Exercises in Style

I’m pretty sure this book floated into my life when I first arrived at graduate school, recommended reading for the Magical Realism course I took in my first term. I’m sure I didn’t track it down until some time later, but when I did, I was glad to have remembered the recommendation.

Raymond Queneau recounts the same simple event 99 times in this book, appropriating various traditions, perspectives, forms, and voices to do so. A man is pushed on a bus; he complains that the push was deliberate. The alleged pusher jumps into an open seat. Later, the speaker observes the same man being advised by his friend to sew a new button onto his coat.

Some stylistic choices:

You know
“Well, you know, the bus arrived, so, you know, I got on. Then I saw, you know, a citizen who, you know, caught my eye, sort of.”

Logical analysis
“Bus.
Platform.
Bus platform. That’s the place.
Midday.
About.
About midday. That’s the time.”

This book taught me the importance of storytelling over story. It isn’t what happens in the poem, but all the considerations that go into making the poem work that truly affect the reader. It also encouraged me to start experimenting with different means of storytelling, which led me directly into the kind of work I put into my book.

So, I suppose I owe Raymond some thanks. And here it is.

Also, today is my birthday.

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