Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Who's Afraid of Ernest Miller?

I don't imagine for two seconds that it'll be easy finding too much poetic phraseology in the works of Ernest Miller Hemingway. His work in general is without the ingredient we like to call poetic quality. Some have called it reportage. He has many imitators. Some good. Some bad.

He's no Virginia Woolf. With Virginia you can pull workable phrases from her novels and diaries almost at random; and with these phrases knit together Virginia Woolf poems for ever and ever as in Poems from Beyond the Grave.

But now to Hemingway, and it's with great trepidation and fear that I look in. I shall begin quietly, with a two fingers of rum and all the words from To Have and Have Not.

The number 

'Two bacardis

It was a little after two o'clock
Two pelicans on the piling

Two tins of coffee
Two tins of condensed milk

Two loaves of bread and
Change the number two plugs


hours . . . ?

Goddamned Rummies

The two of them swaying

And their shadows from the arc light

Swaying worse

Poet-in-Residence in search of Hemingway 

I have been tempted on many occasion to write a novelette in the style of Ernest Miller Hemingway. I may yet do so. I can think of no other writer that I would wish to model myself on when it comes to story telling. The danger is that I would send many of my readers to sleep. But then isn't it true to say that most books are read in bed for that very purpose, or in the bath, or on the train in order to fill time? The secret of Hemingway, although it is not a secret, is that he writes in the manner of a police report, or a reporter at the scene; in other words with details such as colours, sounds, appearance and so on  but without frills. But to this he adds puzzlement. It's a trick he has. He makes you read a sentence twice. It has two meanings. He likes to interrupt the flow. It's like catching fish or going to the bullfight. You are kept waiting for the next such 'moment'. It is an anticipation. It's his thing. He does it well. But if you, the potential author, have not been involved in reportage from the battlefront you probably can't do it. It needs a special skill. One that has to be honed on the front line. I may have it. Or I may not. When the day comes the reader will decide. 


  1. I've got a copy of a small booklet of poems by Hemingway somewhere - published (if I recall correctly) by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in California c.1966

  2. Wow, You must hook one out Gerald.

  3. Thanks Gerald. A good link there too.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.