“It should be instructive to think about why so many writers on alternative sites go on and on.” — Rachel Olivia O’Connor
When I first started teaching college students in in 1964, I began my Comparative Literature classes by pointing out how Mark Twain once demonstrated that several inflated passages from James Fenimore Cooper’s novels — including some from the overpraised, racist classic, The Last of the Mohicans — could have been advantageously tightened. With one example, I showed how 320 words could be reduced to 220, without loss of content. The students’ favorite passage, however, seemed to be the one where he condensed 80 to 40 — a cut of 50%! [Notice how I refrained from using “words” twice here?]
More than prose, poetry — ideally — should be an art of compression. And activist writing today needs to emulate that art form to some degree. I’m not saying that all poems should be epigrams, nor that — at the expense of clarity or good manners (or for any reason) — activist writing should be clogged, crammed, or written in highly condensed telegraphese.
It’s not so easy to know what to cut from an impassioned plea to the public. That said, it would be a worthwhile exercise for readers to check out how many concerned citizens are posting overwrought pieces on alternative media outlets these days. If for no other reason than to motivate themselves to be terse and to the point when writing their own articles, I submit that such a review would be worth the heartbeats. [That last sentence is an example of something that could have been omitted.]
Today’s infamously short attention span among the general public has infected readers of alternative sites too, and we’d do well — as a radical rule of sorts — to dish out palatable pieces in portions which can be quickly digested… and acted on.
I’ll close now in honor of the principle I’m underscoring here.
Richard Martin Oxman is a member of the Oxman Collective. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.