The poet Atsuro Riley has written that all of the best tale-tellers during his upbringing were “crackerjack at economizing for maximum reverberation and haunt.” This got me thinking about “haunt,” and how to harness this in my own poems. Then the following essay appeared in the New York Times in a section called ‘Draft,’which is a fine place to read writers of various ilks reflecting on the craft of writing.
Here is the beginning of novelist Peter Orner’s fine essay, although I recommend you read the whole thing. I did. Twice.
Writing About What Haunts Us
by Peter Orner
“I’ve been trying to lie about this story for years. As a fiction writer, I feel an almost righteous obligation to the untruth. Fabrication is my livelihood, and so telling something straight, for me, is the mark of failure. Yet in many attempts over the years I’ve not been able to make out of this tiny — but weirdly soul-defining — episode in my life anything more than a plain recounting of the facts, as best as I can remember them. Dressing them up into fiction, in this case, wrecked what is essentially a long overdue confession.
Here’s the nonfiction version.
I watched my father in the front hall putting on his new, lambskin leather gloves. It was a sort of private ceremony. This was in early November, 1982, in Highland Park, Ill., a town north of Chicago along Lake Michigan. My father had just returned from a business trip to Paris. He’d bought the gloves at a place called Hermès, a mythical wonderland of a store. He pulled one on slowly, then the other, and held them up in the mirror to see how his hands looked in such gloves.
A week later, I stole them.”