Wordsmith Wednesday: Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”

Standard

Today’s words come from the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story” from Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

The excerpt is:

“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”

When we read The Things They Carried in senior year high school English class, I remembered being struck by the directness and vivid imagery of the book, especially this chapter. O’Brien writes with a blend of austerity and attention to detail that made my teenage self feel as though I could contemplate the human cost of war without ever having experienced the pain for myself. I had lived most of my adolescent life with a vague fear of Vietnam-esque draft being instated for the seemingly unending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and this book taught me how to navigate some of those feelings from a distance in case I ever had to confront them for real. I think that is part of the beauty of literature: it can give you insight into an experience vicariously so that you can learn from, or at least look at, situations from a variety of angles without every having to go through them yourself. Sometimes there is not a clear lesson, but simply a human emotion or event to be considered, just a testament to the reality that is humanity.

Love and respect to all the men and women who have survived or become victims to the horrors of war as well as to their family and friends.

-NR

obrien

Advertisements

Wordsmith Wednesday: Quarterbacks’ “Center”

Standard

In anticipation of his forthcoming essays in Issue 4, we are proud to have our words this week provided by David Bersell.

For Wordsmith Wednesday, I’m looking at “Center,” from Quarterbacks’ self-titled album.

An excerpt:

“The night I first met you
We were dancing in the living room
And we kissed in front of everyone
I had waited two years to talk to you
I helped you move to your new house
We left handprints in the closet before we moved you out
I’m looking up at that room now
So I’m hoping that you come down

Because there’s such relief in coincidence
A universe that finally works out the way you always suspected
With yourself near the center”

After reading Amos Barshad’s fantastic profile of the band, I started listening to Quarterbacks songs before bed.

Like much of their work, “Center” describes a coming of age romance, balancing detail and brevity. It’s a story I’ve lived, have written too many times, am walking further away from the older I get—my first kiss was while slow dancing at a birthday party; I helped a girl pack and leave home every August until we weren’t kids anymore.

I listen for my favorite lines, after the narrative. “A universe that finally works out the way you’ve always suspected/with yourself near the center.” It’s a young hopeful thought that the speaker can’t resist. I hear the lyrics as a sustained note, a positive reflection of the Yeats lines Didion references in Slouching Towards Bethlehem: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

Before The Fader published Barshad’s article, Quarterbacks broke up. The band knew it would happen eventually. The bass player wanted to live with his girlfriend and play his own songs. The drummer’s anxiety made touring unbearable. The frontman was ready for a change, moved to Brooklyn, is looking for a teaching job, pays his bills delivering booze. There’s something beautiful about that, too.

– DB

qbs

Wordsmith Wednesday: The Roots’ “Make My”

Standard

Our Wordsmith Wednesday this week is Black Thought’s verse from The Roots’ song “Make My” off their 2011 album, Undun.

The lyrics are:

“Trying to control the fits of panic/
Unwritten and unravelled/
It’s the dead man’s pedantic/
Whatever, see it’s really just a matter of semantics/
When everybody’s fresh out of collateral to damage and/
My splaying got me praying like a mantis/
I begin to vanish/
Feel the pull of the blank canvas/
I’m contemplating that special dedication/
To whomever it concern, my letter of resignation/
Fading/
Back to black/
My dark coronation/
The heat of the day/
The long robe of muerte/
That soul is in the atmosphere like airplay/
If there’s a heaven I can’t find the stairway”

Without delving too deep into personal connection with these lines, the masterful manipulation of language, or focusing on the fact that this verse is a curtain call on a classic tragedy of a concept album that unrolls in reverse, I want to highlight that these words always floor me with their effortless density and brilliant darkness. Black Thought expresses a dying man’s internal monologue, whether his fate is sealed by his own hand or by the hand of another man, eloquently navigating those final moments with a emotional and lyrical fabric that’s as beautiful in its bleakness as any exploration of the psychology of death I’ve ever read. This verse is the black diamond on an album full of lyrical gems.

– NR

the roots

Issue 4 Authors

Standard

We proudly present our Issue 4 authors!

Prose by:
David Bersell
Brendan Cavanagh
Raul Clement
Brandy French
Matthew Hoch
Darius Jones
Kim Peter Kovac

Poetry by:
Lauren Ball
Gary Beck
Lauren Bender
Bob Carlton
Timothy Dodd
William Ogden Haynes
Ivan de Monbrison
M.B. Wharton

Sobotka Issue 4 Author Flyer