Monthly Archives: January 2015

Brevity. Soul. Wit.

That’s what it says on my Royal Shakespeare Company mug, and I try to live my life by that ironic advice from the Bard. Like many scientists, I find it easy to write up my methods and results, but panic slightly when faced with the blank Discussion section. Because it isn’t a discussion, is it? It’s a monolog restating what seems to me perfectly obvious aspects of the work, to a lifetime audience of maybe 6. Most scientists like to be clear and concise, not to waffle on. In fact, I’m thinking right now of how to compress the quote further into mathematical notation. Brevity = √(wit)? Probably that’s already on a t-shirt somewhere.

Of course this problem impacts my poetry and prose writing too. I was one of the winners of a New Statesman prose contest in December, but they docked my winnings for being too brief. Fair enough, they have column inches to fill; but if I have 3 sentences that seem to me to be funny and complete, I just can’t bring myself to add 3 more which are only so-so. That would make my hobby feel like work.

Luckily poetry has the epigram. I’ve ordered a copy of my sister Susan McLean’s book of translations of Latin epigrams by Martial, and a looking forward to it enormously. And I very much enjoy translating ancient epigrams myself and writing new ones.


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