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I am interested in how time is conveyed in writing and what rules writers adopt to help structure a work.

In her essay, Corn Maze, Pam Houston discusses linear versus a connected approach to writing, explaining “. . . A mind that moves associatively (as my mind does and probably your mind too) like a firefly in a grassy yard on a late June evening, has more fun (and other things too, of course, like static, like trouble) than a mind that moves logically or even chronologically. . . .”

I see the word static (“like static. . .”) and first think of an unchanging condition but then realize, to be trouble, static would be noise or interference. Recently, I plugged speakers into my computer and put on some Brahms. After a few minutes I realized there were voices, too. Voices? I shut off Brahms and heard a public radio broadcast coming from one speaker. A problem, yes. NPR and Brahms shouldn’t be sharing speakers. I unplugged the speaker cord from the computer and the radio broadcast continued, even if a little bit staticky (see note 1).

Both meanings of static—solidly in place (see note 2) or with noise and interference—seem fitting to consider in the works by writers who push boundaries, like David Foster Wallace or Robert Kroetsch. In the poem Mile Zero, Kroetsch reflects on a six night journey across western Canada. The poem, in six parts, is layered so the order of reading (or the experience of being a reader) is less linear because inside the poem on the left-facing page you encounter an arrow that leads you to the poem on the right-facing page, such as near the bottom of page 118 where, after reading

try:   A whirlwind of gulls
        burned the black field white,
        burned white the dark ploughman
        and the coming night …)

You find your eyes (and thus mind) pulled by an arrow to the top of the facing page:

 Chateau (A Landing) Frontenac 

     crisp, and the wind
     the winter bleat
     . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The effect is movement (westering) within a complex landscape (weather, colors, history, scenery, people, myth) and language (“madonna / madrona”) that suggest more than the words. By the time you have read, and experienced, to the last lines of Chateau (A Landing) Frontenac (“the wooden shore / to look inland”) you must return to the previous (facing) page and read:

   I wrote in the dust
   on the police car hood.

Each of the six sections presents a new and surprising view, each with a second and linked view, some with additional notes and explanations that expand on process or concerns such as excising two lines that began with the word verily “partly because [Kroetsch explains] the ‘Verily’ intrudes what we might call another language code, and that an unfortunate one in this case, for all the play on truth; . . .”


Note 1: Also a problem since the speakers are old and not wireless or bluetooth. The solution that seemed to work, tying a section of the AC cord in a small coil. . . The reason: I have no idea.

Note 2: Static also means still, i.e., being free of sound. Static also is a type of variable in computer programming. Variable is something that is changeable, like the weather, also a quantity (I suggest container or symbol) capable of assuming any(?) value.


Pam Houston. Corn Maze. Hunger Mountain. http://www.hungermtn.org/corn-maze/

Robert Kroetsch. Completed Field Notes, The Long Poems of Robert Kroetsch. The University of Alberta Press. 2000 (pp 118, 119, 122).