Yesterday John and I were talking in the kitchen about language and poetry. I’d mentioned a note I’d had from someone the day before who’d read my novella, Winter Wren, and who wrote to share some thoughts about it. He’d so completely understood what I’d hoped I’d done at the end of the book, the interweaving, oh, even interpenetrating of central strands of the narrative. I don’t think of a novella as a long story or a short novel but as a form that hovers between poetry and prose fiction. In the novellas I love best, the language is compressed; it carries imagery with the care and attention of lyric poetry. The language remembers the musical line, it listens for harmonies, it turns and returns to salient detail, asking it to move into the light for a moment, then shadow, so that the contours can be notated. Is there plot? Yes, of course, but it doesn’t necessarily share the structural blueprints of a novel.
After we’d been talking (and eating slices of the intense lemon cake with buttercream icing flecked with lemon zest I’d baked for the Easter weekend, speaking of lyric poetry….), I went to my study and there was a brief email from the publisher of my forthcoming novella, The Weight of the Heart. She had a question about a couple of fragments of quoted material that appear in a section titled “How the Tunnels Remember the Fraser Canyon”. In this last proof, she was wondering if the passages–they are brief descriptions related by early travelers through the Canyon– should appear in italic. I replied that I didn’t think they should: “My inclination would be to leave them as is because they are already sort of “spoken” in the voice of the tunnels, in a wild rush, so offsetting them in italic might be distracting. I wanted those passages to be seamless, to read all of a rush.” She agreed. And how gratifying that she didn’t question section told in the voice of the tunnels. There are a number of sections in the book that I think of as arias:
A term normally signifying any closed lyrical piece for solo voice (exceptionally for more than one voice) with or without instrumental accompaniment, either independent or forming part of an opera, oratorio, cantata or other large work.
— from Grove Music Online
Mine are told (or sung) from the perspective of the tunnels, several rivers and creeks, magpies, a particular pine tree on the Lac Le Jeune Road, and a geological guidebook. Their relationship to the story is deeply important but they don’t necessarily advance the narrative. They offers other perspectives, asides, moments of pure song, the landscape around Churn Creek in all its beauty:
…big-horn sheep carrying their horns like the trumpet of Gabriel, music, music, the sharp-tailed grouse hooting and rattling their tails during the lekking, curlews and falcons, the water, deep within cliffs and canyon, hoodoos rising tall like figures in a Margaret Peterson panel, skittering of mule deer descending to drink, rabbit brush and big sage, the scent of them through fine rain, clicking of grasshoppers, and oh the rocks, Middle Jurassic siltstone and fine sandstone, lithic arenites, pebble and boulder conglomerates, shales and volcanic breccia, the scent of them, too, through rain.