Say what you mean

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In Ezra Pound’s 1918 collection of essays, “A Retrospect,” the famed literary critic and mentor shares what he believes makes good poetry. Pound enumerates three principles: “direct treatment of the ‘thing’ whether subjective or objective, to use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation, (and) as regarding rhythm: to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.”

In a strict set of only three rules, Pound determines the standard by which to judge one of the most fluid and abstract of artistic expressions. Through the usage of straightforward language, the avoidance of the extraneous and the commitment to intention, a writer’s everday musings can be transformed into work that is tangible, effective and meaningful.

While straightforward, I find this simple set of ideas to be most deceptive when I struggle to produce ideas for paper theses or fulfill word counts for writing assignments. It is far from easy to find the right words to convey just the right idea. When the panic sets in before a looming deadline, I tend to rely on the hasty insertion of lengthy quotes and frivolous language until I am able to eke out the final page necessary for my essay submission. It can be much less difficult to continue writing rather than make constant adjustments to ensure perfect clarity or coherence.

Truly, it is not in the initial act of writing but the task of repeated and conscious editing that enables one’s writing to meet Pound’s requirements for literary elevation. The best compositions are produced when the unnecessary is excised away, leaving room for the only words necessary to say exactly what you mean.

Contact Sydney Judilla at [email protected].