Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Clarity of thought. Beauty of expression.

Yesterday a Creative Director I work with showed me a piece of copy that a freelancer wrote. It was dreadful. Run-on sentences. Mis-placed modifiers. Subject/verb disagreement. And, perhaps worst, the copywriter buried the lede. (Lede is the correct spelling in this case. You couldn't write "lede" "lead" because "lead" is a printer's term and therefore would be confusing. But I digress.)

As the CD and I were lamenting the decline of writing, thought, America and the fact that no one finds the original "Get Smart" funny anymore, I started thinking about one of my writing heroes.

Joseph Mitchell worked at The New Yorker for nearly sixty years. During that time he produced millions of words in hundreds of brilliant pieces of journalism. Many of the cognoscenti regard Mitchell as one of the founders of "New" journalism. Check out his collection "Up in the Old Hotel," or my favorite of his (which has just been republished) "Bottom of the Harbor." The selection below is from the later:

"Nevertheless there is considerable marine life in the harbor water and on the harbor bottom. Under the paths of liners and tankers and ferries and tugs, fish school and oysters spawn and lobsters nest. There are clams on the sludgy bottom, and mussels and mud shrimp and conchs and crabs and sea worms and sea plants. Bedloe's Island, the Statue of Liberty Island, is in a part of the harbor that is grossly polluted, but there is a sprinkling of soft-shell clams in the mud beneath the shallow water that surrounds it."

That is writing.

PS. The painting above is called "McSorley's Saloon." Mitchell wrote a wonderful series of essays about it.

1 comment:

Tore Claesson said...

McSorley's is still there. I have walked past it. Never been in.
But I have been on the sea bottom.
Last Saturday we were fishing for crabs on the shores of the East River. The kids and I. Right under the Brooklyn bridge on the Manhattan side. We'd first gone to Chelsea to check out some galleries, But they were are closed. So what else to do than hunt for crabs. Under every stone there are crabs. Small, dark gray ones. A chinese lady was collecting them in a large bucket. It filled up quickly. I wonder whether she ate them or served them at some hole-in-wall joint in Chinatown?