December 17th, 2011 / 5:43 am
Craft Notes & Massive People

Gordon Lish, 1986

A former professor of mine recently gave me a copy of StoryQuarterly 21: Stories from the Gordon Lish Workshops (edited by J.D. Dolan). I don’t want to excerpt too much, but here are some words from Lish:

“This feels good. I tell you, it feels good to have my hands on this forum, and I am not going to let the moment get away from me without my offering a remark or three….I tell you, I take such delight in them all, in all these students, in all these writers, that I’d like to sit here and start reciting names–this in the exorbitant spirit of the madman who thinks the mere calling out of the entries in a list must offer to all who hear an invitation to war.”

And these first sentences, attack sentences, if you like:

“My life is easy. All of my life, every part of it, everything about my life is easy. My life lives itself.” (Christopher Coe)

“My father, hallowed be, flush with crisis, has seen the thing, the black wind gouging the Warrior’s banks.” (Noy Holland)

“She is like me in that way, trying to be happy but somehow unable, and with me it is just me, something I grew into, like my shoe size, that is there for good and I pay it no mind, but with her it was something done to her once, I know or think I know, though I’d never ask and she has never volunteered, but in the earnestness of my pursuit I am saying ‘Don’t worry, it won’t happen with me,’ though how I can make any such guarantee, having changed lovers so many times myself, is preposterous, and the real thrust of my statement is ‘Fuck what you think, listen to me,’ which is no great feat, since people do it with regularity, though not with me, specifically, they still do it, whether it involves adultery or not, and it is all a form of adultery anyway.” (Art Winslow)

“The name never stuck, really, although she tried it at several angles, starting first when she saw him in tennis shorts, his legs like two sticks at the end of each knee, insect things, his black leg hair rubbed away by his pants, in some places, by his socks at the ankles.” (Kate Walbert)

“The day I came home from losing my job, I found my wife entertaining Judy Miller.” (Mark Kamine)

“We were going for a moonlight swim.” (Linda Svendsen)

“I knew something was needed so I planted one atop Zio Frank.” (Peter Christopher)

“He’s holding me, or I’m holding him, I can’t decide which.” (Nell Goddin)

“There’s an architect on my mouth.” (Donna Poydinecz)

“After you took in her face, after you looked at her long enough to see what she looked like, you noticed the mark.” (Lloyd Zimet)

“Go back far enough, and you can trace the human race to outer space. Aliens planted the seeds of human life on planet Earth. This is how aliens planted the seeds of human life on planet Earth: they fucked monkeys.” (Pagan Kennedy)

“Here’s how I like to do it: I lay the paint on thick and race gravity, catching the drips before they go over the tape.” (Victoria Redel)

“It’s happening again.” (Tina Sunshine)

“My father’s hands wore spots, like medals bestowed on him for living.” (Rita Kramer)

“We were in the desert in the middle of the night when the jack slipped and my wife fell out of the van.” (Matthew Levine)

“I am spending more time in front of the window now.” (Susan Stark)

“Laura bought contact lenses last week.” (Sharon DuPree)

“I’ve got a box under my bed that won’t stay shut.” (Anne Fleming)

“I’ll give you both versions, his and mine.” (Madeleine Gekiere)

“‘This place is going to be wired for sound,’ he says to me after the movers have left.” (Rebecca Bondor)

“The pond behind the mill froze enough to look frozen, but if the trees let down some drop-apples she would check the pond for slush.” (Loanna Laufer)

“‘Mom, where is the banana?'” (Christine Behrle)

“The second I swallow it, I know I’m going to die.” (Beryl Afton)

“You tell me the country is all desert.” (Louisa Ermelino)

“Bud has his lamb on low gas and I’ve got my number two bourbon in hand and two elbows on the counter, front on so the rings will show.” (Carolyn Cooke)

“Well, it’s starting to snow, and I’m starting to think that I should be thinking more about my feelings.” (Gregory H. Johnson)

“At first I thought it was safe to dance with my father, he would not push his leg between mine, but then I realized it was dangerous and that I would show him anything, I would show him how my breasts shook as I danced and I would check to see if he was watching mine or somebody else’s.” (Yannick Murphy)

“So today the gray-haired lady.” (Victoria Healey)


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  1. Bgumbo

      First person paramount, looks like.

  2. Brooks Sterritt

      A comment! You hit that nail on the head, Bgumbo.

  3. Ziggy

      Gordon, if everyone else can use “I” (at least in 1986) why can’t I (in 2011)?

  4. Anonymous

  5. Anonymous

  6. Anonymous