The poetry of the Budge-Nuzzard

The language of the Budge-Nuzzard never ceases to amaze and delight (and sometimes choke) me, but there is one passage in particular which causes me to go into raptures every single time.

So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket within the Sha-Una’s cavernous pouch, and yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb to drive my hunger back from whence it sprung. Fear took me. Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.

Glorious. Ack. i’m just going to lie here for a bit until the room stops spinning.

Okay. i think i can sit upright again. Let’s walk through a bit of the poetry.

So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket

Here are two sets of alliteration: CC, PP.

So did I creep through every crevice and plumb each pocket within the Sha-Una’s cavernous pouch

And then we continue reading and find a phrase which echoes that alliteration: CC, PP, CP.

…yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb

And here we have chiastic alliteration: CBBC. Mind. Blown.

…yet I found no crunchy bit nor bulky crumb to drive my hunger back from whence it sprung.

In the same line, there is a very nice bit of assonance. When reading aloud, the emphasis naturally falls on these two highlighted words, which heightens the effect of the assonance.

Fear took me.

Dread is so simple. Amidst the complexity of this passage, this three-word sentence rises up to grip the reader. Because of the length of the previous sentence, it’s natural to pause before this one. And each word here is weighty, yet most of the weight hangs on that first word. i find this appropriate.

Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.

And this near-rhyme echoes the assonance above. Again, to strengthen the rhythm as well as the near-rhyme, the major emphasis is on the last syllable of each sentence. But the rhythm here is not as simple as the assonant line above.

Only one course of action could my mind now conceive: To slay my hunger ere he slay me.

The march of the first half of this line is inexorable, mirroring the inevitability the narrator conceives. Then the rhythm pauses on that first instance of the word “slay.” The sentence hangs on that word until the fall of the very last syllable.

Now read the whole thing again, aloud, and let the language do its work.


Note: A.S. Peterson, the author responsible for the Budge-Nuzzard, has also written a set of historical novels, several literary short stories, a blog post that literally changed my life, and a poem cycle which has undone me again and again. He writes good sentences soaked through with sehnsucht and absurdity. i want to be just like him when i grow up. Go forth and read.

Discovering Hebrew narrative, Part One

i am a pantser. My modus operandi, writing-wise, is just to dive right in and find out how things work. i have always done this with my English writing. The joy of discovery is too great to bother with outlines; if i already know what is going to happen, what is the point? And i started my Hebrew fiction-writing career this way, too, almost as soon as i started learning Hebrew. What else is language for but storytelling? And when the very fibers of my being all vibrate with glee at words like “robiderant” and “lobidious,” when a story causes my mind to be constantly running away to make connections both internal and external, when i am confronted at every turn with the delight of ordinary cereal or hunger or travel reimagined into something alien and (literally) breathtaking, well, what else am i supposed to do? Write, of course, and the sooner the better. There’s no time to wait.

This week, i started my Hebrew narrative independent study. i’ve read two chapters in a great classic work—The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter—and am starting to realize what an audacious thing it was to write fiction in a language i hadn’t yet internalized. Ancient Near Eastern fiction has its own literary conventions! Nothing could be more obvious once they’re pointed out, but i had given no thought to this when i was starting my story.

Type-scenes, for example: Mini-stories that occur over and over again, in a certain sort of way, which leads the reader to expect how things will play out. We do this on a larger scale, repeating whole stories with wide variation (orphan-with-destiny, for example). Biblical type-scenes are smaller-scale, like the elements of the hero’s journey. But where the hero’s journey type-scenes are just templates (inciting-event, threshold-guardian, return-with-the-elixir), biblical type-scenes are very specific (meeting-one’s-future-betrothed-by-a-well, annunciation-of-the-hero’s-birth-to-his-barren-mother, epiphany-in-a-field), and every detail matters. The brilliance, of course, is in the many ways one can vary the convention to highlight or suggest or surprise or subvert. And now my mind runs away again, and i must run to catch it. What are the type-scenes in the Budge-Nuzzard? What about in its literary progenitor, Lovecraft? Can i use these type-scenes in my own story? Can i make them Hebraic? Can i identify any Hebrew type-scenes in the Budge-Nuzzard? Are there any ancient type-scenes which will serve my story, and can i make them nuzzardous?

And dialogue! Hebrew narrative, it turns out, is dominated by dialogue. The characters discover and reveal themselves through what they say, how they say it, what they avoid saying, how they spin and how they lie. This isn’t particular to Hebrew narrative, either; read any good literary novel in English and you’ll find the same thing: Subtext. Hebrew authors don’t tell you what people are thinking; they let their characters absolve or hang themselves without interference, and they employ quite a bit of subtlety and ambiguity in the process. This is a thing i want to work on in general, in Hebrew and English. One particular thing i neglected to consider in Hebrew is how to introduce my characters through dialogue. The first words out of their mouths should tell the reader something about them. What impressions do my readers have of Yaunsi, or of Smithers/Cheresh? What sort of men are they? Are these impressions what i intended? Do my introductions lead me, and my readers, further into the story, or will i have to work against these impressions, or even contradict them, as i develop my characters? What about expressing emotions and attitudes and bearing? What about speech patterns? Can i draw distinctions, deepen sympathy or reservations, heighten tension, by contrasting the way my characters speak to one another and to themselves? These are all things Hebrew authors do. Again, we expect this in English, but it does look different in Hebrew, and i had given it no thought before this week.

A week in, and i am already thinking of whether i should start over from scratch—a thought both exciting, because of what i am learning that i could apply, and frustrating, because i want to get on with the story and explore what happens next. And i haven’t even started the second week’s reading yet.

One of my goals for this semester is to develop a more authentically Hebraic writing voice. And one of the things i hear consistently around the Rabbit Room is that revision is not a threat to be feared but a friend to embrace.

i wonder what Yaunsi and i will be like when we’re finished. We might both need a little revision.

First week of classes

Yesterday i took up my work as Assistant WONAS (Hebrew tutor). So far i have had six students. Group tutoring is a whole new experience. It’s not much like individual tutoring; it feels a lot like teaching. i love having my own classroom. i brought handouts and wrote my name on the board and zoomed around on a rolling chair, answering questions all over. i’m learning how to phrase my answers as clues and leading questions so that the students can recall and synthesize what they’ve learned, rather than just rely on me. It’s a fun challenge. :-)

Today’s schedule was very full. i arrove early to get some of my own translation done, then grabbed lunch and ate while tutoring, then went straight to my independent study meeting, and then had a half-hour to finish my translation before Hebrew class. (i finished just as class was beginning!) The independent study is going to be so fun. And the passage we translated for Hebrew this week was also fun—full of syntax and phrasings that jumped out in a way i have not seen in my English text. i took great pleasure, for the first time in awhile, just playing with the language as i translated.

During my independent study meeting, my professor and i were talking about which OT narratives i’m planning to read this semester. Since i want to focus on classical rather than post-exilic Hebrew narratives, she wanted to know why i decided to spend a week on Nehemiah. “i love him!” i said, and proceeded to lecture her for a good fifteen minutes. Then she said to me, wide-eyed, “You need to be teaching.”

i am starting to not dismiss these comments. (Or, as i might say along with the narrator of Genesis, i am keeping the matter. In my lower head, perhaps, or lower heart, as we would say in Hebrew, except that we wouldn’t. Well, i would.)

My heretical Budge-Nuzzard midrash has not yet settled into a proper weekly rhythm, but that changes next week. Tomorrow i have a book to read—Robert Alter’s The Art of Biblical Narrative. i will be taking note of the various literary conventions he discusses, with an eye to applying them to the Budge-Nuzzard and my own writing, and hopefully that will make an interesting post. It’s been awhile since i’ve written a textual criticism essay. This one will be narrative criticism, not textual, but i fully expect it to cause my eyes to widen and the sounds of deep contemplation to waft from my upper head. If you should like to hear the conclusions drawn from my wafting contemplations, check back later.

At the top of the stairs, again.

Classes start up again on Monday, after a six-week break. Six weeks should be long enough, right? And there are factors, changes, which i know will make this semester different from last—and yet.

Ever since midterms of my first semester—a year and a half ago; how is this possible?—i have staved off stress-and-homework-induced panic attacks by writing words on my hands. They’re the words that called me down the stairs, the words which told me that it would be worth it. Three times over break i have looked down while washing my hands to see these words on my wrist when i have not written them there. The third occasion happened today. Do my eyes play tricks on me, seeing the phantom where they have so frequently seen the reality? Or am i being prepared for another death?

It hurts to die, but each time i’m raised again and i’m something new, something i don’t recognize, something i never expected.”

Last semester i stopped believing in resurrection. i didn’t want resurrection; i didn’t want even to survive. i just wanted sleep. i lived in a chemical suspension of exhaustion and adrenaline for two months. It took days to climb out of that grave.

i don’t know what this semester holds, but i hope to regain hope. And maybe, just maybe, one death at a time, i’ll learn to trust the coming resurrection.

Yaunsi 05: The abode

וַיִּסָּתֵר הַבֻּד־נֻזָּרָד בְּלָט מְקָנֵּן בַּבַיִּת הָאִישׁ מִוִּים־תִי : וַיָּרַח יָעוּנְסִי בְּלִבּוֹ הָעִלִּיּוֹת אֵת הָבֻּד־נֻזָּרָד וְהִנֵּה לֹא יָכֹל לִקְרׂב אׂתוׂ כִּי שָׁרָק לְיָלוּנְסִי וְיָעוּנְסִי חָרַד : פ

The Budge-Nuzzard hid with nustling secrecy in the abode of the man from Vim-Ti, in the innermost chamber of the abode. Yaunsi smelled the Budge-Nuzzard with his upper heart, but behold, he was not able to approach it, for it hissed at Yaunsi and Yaunsi trembled.

The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial. Click “Yaunsi Heresy” above to read from the beginning.

Yaunsi 04: Seeking

וַיִּדְרׂשׁ לִדְרׂשׁ יָעוּנְסִי אֵת נֶכֶד הָאִישׁ הָרָשָׁע מִוִּים־תִי לְמַעַן יִצְמׂת רִשְׁעוׂ : וַיִּדְרׂשׁ רוׂם וְשָׁפָל וְרוׂם עוׂד וַיִּמְצָא אֵת מִסְתָּרוׂ בְּיָד חֶרֶשׁ עׂזֵר לוׂ : ס

So Yaunsi sought to seek the wicked progeny of the man from Vim-Ti, in order that he might put an end to its wickedness. He sought high, and low, and high again, and he discovered its hiding place, with the hand of Cheresh helping him.

The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial. Click “Yaunsi Heresy” above to read from the beginning.

The blessèd syllabus

Alert: This post is in English. Weird, i know.

My next Yaunsi segment is written, but my editor and i are taking Christmas off. Meanwhile, i shall regale you with news of significant nerdery. More

Yaunsi 03: A great fear

וַיְהִי בְּיּוׂם עֶשְׂרִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה לְעַשְׁתֵּי־עָשָׂר חׂדֶשׁ וַיִּקְרׂב חֶרֶשׁ לְיָעוּנְסִי וַיְּדַבֵּר לוׂ לֵאמׂר הֲלוׂא יִדְרׂשׁ נֶכֶד הָאִישׁ הָרָשָׁע מִוִּים־תִי לִפְרׂץ אֵת פֶּתַח אֶרֶץ הַפָּנִים : וַיִּראוּ שְׁנֵי־אֳנָשִׁים הַפָּנִים יִרְאָה גְּדוֹלָה וַיִּשְׁתָּאלוּ לֵאמׂר מַה־נַעֲשֶׂה : כִּי יָדְעוּ אִם יָבוׂא הַבֻּד־נֻזָּרָד אֶת־אֶרֶץ הַפָּנִים וְהָיָה לְחׂרֵד וְחׂרֵב : פ

It came to pass on the twenty-fifth day of the eleventh month that Cheresh approached Yaunsi and spoke to him, saying, “Is not the wicked progeny of the man from Vim-Ti seeking to breach the entrance of the land of the Pans?” And the two men of the Pans feared a great fear, and they asked one another, saying, “What shall we do?” For they knew that if the Budge-Nuzzard should enter the land of the Pans it would be for dreading and desolation.

The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial.

Yaunsi 02: Slupping

וְהָאִישׁ הַזֶּה יִתהַלֵּךְ בַּמְקׂמוׂת הַדַּקוׂת בַּרָקִיעַ בֵּין תֵבֵלוׂת

: לִשְֹכׂר וְלִמְכׂר כִּי הוּא סׂחֵר וְחֶרֶשׁ חָבֵרוׂ גָּם

Now this man used to go to and fro in the thin places in the expanse between worlds, to buy and to sell; for he was a merchant, and Cheresh his associate also.

The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial. Click “Yaunsi Heresy” above to read from the beginning.

Yaunsi 01: It was born today.

: וַיְהִי בְּעִיר-הַוּוּן אִישׁ אֶחָד בְּשֵׁם יָעוּנְסִי

: וְיָעוּנְסִי לֹא יִתְכַסֵּה בְּבֶגֶד-רַב וְיִתְלַבֵּשׁ בְּכֹסֵה רֹאשׁ נֹגֵהּ וְשָׁחֹר

: וְיָעוּנְסִי הָיָה פָּן מֵאֶרֶץ הַפָּנִים

The above, translated for the tongueless (so sedentary have the tongues of English wrought it!):

There was in the city of Voon a certain man by the name of Yaunsi. Now Yaunsi did not cover himself with much clothing, but dressed himself in a shining black head-covering. And Yaunsi was a Pan from the land of the Pans.

The Yaunsi Heresy is a new work of fiction in classical Hebrew based on A.S. Peterson’s lobidious tale of the Budge-Nuzzard. It will be published in serial.

“…i think i must have hit my head. What on earth is happening here?”
A just reply. Here’s the introduction.

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