To close out the month of May, this month’s Afterthought leads you to Jason Poole’s A Fan Letter to Brian Doyle at BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog. Here’s how it starts:
“If I had written a fan letter to Brian Doyle before he died, I’d have told him how he (almost singlehandedly) changed my life, starting with the time I read one of his pieces in Creative Nonfiction magazine, in an issue about bringing joy back to writing, because, at the time, there was so little joy in my writing life, and I wondered who this man was who wrote such long-and-winding sentences, and then it dawned on me: this man was writing with joyful abandon…”
Normally, I’d quote the first few sentences, or maybe the first paragraph, of an essay I admire and that I want to share with my readers. In fact, I’ve done that with half a dozen or more of Brian Doyle’s essays in previous posts, such as one I wrote in 2011, “A Cost of War.”
But I couldn’t do that with Jason’s essay, because the entire piece is a single 510-word sentence. He might have “out-Doyled” Brian Doyle! In Doyle’s posthumously published essay collection, One Long River of Song, one of the editors included this warning for “Pants: A Note*.”
*”The editor feels duty-bound to warn those leery of kayaking through whitewater prose without a paddle that the first paragraph of ‘Pants’ consists, by Brian’s own proud count, of a single 379-word sentence.”
I never wrote Brian Doyle a fan letter, either, but I had the pleasure and honor to study with him; receive a critique of one of my essays from him; hear him present at several conferences; and read countless of his essays and several of his novels. I also heard him read his writing, typically through tears (his—”I’m not a public reader, I’m a public weeper,” he said—and mine).
I’ve tried to imitate Brian’s long-and-winding, whitewater prose but have never gotten beyond a sentence with any more than a couple or three dozen words. That’s okay; trying always instills, as Jason describes in his one-sentence essay, the joyful abandon that Brian’s writing so often captures. I think we could all use a little of that these days, so I urge you to read the rest of Jason’s sentence and anything you can find by Brian Doyle.