Stan Persky, Topic Sentence: A Writer’s Education, 2007.
I started reading this one based on the Globe’s review of it (I should really start recording when I add things to my to-read list; I think I acquired the book shortly after it came out, and have only just finished it). It’s been bed-time reading—most of its sections are sufficiently short that I culd read one or two before going to sleep—and with my earlier bedtimes of late, I’ve been doing more of such reading.
Topic Sentence is an intriguing collection. Almost every piece therein is at least partially a memoir. Organized into “Before,” “During,” and “After,” the collected thoughts examine what it is to write well—poetry, memoir, and essays. They describe relationships with some of the most prominent poets of the twentieth century. One of my particular favourites, “The Horses of Instruction” is one of the best pieces of writing about education and philosophy that I’ve encountered. The pieces in the “During” section revolve primarily around Persky’s sexuality—both his life experience, and his making sense of society and culture—and comprise some moving and insightful writing. The epilogue to “Eros and Cupid” is genius.
As you read this collection, your own sense of writing is likely to shift: whether it’s a renewed appreciation for words in “The Translators” or the attempt to survey aspects of what it is to read the times one lives through—and especially the work of Orwell, Isherwood, Miłosz, Creeley, or contemporary music—Persky’s clarity and thoughtfulness are well worth the read. Like some of my other favourite writers, he is clearly interested in everything and wants to think deeply about what he encounters: it’s been nice having him as a teacher while I’ve read his book.