In Pieces celebrates the diversity of contemporary fragmentary writing by offering a sampling of fragments written by 37 different writers—those who are known as well as new voices. Selections from diaries, notebooks, and letters; aphorisms; short prose pieces and vignettes... These are some of the fragmentary forms represented in this unique collection, the first of its kind to present a wide range of fragmentary writing as its own genre.
“We learn in school that literature has a hierarchy: poem, play, novel, essay. All else—diary, journal, aphorism, letters—are secondary, jottings, ephemera. Reading tells us a different story. The engaging and memorable are found everywhere. In books like In Pieces we are ‘49ers panning for gold and finding nuggets.”
—William Corbett, author of Philip Guston’s Late Work: A Memoir
“In Pieces suggests that the smallest scraps of writing can be the most powerful—and how could it be otherwise? In a movie, isn't it the tiniest glimmer in an actor's eye that makes the film? In a book, doesn't a single turn of phrase capture our imaginations forever?
“Within these pages, we discover an unexpectedly wide variety of fragmentary writing: diary entries, aphorisms, notes, micro-essays, autobiographies, fictions. Each allows a slightly different magic to occur, and each sends us on the same quest. We search for the sweetest nuggets.
“For each reader, a different string of words will captivate—some words by their sounds, some by their meaning, some by the story they tell. On different days, a different set of words will cause a burst of insight, a twinge of joy, a gasp. These words are minnows: They swim together, yet (depending on our perspective on any particular day) the silvery body of a different fish will catch our attention with a tiny flickering light just beneath the surface of the lake.
“From this book, we learn to imagine the world ‘in all possible shades of rain.’ We can finally experience ‘a damp richness that verges on decay.’ We can see clearly (and even hear) ‘a lip of light over the long ridge.’ We understand that ‘no sentence wishes entirely to complete itself.’ We come to accept that ‘the end is a place to stop.’
“We realize, finally, that there are no fragments, only wholes.
—Geof Huth, visual poet, critic
“In Pieces just arrived and I’m fascinated, charmed, involved in words, moods, and the inner workings of the writers. A wonderful gift for the writer in your life.”
—Lo Caudle, June 2006 Eccentricities newsletter
“For more than thirty years, Olivia Dresher has been sifting through diaries, journals, notebooks, letters, aphorisms, and other literary short forms. Because sometimes less is more.” More...
—Kevin Larimer, Senior Editor, Poets & Writers Magazine
“A fascinating literary anthology designed to elevate the status of writing fragments to their own kind of art form.”
—John Marshall, Seattle PI
“This anthology offers a provocative look at the writing—intentional and accidental, polished and unpolished—of a wide range of contemporary authors. Dresher’s selections invite a more serious theorizing of the fragment as not just an accident to be discarded but its own intriguing form.” More...
—Keya Kraft, ForeWord Magazine
“Short pieces...some as short as a few words. Yet there is depth and wisdom in so many of the entries... A fascinating book.”
—Barbara Fischkin, Author and Journalist
“In Pieces is a fine anthology.... Many a college-level course will find it a specific, useful gathering of a form rarely given its own independent recognition.”
—Diane Donovan, Editor, The Midwest Book Review
“The different sensibilities make the book interesting throughout, and there are many
insights that are more readily available than they would be in a formal
—Richard Krause, author of Studies in Insignificance
“If someone asked me that old question about what book I would wish to have with me should I be marooned on an island and be able to have only one, I’d say In Pieces.”
—Sheila Bender, author of Writing and Publishing Personal Essays and many other books on writing
“This is the most meaningful book to find me in a long time.”
—Jennifer Hill-Kaucher, poet, teacher, editor
Introduction by Olivia Dresher
Pulled from the Fire
High Alert: Fragments from 2003 Journals
The Blue Corn Way
THOMAS R. HEISLER
Weiser River Valley Pillow Book
ANDREW T. McCARTER
Entries and Exits: A Notebook
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Digging It Up: Notebook for a Novel
Albedo: Fragments of Antarctic Time
There Is No Grand Scheme
KAREN AN-HWEI LEE
CARLOS V. REYES
Moments & Confessions
AMY S.F. LUTZ
Fragments from Notebooks
A Year Along the Allegheny
The Philosophical Notebooks
Gemtactics: A Journal
ESTHER ALTSHUL HELFGOTT
Anna’s Last January
WILLIAM PITT ROOT
Knocking at the Gate
ARTHUR WINFIELD KNIGHT
Swimming in Sand
oh I can’t she says
The Clever Antics of Lizard
A Life of Depression and Writing
One Breath, then the Next: Trihedra
The Hill and Field
LESLIE WOOLF HEDLEY
Aphorisms: The Last Gasp
About the Contributors
by Olivia Dresher
This collection presents a wide variety of contemporary fragmentary writing. Its purpose is to honor the fragment as a literary genre in its own right.
Though fragmentation is a characteristic of our current times and is also reflected in modern literature, published fragments are not entirely new. The ancient writings of Sappho and Heraclitus, for example, have become classics...as well as such 18th and 19th century writings as Lichtenberg’s aphorisms and Joseph Joubert’s notebooks. More recently, the 20th century fragments of Fernando Pessoa, in his The Book of Disquiet, are fine examples of fragmentary writing. But Pessoa’s fragments are more than that: they are fragmentations that he actually lived.
In 1798, Friedrich Schlegel wrote: “Many works of the ancients have become fragments. Many works of the moderns are already fragments at the time of their origin.” Though I value fragments whether they were intentionally written or exist only as scraps of larger works written hundreds of years ago, the focus of In Pieces is intentional fragments written since the early 1950s.
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One quality of fragmentary writing is the lack of a traditional beginning or end. Instead, the two are merged into a brief and concentrated middle. A fragment is a “slice of life,” a short expression or description of a thought, memory, insight, mood, perception, image, or experience. When reading a fragment, one can jump into a paragraph or even a few lines and feel an immediate involvement. Fragments can stand alone, separate from one another; they are written (and can be read) in quick, illuminating bursts and can feel complete just as they are. There’s an energy within a fragment that gives the writer and reader a sense of freedom, leaving much to the imagination.
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Several years ago I co-edited an anthology of contemporary journals, diaries, and notebooks titled Darkness and Light: Private Writing as Art. The collection included journal excerpts as well as two essays on the subject of the journal as literary art. (A few of the authors published in Darkness and Light also appear in this anthology.) But whereas Darkness and Light focused exclusively on one form of fragmentary writing and included the works of only 14 contributors, In Pieces focuses on some of the many shapes that fragmentary writing can take and includes pieces by 37 different contributors. Besides selections from diaries and notebooks, In Pieces also includes aphorisms, vignettes, selections from letters (including letters written in haiku form), and an essay (written fragmentarily) on the postcard as fragmentary writing.
Journals, diaries, and notebooks are inherently fragmentary, hence they are well represented in this collection. The dates written in a diary break the writing into pieces, and the entries—whether long or short—are written spontaneously, in spurts. One who writes in a notebook isn’t concerned with plot or an overriding structure, so the writing can take whatever shape and direction the author wishes.
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Most of the contributions in this anthology consist of a series of separated fragments, the length of each fragment ranging from one line to several pages. The actual contributions range from 2 to 28 pages. I’ve also included several short works that involve story-telling—writings that have a fragmentary feel in some way or consist of fragmented paragraphs rather than a series of separated, unrelated fragments.
The majority of the pieces are non-fiction and personal, written in the first person. A few are fictional. Stylistically, they range from semi-formal to experimental and cover a variety of subjects. Some of the writings are psychological, others are philosophical, poetic, spiritual, or political...or a mix of these. Some are inspired by abstract thought, others by nature, travel, or the tangible aspects of the moment. A few simply play with words. Many are serious in tone, some are light, while others contain humor or irony. The pieces in the book are arranged according to length, mood, style, and subject so they contrast with one another. Written by both well-known and lesser known writers, many of the contributions are published here for the first time.
Authors of various ages are represented, ranging from late teens to over 70. The number of women and men are about evenly divided. Most of the contributors live in the United States, though a few live elsewhere, including Australia, the United Kingdom, and Italy. All but two are still living.
Some of the contributions were submitted to me specifically for this book project. Others consist of selections I made from some of the book-length submissions I received as editor of Impassio Press. I’ve noted “selections” underneath the titles of those pieces that consist of fragments I selected from full-length manuscripts. (The titles given to these selections are the same titles that appear on the unpublished manuscripts.) In a few cases, “selections” also indicates fragments chosen from a published book now out-of-print or selections from writing published on-line.
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One of the more fragmentary contributions in the book is Guy Gauthier’s piece, Journal Fragments. I’ve corresponded with him on the topic of fragmentary writing and we’ve exchanged many thoughts.
Gauthier writes, “Some fragments were intended to be fragments, and some are ‘unintentional,’ i.e., they were meant to be a completed work, or maybe a completed paragraph, but the writer wasn’t able to finish them. But even when there is the intention to write fragments, we must let them happen naturally, we must let them break off, so to speak, at a point of their own choosing. The fragments should happen by themselves.”
He also writes, “I doubt if any writers start their careers with the idea of writing fragments or unfinished works. It’s something you come to realize about yourself. You learn by experience that you are incapable of larger construction, i.e., something like War and Peace, because you can’t control or direct the flow of your creative energy. You realize that you are better suited to fragmentary writing—or in my case, a journal.”
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Many of the writers in this anthology have also published works in other genres (poetry, plays, novels, etc.); a few of them only write fragments. Whether or not the fragmentary form is a contributor’s main form, the writings included in this collection have been gathered together as a tribute to the diversity of fragmentary writing.
I have yet to discover a precise definition of the fragment, though my own evolving definition—as this anthology illustrates—tends to be wide. It is my feeling that the fragmentary form, more than any other form, gives writers the opportunity to travel as far away from the boundaries of traditional genres as they feel they must in order to express their truths.
Excerpt Copyright © 2006 by Olivia Dresher