The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.
Please meet Glenn Moomau, author, musician and educator. He teaches creative writing at American University and has received a 2001 Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award as well as fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
His fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in publications such as storySouth, Bomb, Living Blues and The Washington Post. His memoir, Ted Nugent Condominium: From Boston to Austin with the Glenmont Popes, was published in 2001 and presents a realistic look at what life on the road is like for musicians.
One of Glenn’s contributions to the Little Patuxent Review, “Things You See Sharp,” first appeared in the Summer 2009 issue. You can read it here in revised form by clicking on the title. Incorporating both his feel for music and his observational abilities, Glenn writes the following about the craft underlying this piece:
I admire the short prose narrative form. Though I read and watch everything, I often tire of the melodramatic arcs and resolutions that infect novels, films and television series. In my aesthetic, nothing much need happen. All the short prose form requires is the dynamic created in most pop music compositions: tension and release. The short prose form also has affinities to poetry, where language can carry the weight otherwise borne by action. What is the difference between a short-short story and a prose poem? Nothing but academic preoccupation with genre. Charles Simic, Franz Kafka in his brief pieces, Isaak Babel, Jayne Anne Phillips in Black Tickets, Arthur Rimbaud, Grace Paley and Charles Baudelaire all convey emotion and thought through means other than rising and falling conflict.
My own short piece, “Things I See Sharp,” has no plot outside of a single day’s temporal progression. Some would say that the piece should be termed a sketch rather than a story. I find such semantic distinctions pointless. I prefer W. G. Sebald’s term “prose narrative,” which he coined to describe his idiosyncratic work. Being free of the anxieties and expectations of plot, my narrative focuses on teasing out sensations and ironies, the biggest being the job that the two principal characters have of building a shed to protect a broken machine from the elements.
Rather than developing conflict, the narrative displays three juxtaposed scenes: two characters working outside on a winter afternoon; the same two characters joined by their boss inside a barn watching pigs being born; the original two characters back outside, now in a whirling snowstorm. The narrative depends upon the multiple-sense contrast between outdoor and indoor spaces. Time is also modulated, going from a moment-to-moment time frame in the middle scene to the third scene’s more hazy sense of time that telescopes into the future.
Like all writers, I have obsessions, and obsessions often become style. Two of mine are reflected in the piece.
I’ve always been fascinated with watching humans work. A plumber soldering copper pipe, a reporter scribbling on a pad, a musician playing scale exercises, an engineer bent over a sheaf of plans. While absorbed in work, our unique postures, gestures and repetitive actions are the physical signs that lead us into the mysterious terrain of character.
I’ve also been intrigued by human awareness of space. We seem to have an innate spatial sense, tied to vision and hearing but also requiring other mental equipment. This sense allows us to immediately appraise the limits of the box in which we find ourselves, whether it be an elevator compartment or a 200-acre wheat field. Like the primal memory of being menaced by snakes that remains a panic button for many, a spatial sense lingers as way to understand danger. And like the repetitive motions of work, our reactions to space reflect something essential about personality.
For a different take on the role of plot in short fiction, see Madeleine Mysko’s preceding “Concerning Craft” essay. And check back here for future installments of this series.