Narrative ‘Tradecraft’ and The Conscious ‘Liver’

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By Reggie Marra, MA, ACC

From November 2015 through June 2016 seven “Narrative ‘Tradecraft’” blogs, among diverse other topics on this site, explored Perspective, Imagery, Revision, Metaphor, Diction, Conflict and Rhythm as both elements of writing and tools for living an intentional(ly healing) life. These seven elements first took on their dual literary-intentional living roles in a 1998 workshop, “Writing as Spiritual Practice,” that I developed and taught at the Hudson Valley Writers Center in Sleepy Hollow, NY. They reappeared in 2004 as chapters in the book that slowly emerged from the class, Living Poems, Writing Lives – a revised edition of which is forthcoming in late 2018, and again in 2015 in our course of the same name here at Teleosis.

Six additional elements from the original class and the book have yet to make their respective ways into this blog space: Structure, Punctuation, Line/Sentence (aka Episode), Theme, Texture and Completion. Their time has arrived. Over the next few months, each of them will make a comeback here.

I’ll say more about this sextet later in this blog, but first here’s a quick unpacking of my intention to use the word narrative in a broad sense that includes, but is not limited to:

  • what story I am telling
  • how I tell (structure) it
  • why I choose (to tell) this particular story, and
  • how aware or unaware I am of 1) other possible ways of telling this story, and 2) the larger cultural and meta-stories that inform and hold it.

All of this contributes to my narrative, which may finally manifest in the world as an essay, blog, novel, autobiography, poem, play, song, painting, worldview, belief system, dance, general way of being in the world, some combination of these, or something else entirely. The narrative ‘tradecraft’ elements help construct, and are constructed by, the narrative with varying levels of awareness, intention and meaning – all of which are in the hands, heart, mind, soul and spirit of the narrator.

The book, original workshop and current Teleosis class engage poetry as the narrative vehicle, but these elements – some quite effortlessly, some with a slight tweak (e.g. the line in poetry becomes the sentence in prose or an episode in life) and one with an assertive push (i.e. punctuation, arguably the least cooperative element when asked to morph into an intentional-living tool, becomes a symbol for personality: life punctuated by a period emerges quite differently than life punctuated by a comma, colon or question mark) – work their respective magic beyond the world of poetry as well.

Briefly, Structure, Theme, Texture and Completion, neither featured in a blog yet nor alluded to in the preceding paragraph, can be summarized as follows:

  • Structure, for the poet, may refer to formal (e.g. a sonnet) or free verse; for the conscious liver (yes, have fun with that) structure affects everything from time to money to relationship to vocation.
  • Theme, one of the “quite effortless” dual-purpose elements, refers to the unifying idea and/or underlying meaning of the poem or life – the Big Thing that the poem or life is truly about.
  • Texture refers to the “overall feel” of the poem or the life. In the poem, the texture is the synergistic result of all the elements working together: while the theme is what the poem may be about, texture is what we feel when we experience the poem (which disappears when we deconstruct and analyze it). The texture of a 767 airliner is palpable in flight, less so when taxiing, and does not exist in the millions of parts as they are being assembled in the factory. The texture of a life cannot be captured in any one episode or event, but only in how we feel in the “informed presence” of a whole person.
  • Finally, Completion. While a given poem (or essay, play, song, etc.) may be completed, the narrative that informs it does not necessarily end. Relevant events occur, new perspectives emerge, and revisions beckon. So, too, with life. While a given life as we know it will inevitably end in a literal, physical sense, it continues on through the people who were in relationship with the deceased. The intention with which we bring a poem or a life to conscious completion directly impacts, and is impacted by, each of the other elements.

Living Poems, Writing Lives is offered once each year. It serves as a deepening and broadening of the foundational principles in our Narrative Healing class, first by working with the nuts and bolts of poetry writing, and also by introducing that aforementioned “dual role” – applying these literary tools to living a conscious life.

Our next offering begins in October 2017.

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