I loved this, from Amelia Gray in the New Yorker:
“What’s the most a writer can say in the fewest lines? There’s a breathtaking quality to brevity. W. S. Merwin’s “Elegy” is the poetic equivalent of a leg-sweep takedown. Even when I’m writing longer pieces, I look for small moments, turns of phrase, which allow each scene to stand alone.”
A breathtaking quality to brevity.
God, I love that. And I love Merwin.
(If you don’t know him, he’s worth knowing. Try Thanks or The Love of October, or, the poem that first won me to him, painted on the wall of a Tube station, Separation.)
An elegy is a lament for the dead, and the entirety of Merwin’s poem is:
Who would I show it to?
If that doesn’t kick you in the gut, we are not the same sort.
There’s a time and a place for long writing. After all, I prefer novels and dislike short stories. But I hate slogging through words that haven’t been considered.
Using a lot of words doesn’t make you a writer. It makes you profligate with two of our most precious gifts: words and time.
Writing is cutting what you want to say to leave what must be said.