Choppy seas throw up a crop of bones in winter. I’m no good at anatomy. I can tell fish from birds but mammal skeletons are harder to differentiate once broken down and scoured clean by salt and sand and water
Thus begins Sara Baume’s compelling, intensely moving spoken word essay aired on RTE Radio 1’s Arena this week.
The concept of the perfect three-minute pop song is well-documented, but Baume’s reflection on life and art and legacy was perfect three-minute literature in aural form.
The essay outlined the story of the life and death of Bas Jan Ader, a young Dutch conceptual artist who attempted a crossing of the Atlantic from Massachusetts to the Netherlands in a tiny yacht in the 1970s – the voyage itself part of an art project entitled “In search of the miraculous”.
In an era of ever-decreasing attention spans and noisy 140-character solicitations, when courses on flash fiction seem nauseatingly ubiquitous, longform narratives – whether novels or essays or reportages – are, sadly, squeezed by financial imperatives. It is a crushing irony that as the internet brought infinite column inches, the ability of writers and journalist and editors to dedicate space to something truly worth exploring has diminished with every passing year, so that the information world in which we live is a relentless stream of worthlessness.
But while the quest for brevity generally bears all the hallmarks of an all-consuming race to the bottom, there are occasional reminders that small can be beautiful, and Baume’s essay, which probably numbers short of 400 words, is one such example.
Baume is a fast-rising star of the Irish literary scene (although one suspects that, given her self-confessed ingrained awkwardness, stardom of any kind will not come naturally).
She won the prestigious Davy Byrnes Short Story Award last year for her “Solesearcher1” and her debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither is published by the increasingly unmissable start-up publisher Tramp Press next month.
I first came across Sara’s work weeks after she called a halt to her WordPress blog in early 2013. Her final post, announcing the blog’s demise, lamented the great technological migration of the human race:
I can’t stand the way everyone is suddenly so infatuated by their tiny pocket screens. I’m not trying to begin a debate upon the merits of contemporary internet use. I just don’t like it. I like things which smell turfy and flower unexpectedly in winter and squirm when you find them sleeping amongst the fluff in your pocket.
Now with the time you might have spent reading the crap on my blog, you can go forth and plant bulbs instead.
Given that it so clearly wasn’t “crap” I missed the blogs I had yet to read, but it seems Sara has used that time well over the past two years.
The launch of her debut novel Spill Simmer Falter Wither takes place on Thursday, February 5th at 6.30pm in The Liquor Rooms (7 Wellington Quay, Dublin), where Anne Enright will be the guest speaker.
You can pre-order Spill Simmer Falter Wither in paperback or limited edition hardback from the Tramp Press website here.