I’ll keep this short.

I stumbled across Ambrose Bierce this week. As he was a contemporary of Mark Twain and his stories have been compared with those of Edgar Allan Poe, I should probably have done so sooner.

But now I know of his existence, I will not forget. I had a great-uncle called Ambrose. It is not a common name so I figure Ambroses and their relatives should stick together.

It’d be pretty impossible to forget him anyway. He is eminently quotable. In a addition to his short stories and poetry, he wrote a dictionary which bristles with cynicism (cf a cynic… sees things as they are, not as they ought to be).

The definition in ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ (2006) that attracted me is for the novel. You know, that thing writers ought to write.

NOVEL, n. A short story padded.

Another defence of the short form! Not only is the short story not ‘“The Novel’s Little Sidekick,” the practice run, the warm-up act’ (Ann Patchett, Introduction to ‘The Best American Short Stories 2006’), the novel is here the lesser beast!

No longer do I have to resort to joking about my love of the short story. The best opener for a short story? The end is near

Elsewhere Ambrose Bierce has a thing or two to say about poetry as well. He was all for brevity. Long poems are more versified prose than poems, with flashes of real poetry in amongst the lines.

But it takes all sorts. This made me think of a poetry collection published back in 2009. Brevity? Who needs it. Definitely not Matthew Welton. This is his title, just the title:

‘We needed coffee but we’d got ourselves convinced that the later we left it the better it would taste, and, as the country grew flatter and the roads became quiet and dusk began to colour the sky, you could guess from the way we returned the radio and unfolded the map or commented on the view that the tang of determination had overtaken our thoughts, and when, fidgety and untalkative but almost home, we drew up outside the all-night restaurant, it felt like we might just stay in the car, listening to the engine and the gentle sound of the wind.’

There is much to admire there too!




Feature Image: a photograph of Ambrose Bierce taken no later than 1911.

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