East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The Art of Writing

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Selezione_001Yesterday afternoon fatigue crashed on me like a ton of bricks – as I was caught between too many open projects and a mountain of dirty dishes and assorted laundry.
The weather, with rainstorms chasing each other in the sky and the distant sound of thunder in the wind did not help.
My legs hurt, and I had a horrid headache.

So I crashed on my bed for most of the day, and got acquainted with the last entry in my collection of books about Chinese culture and Taoism.
Or about writing.
Or both.

The Art of Writing, published by Shambhala Publications, edited and translated by Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping, is a thin (112 pages), small booklet that collects a series of essays on writing – most specifically poetry writing – by ancient Chinese masters.

The volume includes Lu Ji‘s The Art of Writing, an essay in verse about writing verses, that focuses on all aspects of creative writing, from preparation to execution, from respect for the ancient forms to the necessity of innovation. Lu Ji is of course the one that gave the famous axe handle example:

I am therefore writing this essay on literature to tell of the glorious accomplishments of past men of letters, and to comment on the causes of failure and success in writing. Perhaps some day the secret of this most intricate art may be entirely mastered. In making an axe handle by cutting wood with an axe, the model is indeed near at hand. But the adaptability of the hand to the ever-changing circumstances and impulses in the process of creation is such as words can hardly explain. What follows is only what can be said in words.

Also featured are Sikong Tu’s Twenty-four Styles of Poetry, which focuses on internal processes of writing – basically how to be a better poet, and Poets’ Jade Splinters, a loose collection of anecdotes and quotations about writing, poetry, art in general. Plus commentary, introduction, and a lot of extras.

It is amazing how current the observations seem to be – as if writing, or even better, the writers’ attitude towards writing, had not changed very much through the ages.
There is a cheerful disregard for authority, in these essays and anecdotes, and a general sense of hands-on experience. These are not posers pretending to know the rules, but rather good artisans sharing their experiences.

All in all a nice, fast read, that was good as a cure for a bad day.
And the sort of book one needs to keep handy, to have the right quotes for the right time.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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