A book about writing was long overdue in my reading queue, and there from the library shelf winked Rosenblatt’s Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing. The book follows one semester in a creative writing program where students study and create short fiction, essays and poems. More than the useful writing tips, though, is the big message, a message I am almost reluctant to pass on, it’s that big. The message which Rosenblatt writes to his students, and so to us, is this: “The world is not a focus group. The world is an appetite waiting to be defined.” By which I understand that we must write, not for the market, but for those who look for definition and solace, for those hungry for the sustenance that clear and lovely language can bring. (For this I forgive Rosenblatt his tepid endorsement of contemporary poetry.)
In an atmosphere that often warns writers not to singe our fingers on sentimentality, Rosenblatt’s title makes me blink: Move the Human Heart? Really?
So often we are instructed to consider our audience, to tell the book buyer what other book ours resembles, preferably one on the best-seller list. We are admonished to market and to promote and to design with a digital reader in mind. But too seldom do we hear this big wisdom, that we might write deeply and reach far beyond the commercial or popular goals so common to our profession. I have copied into my notebook this from near the very end of this witty little book, just acerbic enough to overcome that slightly squishy title: “. . . the one goal you must aim for is the stunned, silent gratitude of history.” Sigh, this work grows more wonderful the longer I do it.