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“To understand Baudelaire you must read the whole of Baudelaire,” said T. S. Eliot. He was kidding, right? Having read Flowers of Evil and Spleen of Paris, I cling to the belief that I have a reasonable understanding of the man. Must I read all of his art criticism, his translations of Edgar Allan Poe, his letters to his mother before I’m allowed to mention his name at a cocktail party? I think that Eliot set the bar rather inhumanly high. Maybe what he really meant was, “To understand T. S Eliot you must read the whole of T. S. Eliot.”

More… “The Complete Works”

Stephen Akey is the author of two memoirs, College and Library, and of essays in The New Republic, Open Letters Monthly, and The Millions.
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We commonly think of metaphor as a poetic device but it is used in fiction, too, and saves miles of unnecessary words. Metaphor can leap from the desk at which you are writing to darkest Africa or Dante’s hell or your grandmother who died 50 years ago. It leaps tall buildings in a single bound. It can tie the end of the universe to the beginning of the universe. And all you have to do is compare something with something else.

But in fiction, metaphor should be to the point and relatively brief. A novel in which everything becomes something else stretches credulity and grows tiresome. Yawningly tiresome. The reader has come to your story, novel, or poem to find something out. She has not come to it to play word games.

More… “The Shortest Distance Between Two Points is a Metaphor”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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Presenting today's news
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It’s a happy day for “Happy Birthday.” A judge has ruled that the companies that have been collecting royalties on the song do not hold copyright claims to the popular tune. (LATimes)

A small but passionate group of Shakespeare scholars is asking the weighty question: Is Hamlet fat? The answer is turning out to be fairly complicated. (Slate)

On a beautiful but solemn note, author Heidi Stalla contemplates what humanity lost beyond the artifacts themselves through the destruction of Palmyra by the Islamic State. (Wilson Quarterly) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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Real people are conflicted. So was Hamlet.
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It is standard advice to state that the main character or characters should want something. That it is wanting — desire — that motivates characters to act and action that creates the story, novel, perhaps even the persona in a persona poem. It’s not bad advice; genre fiction can get a lot of mileage from it. But if you are after something that goes deeper than the usual mystery novel, sci-fi, romance novel, or YA book, note that characters don’t always know what, or which, they want. They want to rob a bank but also fall in love. They want to fall in love but also rob a bank. Humans are ambivalent, and if characters are to come alive for a reader, they need to be ambivalent too. Sometimes they want what they want and at the same time do not want it. They are conflicted. The conflict within the character creates a subtler drama, a deeper layer of meaning. The reader ponders the character’s choices, the various possibilities open to the character. The reader is now paying attention to the character, not just what the character does, but what the character feels, what the character believes.
More… “Everybody Wants More than Just One Thing”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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The writing guru William Zinser once said words to the effect that if you wish to write long sentences, you best be a genius, the movie version equivalent of which is, probably, if you want to do long takes, be Orson Welles.

There wasn’t a shot Welles thought he couldn’t get, and it didn’t matter if we’re talking the artistic majesty of Citizen Kane, or any of a number of the cheapjack efforts Welles, having fallen from Hollywood grace, spent the bulk of his life trying to cadge up funds to shoot.

With May 6 marking Welles’ centenary, Kane will get still more props as not only one of the two or three best pictures ever made, but the sole picture on which Welles had complete artistic control. He was 25 when he made it, a conqueror of Broadway, the radio, and now Hollywood, and after racing off to South America to shoot a war effort the next year and leaving his Magnificent Ambersons footage in the hands of others, Welles would essentially be kicked out of Camelot on account of the final result, with a reputation for not seeing projects through.
More… “Orson Welles’ Horrorshow”

Colin Fleming writes on art, literature, film, rock, jazz, classical music, and sports for Rolling Stone, JazzTimes, The Atlantic, Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post, and a number of other publications. His fiction has recently appeared in AGNI, Boulevard, Cincinnati Review, Commentary, and Post Road, and he’s the author of The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss (Dzanc), and is writing a memoir, Many Moments More: A Story About the Art of Endurance, and a novel about a reluctant piano genius, age seven or eight, called The Freeze Tag Sessions. He’s a regular contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition. His tattered, on-the-mend website is colinfleminglit.com, and he highly recommends reading The Smart Set daily, along with ten mile coastal walks and lots of Keats and hockey for the soul.
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The inspiration for Baron de Charlus

I have been thinking about literary celebrity. Not the modest sort attached to living writers who get to have unflattering nostril shots on the cover of the New York Times Sunday Magazine but the extravagant sort attached to a select group of dead writers. Generally speaking, death is a big boost to literary celebrity (think Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton), despite a brief period in the 1980s when DWEMS (dead white European males) took a thrashing as emblems of exploitative patriarchy. But DWEMS have rebounded from their slump and are now being feted, along with a few DWEFs, on every possible occasion.

At the zenith of literary celebrity are Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Both are, as one editor I know put it, “best-selling brands.” The subjects of numerous adaptations and spin-offs, “Shakespeare” and “Austen” have replaced Shakespeare and Austen. They exist as memes in western culture — and in Eastern… More…

Shakespeare and texters do have something in common.

 

 

Less is more.

Omit needless words.

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Offer very little information about yourself.

There’s a temptation to create some tenuous, half-baked linkage between the recession and a newfound desire to be economical with words. But concision, be it motivated by pragmatic or aesthetic reasons, is hardly a 21st-century invention. Proverbs and aphorisms trace back to the ancient Greeks, and koans first appeared in China during the fifth or sixth century. These short bursts of wisdom were designed to be easy to remember, an important quality in cultures that were primarily oral.

By the early 17th century, Shakespeare was praising short and snappy punchlines in Hamlet. Later that century, Japanese poet Matsuo Basho became a haiku master thanks to his immortal frog-pond-splash trifecta. By the 20th century, the telegraph made it possible to… More…