Random Thoughts

Three by five cards

... a look at Raymond Carver

by Ed Boyd



I have read just about everything Raymond Carver has written. In the 1960’s Raymond Carver brought back to life the short story, which is what was said about him. He never wrote a novel, he was content at trying to perfect the short form. Carver said, “Get in and get out”.

As I reread ON WRITING, it first appeared in FIRES, I noticed again Carver’s mention of certain ideas from other writers that he felt aught to be written on 3 x 5 cards and posted within easy view while writing as ready advice to heed. I’m certainly persuaded by Carver’s selection, but it also has occurred to me with this reading that there are a few of Carver’s own observations about writing that, too, warrant 3 x 5 cards.

I’ll begin by listing the important quotes on the 3x5 cards of other authors mentioned by Carver:

“I write a little every day without hope and without despair”
                                                                                   Isak Dinesen

“Fundamental accuracy of statement is the ONE sole morality of writing.”
                                                                                    Ezra Pound

“…and suddenly everything became clear to him"                                                   Anton Chekhov

(Carver comments, “I find these words filled with wonder and possibility.”)

“No cheap tricks.”
                       Geoffrey Wolff

“…something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.”
                                                                       V. S. Pritchett’s
(I take this to be Pritchett’s definition of a short story, a marvelous image to me.)

“No iron can stab the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.”
                                                                                          Guy de Maupassant

These are the selections of the author’s ideas that Carver felt deserving of a 3 x 5 card. I find myself deeply appreciative of them. Just below you will find what I think deserve mention as Carver’s quotes that, too, should be put on 3x5 cards:

“The short story writer’s task is to invest the glimpse with all that is in his power.”

“For the details to be concrete and convey meaning, the language must be accurate and precisely given.”  

“It’s possible, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace and precise language, and to endow those things - a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring - with immense, even startling power.

“I hate tricks.”

“But an exact way of looking at things, and finding the right context for expressing that way of looking, that’s something else.”

“There has to be tension, (menace Carver mentions earlier) a sense that something is imminent, that certain things are in relentless motion, or else, most often, there simply won’t be a story.”

“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say.”

In the Foreword of CALL IF YOU NEED ME, Tess Gallagher, Carver’s wife, begins by saying, “The last of the Last.” She says, too, though, she hears the echo of “lasting” in that phrase. This seems to me, also, as the best way toremember Raymond Carver.   

August 1, 2014

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