I was neat and brown-eyed, innocent and alert, offended by the chicanery of my fellows, powered by decency, going straight up.
—Grace Paley, from “The Contest”
Poets think in lines, prose writers in sentences; the best of both work from sound to sense, with an ear for the music in their compositions. S for Sentence celebrates lyricism in prose, the play and craft at work in the artful sentence. We post a sentence a month along with comments by a guest writer on the craft that shapes it, on what makes it great. In one or two sentences.
—Pearl Abraham, Editor
The initial clauses that describe narrator Freddy Sims are beautifully balanced and juxtaposed: with almost the same syllable count, they feature buried partial rhymes (neat and alert; brown and innocent) and assertive, final fricative Ts. Also juxtaposed: the insistent sibilance of “chicanery” and “decency,” whose meanings are opposite and whose real function is to indict “contest” opponent Dotty Wasserman, rather than to describe Freddy. There is the awkward formality of “fellows” – Paley is the queen of wrong-footedness, offering a word whose diction first strikes us as misplaced, but which illuminates unexpected meanings. Dotty is not a fellow, and for sure not a fellow of Freddy’s: she is in a class by herself, triumphant winner of the titular contest. Paley ends with an omission, “going straight up,” forcing the reader to supply “to heaven,” thereby participating in Freddy’s rhythmic, compressed, self-pitying lament.
—Stephanie Grant is the author of The Passion of Alice and Map of Ireland