By Miranda di Carcaci
Since I arrived at SCA, my word documents have become a battleground. Throughout the day I find myself slaying semicolons, banishing brackets, cutting words left and right in a constant drive towards simplicity. When it comes to my prose many of these were mercy killings. I will be ever grateful to Vikki Ross for showing me ‘that’ didn’t have to be used twice in every sentence for it to make sense, and so, halving my word count. Indeed, my gratitude extends to every mentor who took the verbal fluff I swore was an idea, and distilled it into a logical and workable line.
Nevertheless, there is still something a little depressing about studying the literary canon for three years, and then finding your only contribution is ‘Halal Frozen Curry’. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. On any Thursday before a deadline it’s easy to find pacing art directors, frustrated by the poetic tweaking of their copywriter. Not to mention the constant battle between long copy (no one reads it) and copy so short the campaign idea plays second fiddle to the font.
My initial coping mechanism was pushing all novels, plays and poems to the back of my mind, while also attempting to shed the academic essay voice which had become second nature when I was in front of a laptop. The result was unsurprisingly bland. I was at a verbal halfway house between colloquial and pretentious.
This sorry tale turned itself around one morning with the entrance of Caitlin Breeze. She brought with her some of the poets, playwrights and authors I’d studied for so long, only this time they were dressed in different clothing. Her argument is that our best teachers live in the past: Caesar, Byron, Dickens, Martin Luther King and Hemingway. Each possesses the power to stir emotions within their readers: loyalty, desire, pity and rebellion. I began to understand how my two worlds could collide, and though I’m far from finding the balance between them, it’s a start.
My first stop was Caesar’s strong succinct messages, which he knew had to travel from the far-flung corners for the empire to Rome, and still strike admiration with an edge of fear into the senate. ‘Veni-vidi-vici’ (I came, I saw, I conquered), for instance, is made mighty by the removal of all detail, suggesting that for him there is no step between surveying and possessing. Add to this a sharp alliteration and three stressed beats in a row (alien from human speech, which tends to be unstressed then stressed consecutively) and you are left with a trinity able to transcend the bounds of distance and time.
The more I look back into literature, the more I’m finding it important for my writing today. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of past works in the digital haze of the future. It’s also easy to underestimate what you have learnt, favouring instead the nebulous unknown. From now on I’ll hold both a little tighter.