To Make Much of Time

TNQ  (The New Quarterly)  publishes stories and poems by wonderful contemporary such as Caroline Adderson, Patricia Young, Steven Heighton and Mark Anthony Jarman; it  was recently shortlisted for no less than five National Magazine Awards. The editors put each illustrated issue together in a beautifully produced book that does not fall apart when you open it, and chose an intriguing title that both connects  and enriches the contents. So  I’m delighted that my story, “To Make Much of Time” appears in the current issue, 123,  The Time of Your Life, along with an essay, “Going Backwards”, that touches on the tricky business of writing fiction inspired by one’s own relatives and family history.

The story is one of a story sequence in progress which centres on the emotional life of one Harry Miles, born in 1919, and at the same time looks at what poetry does, not in a literary sense, but in terms of its influence on the way we live and think about our lives.  Each  story connects in some way with a particular poem or poet.  The story in TNQ,  “To Make Much of  Time” refers to a poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1764), “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time”.  The poem begins: Gather ye rosebuds while you may…  and goes on to warn:

That age is best which is the first,

   When youth and blood are warmer;

But being spent, the worse, and worst

   Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time….

The sentiment is a familiar one – the Latin tradition of Carpe Diem (seize the day) continues to this day  and was much invoked in love poetry during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Another fine example is Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” (The grave’s a fine and private place, But none I think to there embrace).  My story, about a couple married for seventy years, is in not an illustration of Herrick’s poem – the hope is that it connects to the sentiment, but also complicates and enlarges it, as did Robert Frost in his poem “Carpe Diem”.

Not long ago, Hal Wake asked me what I was working on, and I mentioned this project. He laughed outright and suggested I could be in the grip of a literary death-wish, given that combining short fiction and poetry (publishers’  two least favourite genres) is just about the least commercially attractive idea anyone could possibly entertain.  Hal surely meant well and he’s probably right, too. But you don’t chose your material, and, to quote Ray Bradbury,  who certainly lived  and wrote with an intense awareness of and great curiosity about the passing of time,  it is best to “Do what you love, and love what you do.” I think this is exactly what happens at TNQ, and the results are spectacular; I urge you to subscribe, for as little as $20 a year.