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The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters
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Tony gives an overview of the book:

Amazon.com"Use very straight speech/ without design or calculation." Advice modern day politicos would find impossible to follow, but a good adage for writers needing a reminder to keep things simple and clear. Such tips are scattered throughout The Art of Writing, a collection of ancient Chinese musings on the writer's art, filled with Taoist clarity and sly humor. "Observe creation without taboos. Swallow a vast wilderness and spit it out again." That's a whole book on writing right there. Book DescriptionThe ancient Chinese regarded the written word as a transformative force able to move heaven and earth and unite the reader with the source of all things, the Tao. The power of writing, especially poetry, is celebrated here in short texts that present both practical instruction and spiritual insight: Lu Ji's essay in verse, "The Art of...
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Amazon.com
"Use very straight speech/ without design or calculation." Advice modern day politicos would find impossible to follow, but a good adage for writers needing a reminder to keep things simple and clear. Such tips are scattered throughout The Art of Writing, a collection of ancient Chinese musings on the writer's art, filled with Taoist clarity and sly humor. "Observe creation without taboos. Swallow a vast wilderness and spit it out again." That's a whole book on writing right there.

Book Description
The ancient Chinese regarded the written word as a transformative force able to move heaven and earth and unite the reader with the source of all things, the Tao. The power of writing, especially poetry, is celebrated here in short texts that present both practical instruction and spiritual insight: Lu Ji's essay in verse, "The Art of Writing," reveals the inner process every writer must go through in preparing for the creative act. Sikong Tu's "Twenty-four Styles of Poetry" teaches that poets must perfect themselves internally in order to achieve perfection in what they write. "Poets' Jade Splinters" contains aphoristic prescriptions and humorous anecdotes about poetry, poets, and the rules of composition. Assorted commentaries and critical evaluations focus on Chinese lyrical poetry.

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from The Art of Writing by Lu Ji

 

Preface:

After reading many talented writers, I have gained insights into the writing craft. The ways that words and expressions ignite meaning, varied as they are, can be analyzed and critiqued for their beauty and style. Through my own efforts I know how hard it is to write, since I always worry that my ideas fail to express their subject and my words are even further removed from insufficient ideas. The problem is easy to understand; the solution is more difficult. So I started writing this rhymed essay to comment on elegant classics and talk about how strong and weak points find their way into our writings. Someday, I hope, I will be able to capture these subtle secrets in words. To learn writing from classics is like carving an axe handle with an axe---the model is right in your hand, but the spontaneous skills needed to carve a new creation are often beyond words. What can be said, however, is verbalized in what follows.

___________________

19. Inspiration

As to the flash of inspiration

and traffic laws on writing's path,

what comes can't be stopped,

what leaves will not be restrained.

It hides like fire in a coal

then flares into a shout.

When instinct is swift as a horse

no tangle of thoughts will hold it back:

a thought wind rises in your chest,

a river of words pours out from your mouth,

and so many burgeoning leaves sprout

on the silk from your brush,

that colors brim out of your eyes

and music echoes in your ears.

___________________

20. Writer's Block

But when the six emotions are stagnant,

the will travels but the spirit stays put,

a petrified and withered tree,

hollow and dry as a dead river.

Then you must excavate your own soul,

search yourself till your spirit is refreshed.

But the mind gets darker and darker

and you must pull ideas like silk from their cocoon.

Sometimes you labor hard and build regrets

then dash off a flawless gem.

Though this thing comes out of me,

I can't master it with strength.

I often stroke my empty chest and sigh:

what blocks and what opens this road?

___________________

21. The Power of a Poem

The function of literature is

to express the nature of nature.

It can't be barred as it travels space

and boats across a hundred million years.

Gazing to the fore, I leave models for people to come;

looking aft, I learn from my ancestors.

It can save teetering governments and weak armies;

it gives voice to the dying wind of human virtue.

No matter how far, this road will take you there;

it will express the subtlest point.

It waters the heart like clouds and rain,

and shifts form like a changeable spirit.

Inscribed on metal and stone it spreads virtue.

Flowing with pipes and strings, each day the poem is new.

 

LU JI (261-303)

Lu Ji (261-303) was born at the end of the Three Kingdoms Period, in the state of Wu, at the family estate at Huading in the Yangtze Delta. He came from a family with a long and distinguished military tradition. His grandfather, Lu Sun, was a famous general who won the throne for the first Emperor of Wu, for which he was rewarded with the title of duke and the estate at Huading. His father and two older brothers all had commands on the northern frontier, but the weak emperor Hao ignored his father's warnings of dangers from the neighboring state of Jin, and lost his empire in a decisive river battle. Both of Lu Ji's brothers were killed in this battle. He and his younger brother excaped to Huading, where they remained in virtual house arrest for ten years, devoting themselves to scholarship, poetry, and the study of Confucian and Taoist thought. At age twenty-nine he and his brother went to the Jin court and succeeded in launching themselves once again into official and military careers. In his forty-second year Lu Ji was a general for Prince Yin, who was engaged in attacking his brother, Prince Yi. Because of the treachery of another general who refused to support him in a key battle, Lu's troops were decisively routed, and the river was choked with their bodies. His enemies denounced him to Prince Yin, who caused him to be executed on trumped up charges of treason. His two sons were also executed. It's said that the night before his death, Lu Ji dreamed he was confined in a carriage draped with black curtains, which he could not break out of. His last words were said to be, "Will I never hear the call of the cranes at Huading again?"

Lu was a prolific writer, but his only major work was a rhyme-prose piece of literary criticism titled "The Art of Writing" (Wen Fu). The influence of this relatively short piece on Chinese literary thought cannot be overestimated. "The Art of Writing" sets out to "comment on elegant classics and talk about how strong and weak points find their way into our writings," but it does much more than that. It is valued equally for its critical thought and for its worth as a piece of literature. Its evocation of the writer's preparation to write, of new poems catalyzed by the reading of the classics, culminates in a spirit journey of the imagination in which the poet has great Taoist powers to quest through internal and external space and through the literary past. But "The Art of Writing" is both a cosmic treatise and an immensely practical one. From the internal journey of the imagination comes writing in all its styles and genres, many of which Lu Ji catalogues. His ars poetica's sophisticated treatment of the process of writing is its own best exemplar, embodying the virtues and qualities that it champions in writing. In addition to the question of style and genre, he treats the question of revision and of key words that "will whip the writing like a horse and make it gallop." "To learn writing from classics is like carving an axe handle with an axe-the model is right in your hand," he writes in the Preface, and yet the relationship of the writer to works of the past is complex; what may inspire your work will also kill what you write if you fail to "make it new." He gives writing tips and discusses tone, high and low registers, poetic form, the "dead river" of writer's block and the "thought wind" of inspiration. His spiritual view of the writing process is mirrored by his faith in the universal power of literature: "With heaven and earth contained in your head / nothing escapes the pen in your hand."

"The Art of Writing" is written in a form characterized by rhymed verse interspersed with prose passages and by a pairing of lines into rhetorical parallelism, rather like Western poetry's use of chiasmus. Lu Ji's verse essay is commonly compared with Alexander Pope's Essay on Poetry (and with Pope's model, the Ars Poetica of Horace) as a great example of literary criticism in verse. The comparison takes on particular relevance when one compares the balanced rhetoric of Pope's rhymed heroic couplets with Lu Ji's parallelism. With characteristic humility, Lu Ji doubts his own ability to get at the essence of writing ("this art can't be captured by the finest words"), but this ineffability itself expresses the spiritual nature of writing. Writing can't express what writing is because it is more than itself; it is an essential relation, a spiritual voyage that connects impulse and action, word and music, and the self to the world.

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Note from the author coming soon...

About Tony

I was born in Middletown, Connecticut, into a very unusual family.  My father, Willis Barnstone, was a young professor at Wesleyan University at that time.  When I was two, we left Connecticut to live in Spain on a Guggenheim Fellowship my father had been granted, and so my...

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