Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A stolen Ferris Wheel and Thou

The arrival in the mail of three indulgences, ancient paperback mystery novels from Dell, each containing a stylized map on the back cover, brought you the unanticipated answer to a personal enigma.

A helpful clue turned out to be the fact that all three of the ancient paperbacks were by Dashiell Hammett, a writer you've  never distanced myself from. 

You'd ordered the books from a dealer in Staten Island out of affection and nostalgia for the Dell map mystery series, a series you unsuccessfully tried to revive when you was in their employ. "We want our books to reflect the future," I was told archly "not the past."


Browsing through the Continental Op stories, you were transported back to the past in which you came across an article by Hammett appearing in a writers' guide book. The article was a series of numbered sentences, perhaps twelve or fourteen of them, in which Hammett told of his experiences as an operative or op for the Pinkerton Detective Agency. 

 "I was once sent," Hammett wrote, "to track down a man who had stolen a Ferris wheel." The other sentences, approximately as short and enigmatic, were not held together by the glue of any logic or story arc, appearing merely as autobiographical facts. 

As much as anything you'd read to that point, that article spoke to you, promised insights and understandings to the psyche of writing; it offered a codex, a key, an instant understanding of what would guide me to the discovery of your own voice, your own enigmas, your own process as a writer. Had you been informed enough at the time, you'd have also factored indoor belief that by means of this very piece, Hammett had foreseen postmodernism.

Somehow the magazine with the piece got away from me. For years, you've looked patiently in used book stores, in collections of the works of Hammett, in Google citations, Yahoo, and ask dot com, ever more convinced that were you to find it and take it in properly, your career as a writer would flourish in ways you'd never dreamed.

Segue to approximately February of this year when Liz Kuball asked me when you were going to stop numbering the paragraphs of blog entries. Segue to last night when, at a university function in Town and Gown, a number of colleagues variously inquired if I were using a formatting feature, attaching some numerological meaning to my blog essays, speaking in some kabbalistic code, or what.

The answer is to be found in the missing Hammett piece, which all these years later has helped me in ways youdidn't realize. So taken with the piece were you and so energized, that it became a way to improvise on themes, reaffirming not only the sound of your internal voice but finding a favored medium, somewhere between a poem, a short story, and. a dramatic monologue.

You've yet to find the Hammett piece, but you've found a form to appreciate that allows spatial and attitudinal leaps, interlardings of a wild and spontaneous whim, and a sense of adventure. It is your narrative sonnet which you call the Hammett Sonnet in his honor. 

 At the risk of boring Liz Kuball when you resort to the format, you'll not stop searching for the original Hammett piece. You'll  continue tweaking this thing of form you've created until it surrenders and gives up the essence of a sentient and boisterous epression of writerly joy, a narrative equivalent of a fugue.


R.L. Bourges said...

A Musical Offering, indeed. Written in longhand, preferably. (And the numbering device is such a perfect format for lateral goat leaps of logic. Must try my hand at it.)

word verification comments: hvkzugca. I add: good night, and good luck.

Liz Kuball said...

You couldn't bore me if you tried, kid. In deep.

Anonymous said...

Your writing is like jazz...