Thursday, February 19, 2009

Troy Davis

I've been trying for a couple of unsuccessful evenings to somehow get the YouTube video to load here, but I'm going to override either my or my connection's inadequacies and just post the link.

The Troy Davis case is a cause celebre, which may or may not help save his life. I'm opposed to the death penalty on principle, but this case is a bit different. As they say in all those shoot 'em up revenge movies, 'This time it's personal'.

For a few years now, I've participated in the Amnesty International holiday card write-a-thon. It's a nice thing to do to remind you of some of the true values of the season, but though I send cards off to people in far parts of the world who are imprisoned or beleaguered, I don't know if they ever get them, or if they get them whether they ever see them, or if they see them, whether they can read English or understand what I'm trying to express even if I do.

Two Christmases ago, though, I got an answer back from one of the people I had written to. It was from Troy Davis, who was, and is, sitting on death row in Atlanta, Georgia, after being found guilty in the shooting death of a police officer.

I, of course, have no idea what his involvement was that night. I do know that a lot of the witnesses have since recanted, but you can read all about that here.

Having exchanged a few letters with Troy over the intervening time, I do consider him a friend, and if asked to place a bet, would bet on his innocence. What I do know is that this is not some depraved and hardened individual who deserves to die. And I also know that what he has been seeking over time is not just clemency, but a new trial, where witnesses who were young, poor and vulnerable might be called again to tell what happened that night. Again, there is much more information on the Amnesty site than I can articulately post here.

I'm posting this here, not because this blog has any big following, but because I've already written to the Parole Board and the Governor and emailed friends, etc. This is just one other small thing I can do, and so I'm doing it.

This is a man who has come down to the wire on being executed three times. Talk about your cruel and unusual punishment. Even Dostoyevsky only had to go through that once.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Sentence is a Lonely Place by Gary Lutz

There's a wonderful, thought-provoking essay in the January issue of 'The Believer' by Gary Lutz. Originally, it was given as a lecture at Columbia University this fall. (I confess a certain love for lectures printed afterwards). What Lutz does is break down prose into one of its most basics units, the sentence, and attempt to analyze what goes on there. He's a very close reader, and the study of literature can only benefit from the likes of such as he. If I'm remembering aright, Lutz also likes words, and likes to add them rather than subtract them from our vocabulary, which I applaud.

All that said, my real reaction to Lutz's essay on sentence was to say to one of my co-workers and recent holder of an MFA, "What it really makes me feel is that I don't know anything at all about writing." She was quick to chime in that studying for an MFA made her a better reader. She hadn't yet weighed in on whether it made her a better writer.

To remove it a little from the personal sphere, Zadie Smith said much the same thing, I think, in an interview--where she was the interviewer--with Ian McEwan.

My personal theory is that many if not most writers like to read other people's discussion of the craft. But I believe that the way that they actually learn is not through analysis, but through osmosis. I am not sure that thinking about their sentences ultimately helps them. But feeling their way through them, pausing, lingering, working for some better phrase or intonation might.