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Sidney Cox
For Those Who Want to Write
Published by Godine Press in 1947
Book Review by Bob Matherne ©2002


"The good ones [writers] start off from a tradition - they do not follow one." With these words, Sidney Cox, professor of English at Dartmouth for over 20 years, begins this 139-page book. It is stuffed with insights into writing and filled to the brim with quotable quotes from various famous writers, e.g., Goethe, "fame - the last infirmity of a noble mind," but the best quotes are, like the one that starts this review, from Sidney Cox himself.

"When you have made a reader wonder until a new realization comes to him, you have done what you started out to do."

On Frost: "What he does is start people's imaginations so that they can better discover and enjoy their own actual experiences when no poet is by to provide the imagination."

"Your reader has to be assured that he is on familiar ground. The more so, the more daring your intention."

Heading for Chapter VIII:

"To take the vapor threads of possibility that run up from the earth to heaven and weave them with the warp of days."

"He is fortunate if the discrepancy between dream and possibility also deepens his sense of humor."

"... history is always going to the bow-wows but never does."

"... learn to ride the flux, and shape it a little as it flows to your fluent but positive intent. Doing so you will have your times of loving the dangerous flood you ride and guide."

"For sharing and possessing large intentions makes one either pompous, self-pitying, or humorous. Some of us show traces of all three."

"You may have always known that the most stable things in a flood is a man or woman who can ride it."

"... a person's point of view is where he looks from."

"Let no one shame you with characteristics natural to your age."

"If you want to write well, you let a subject make you its subject."

"Ford Maddox Ford, ', a succession of small surprises. You didn't contrive to put them there. Your style is your surprise.'"

"We need yardsticks... but yardsticks will not measure manifold motion."

Nor will I dare to measure Cox's style. The surprises abound. Painted and woven into the warp and woof of the vapor threads of writing possibilities, his tapestry of words hangs clearly between heaven and earth for all to see.

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