Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Writer's Truth

I'm still mulling truths and falsehoods in memoir writing -- or other writing. My background is hardcore WASP and truth is truth. Of course, as I wrote, I know it's flexible and subject to mis-remembering. But I think writers have a responsibility to tell truth as they know it in what purports to be factual writing, as ub memoirs, or autobiographies. A certain rigidity in that sense inspired the previous post. -- Oh, I know about the, shall we say confabulations people post on Face Book or My Space -- blogs too, I'm sure.

Years ago I was in a poetry workshop where the group leader discussed a poem she was writing about her relationship to her mother. She said she was hung up for a long time describing a incident when she gave her mother a clock for a birthday. Eventually, said she, she realized it didn't have to be a clock in the poem, she could change it to something else. So she did and finished the poem to her satisfaction. Her lesson to us was that if a detail doesn't "work" you don't have to keep it just because it was the fact. That always tickled my conscience. It seemed to me giving someone a clock as a birthday gift is so loaded with metaphor it has to be dealt with. It may sometimes be unimportant whether your boyfriend wore a blue or green sweatshirt - or it may not. But I think the poet had trouble because she wasn't getting to the truth of what giving her mother a clock for her birthday meant to both.

Does this matter to me because of the truth involved? Or does it matter because I studied English under "New Critics" who emphasized such details in literature? Or both? In everyday life changing the details or telling out-and=out lies is sometimes the thing to do. I'm not a nut about all truth and falsehood. But literature, whether something grand by a major writer or something small like an incidental telling of past remembered [in writing] seems to me most truly worth writing and reading when the author strives to tell the truth as s/he knows it.

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