My Sentences

Some teachers say the sentence is the building block of all writing and believe that, if you can help students learn to form all the varieties of effective sentences, you can teach them how to write. The rest of composition, they say, builds from those variously shaped but geometric blocks.

I’m not sure I agree—you need something you care to write about—but I like creating sentences.

Recently, I’ve been reading Lyn Hejinian’s My Life, a long prose poem comprised of tenuously connected sentences. Broken into unnumbered units, each poem contains clues to the life at its center, but no entry ever compromises the whole’s collective mystery. I’m not sure I’ll ever really know what the book is about, but it’s beautiful, as mercurial and tidal as thought. And it’s inspiring. I’ve found myself composing sentences without thinking about what lies beyond their shady edges. They have no next.

Because I’m busy, I’m offering 15 of the sentences from this week. They aren’t stories or poems or little essays, and maybe they are only valuable to me. But they’re all I have this Saturday…

1. Before dawn, I saw something else in the bush, as if its berries were bulbs about to come on.

2. If I gaze at maps long enough, I see them as places themselves.

3. She awoke from her early evening nap saying she’d had a slew of dreams, but I thought she said “stew” and almost smelled its aroma leaving through open windows.

4. At the moment of the accident, I felt the physical intrusion of another reality—just after, I considered all the paths leading in other directions.

5. Some affection grows so thick it becomes impossible to see or breathe.

6. Every time I saw him, something replaced an event we’d shared, as if the past were a body renewed fresh cell by fresh cell.

7. The way my father painted shadows they carried colors that, up to the last moment, looked impossible.

8. Now, when I hope to sleep, I find myself begging madness to govern my thoughts, but it stands outside, stubborn.

9. Cinematographers have a way of filming the moon and sun to make them loom, and sometimes I imagine them on opposite horizons, each staring at each.

10. What if the world periodically fell into time-lapse, everything suddenly slipping into its future unchecked?

11. Most flowers look like props to me.

12. You wonder which history will tell what just happened, so you speak your version out loud knowing your hope will be obvious.

13. The strangest music is an argument in another language.

14. Under a streetlamp, enjoying the day’s last breezes, I watched shadows of leaves teeming like gray moths.

15. My mind returns to memories of itself drawing, forming shapes or filling them in or covering them up to make room for another layer of new images.

See you Wednesday…

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12 Comments

Filed under Aesthetics, Art, Doubt, Dreaming, Education, Experiments, Identity, Laments, life, Lyn Hejinian, Memory, Poetry, Prose Poems, Recollection, Thoughts, Tributes, Writing

12 responses to “My Sentences

  1. Brilliant entry, David – these sentences contain each so much potential, but are also complete in themselves. Lovely! G

    • dmarshall58

      Thank you so much. That means a lot to me, especially as this post felt a little puny. It’s so much easier not having any responsibility beyond that limited patch of attention, which makes me think maybe it’s too easy. –D

  2. Some lovely aphorisms here.

  3. Thomas

    I thought 3, 5, and 8 were the best. 12 I liked in an odd sort of way. I had to read it a couple times before I really understood it, but I think that may have been what I enjoyed about it.

    Great post.

    • dmarshall58

      I often think of the first sentence of posts and get no further, either because I forget them or because I have little more to add. Every once in a while, it’s nice to make my failures my work, however. I wish I had the sort of brilliance Hejinian has and could make every sentence a beautiful glass bead, but I generally string the well-wrought and the well-forgotten. I’m not even above leaving a few factory rejects on the string. Thanks for visiting. –D

  4. hhstheater

    Finally out of the weeds here and having a chance to catch up on your writing. Loved this entry–you capture the quality of Hejinian’s thought experiments beautifully, but as I said before, your book seems to do something like this equally beautifully on a larger scale. Speaking of which, this afternoon I finished The Lost Work of Wasps in one long gulp. Will share my thoughts in the next few days.

    • dmarshall58

      To use one of my recent favorite words, her work seems more sophisticated. There’s an odd combination of clarity and mystery in her sentences. Though I never really succeeded in grasping the whole of My Life, but maybe I’ll get in a second reading–wish I could study it with someone who knows the work inside and out. I hope the show went well and that you’re finding time for recovery. It’s good to hear from you. –D

  5. I love having a chance to catch up on your posts, David. These sentences bring to mind one of my favorite fancypants terms: epigrammatic precision. Thank you for catching these and pinning them here for us.

    • dmarshall58

      Fancypants, that’s me. There’s something a little precious in writing one sentence at a time. I’m sure in a month I’ll be able to tell which ones are pretentious and which ones are REALLY pretentious. In the moment, however, it’s fun to put such weight on so few words. Reminds me of when I was a poet.

      So happy to see your name here. I hope you’re doing well. –D

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