Turn of the Key

Effective writing (which is not at all the same thing as good writing) is writing which is cut in such a way that its teeth fit into the hollows in a person and break that person open. It can be violent, like an axe, or efficient, like a key, or subtle, like water underground.


Not all words fit all people, or strike them in their tender parts. Some, by accident or design, fit only a certain sort of person, or only a rare handful in all the world. Somewhere there is a person who feels as if their chest has been unlocked and a hand clasped around their heart when they read a well-written contract (it certainly affects me, although not in that way).


Spoken language can do this – the apt word, the speech that resonates through history, a sentence spoken over radio waves. Written language magnifies that effect, broadcasts and preserves it. Poetry, if you are at all susceptible, being “the best possible words in the best possible order” manages it faster and better.


I should know by now not to read poetry on the bus, or before I need to be presentable. I can only read Banjo Patterson’s poems to my father in a strict order, if I want to get through them (‘The Last Parade’ is the end of the line). Last week (when I had run out of Le Fanu and had no unread books left in my room) Bruce Dawe made me laugh aloud on the bus, and then cry and I arrived at work puffy and thinking in blank verse.

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