Tension, and How Not to Write It

When I was reading Pride of Baghdad, with its boxes so clumsily jam-packed with action and revelation and explosions and snarls that you read with almost bated breath, not because the authors have made something truly evocative, but rather something suffocating, I thought of this poem:

Tension
By Billy Collins

Never use the word suddenly just to create tension.
-Writing Fiction

Suddenly, you were planting some yellow petunias
outside in the garden,
and suddenly I was in the study
looking up the word oligarchy for the thirty-seventh time.

When suddenly, without warning,
you planted the last petunia in the flat,
and I suddenly closed the dictionary
now that I was reminded of that vile form of governance.

A moment later, we found ourselves
standing suddenly in the kitchen
where you suddenly opened a can of cat food
and I just as suddenly watched you doing that.

I observed a window of leafy activity
and beyond that, a bird perched on the edge
of the stone birdbath
when suddenly you announced you were leaving

to pick up a few things at the market
and I stunned you by impulsively
pointing out that we were getting low on butter
and another case of wine would not be a bad idea.

Who could tell what the next moment would hold?
another drip from the faucet?
another little spasm of the second hand?
Would the painting of a bowl of pears continue

to hang on the wall from that nail?
Would the heavy anthologies remain on the shelves?
Would the stove hold its position?
Suddenly, it was anyone’s guess.

The sun rose ever higher in the sky.
The state capitals remained motionless on the wall map
when suddenly I found myself lying on a couch
where I closed my eyes and without any warning

began to picture the Andes, of all places,
and a path that led over the mountains to another country
with strange customs and eye-catching hats,
each one suddenly fringed with colorful little tassels.

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One Response to Tension, and How Not to Write It

  1. Pingback: Briefly Noted: Hemingway & Greene | Tolle, Lege!

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