjectives, which is as good a nugget of writing lore as you will get from me today!

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