Throat Clearing

Throat clearing is an almost ubiquitous practice among beginning writers. When I taught First-year level courses at the University of South Dakota I came across it in easily 2/3 of the papers students turned in, and while I was working toward my MFA at the University of San Francisco it was a really common thing to notice about others’ poems (and my own). Throat clearing is a natural result, I think, of a certain discomfort at breaking into the silence of the blank page with our own words, a feeling that before we work our way to our argument, our content, we must ease our way in by providing an ambience of language already begun. A throat clearing often consists of a few sentences of generalizations so broad as to approach meaninglessness, a few lines that really do nothing but occupy space at the top of the poem, before the real point of the writing is gradually asserted. It’s an easy enough fix in editing: just cut that first sentence or two and notice that you haven’t done away with anything that materially contributed to this piece of writing, and see how the beginning arrests your attention much more effectively than when it lazily meandered its way toward what you wanted to say? I have often told students it’s okay to keep using throat clearing in drafts since it can be helpful just to get a few words out at first when you’re beginning a paper, but it’s also important to recognize it for what it is and take it out of subsequent drafts. It’s an artifact of the process of writing that doesn’t really belong in a completed product.

I feel like one of the most basic rules of effective writing is to avoid throat clearing. But since a blog, when conceived of as a whole, seems somewhere between a finished product and an ongoing draft, I want to take the liberty of beginning this blog with this throat clearing post. I’ve had the idea that I should (or, perhaps, that I want to) maintain a blog for a long time, and I want to get down a few of the reasons for that here at the very beginning.

Naturally, the major reason for wanting to blog is because I’ve been an avid reader of blogs for pretty much ever. In a lot of ways, I’ve learned more about some of my major interests because of blogs than anything else. In the early part of the last decade, the initial pique of my interest in experimental poetry exploded into a full-bore obsession that was facilitated almost entirely by an extremely active poetry blogosphere. Over the last several years, much of the reason I’ve been able to develop my interest in critical theory and philosophy is that I came across a corner of the blogosphere devoted to those things. In both of those cases I never actively participated; I’ve been a lurker the whole time. So part of the reason I feel like I should maintain a blog, for why I’m going to try out using this space as more than just the fulfillment of a class policy, is that I want to push myself to cross the lurker/participant divide. I like the blogosphere, and in principle I believe that active participation in it should be good for people who like to think about things—blogging provides a way for those thoughts to become parts of a conversation rather than remain hermetically sealed within their own thoughtness, reflecting only themselves. I fully expect this aspect of blogging to be the most difficult for me, though. My impulse in almost any given situation is to try not to be noticed, and blogging is basically the opposite gesture. I guess we’ll see how that part of this experiment goes.

The other part of my reasoning behind deciding to do this is going to be much easier for me, I expect. A blog seems like a spectacular thing to use for ensuring that thoughts and ideas don’t stagnate in my head by providing a space and a kind of unconscious encouragement to form those ideas into written posts. I have every intention of pursuing a career in academia, after all, and part of being a graduate student these days is being subject to constant reminders of the professional importance of publications. Maybe naively, I feel like there’s no better way to forge a path toward publication than the actual crafting of well-written essays, and I know enough about writing to understand that good writing only comes from practice writing. So there’s the other reason for this blog: practice writing. A provocation to produce more than just the essays required at the end of every semester. Blog as professional development tool. There you go.

Finally, though I had every intention of beginning a blog at some point, that ‘at some point’ perhaps would have continued to stand in my way if we hadn’t been assigned the task of using a blog for class discussion, so I’m glad for the assignment. (Quick note for class folks: I’ll follow Claudia’s lead and categorize posts that are explicitly for class in the ‘History and Future of the Book’ category to the right, and I’ll also make it clear in the titles of those posts. Like any fledgling blogger I’ll be happy for any & all readers, but I’ll make it clear when posts are specifically for class.) I also very much like the characterization in the syllabus of a blog as a commonplace book—it speaks to what seems the more fun (and in a lot of ways maybe more genuinely useful) aspect of blogging as something other than just a series of posts-as-mini-essays: posting quotations, spreading links to posts from other blogs, things I think are cool, cat photos, etc. So, toward that end, and now that I’ve got all that throat-clearing out of the way, check out these amazing movie posters from a parallel universe!


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