I decided to try and shake up this pandemic lifestyle a little by launching a new online writers group through Meetup.com. I’ve been sitting on some creative writing projects for years now and hope the concept for this group will motivate me to finish something. And with the world going the way it is now, there’s no way we don’t have lots of available subject matter to work with. I should be writing 24/7! And I’m not. I’m busy getting too excited about a walk around the block and grocery shopping.
So this is a call for writers who also have a writing project that wants finishing. The group will run for 6 months and at the end of it we should all expect to find a final draft of something. 😀
Unlike a creative writing workshop, nobody will read their work during these online virtual meetings. We either talk about our projects — progress, lack of, obstacles, pitch practice – or we will be writing together. More details, if you click the link.
I hope this concept sounds enticing to some of you writers out there. Please join the group, let’s write, talk shop, and get to a finished product together.
In every retelling or its variations, Gatsby must die. He represents the adolescence of an emerging adult, some say a nation, who must meet his death to be reborn through a witness, I say a writer, to the real, if not better, World. And there are two sides to this persistent death. One is the faith that audiences will continue to buy it — the fiction, if not the dream. The other is that, despite it all, some writers still believe in that kind of hero myth. We keep the faith that Gatsby’s death is gonna lead us somewhere good. And writers only need a grain of it to keep us offing poor heroes, like Gatsby, over and over so the narrator/writer can reflect and mourn on innocence lost and from it, gloriously raise perseverance and the determination to make the sacrifice of others ‘count’.
Why do we continue to repeat classics that may no longer apply to who we are now? What would a modern-day Gatsby do with himself in today’s culture? On who or what would he foolishly gamble away all his passion? They simply don’t manufacture Dreams like they use to. He would never buy one today — not enough of one, anyway, to carry him to his purposeful end. And I’d argue that neither is there enough motivation for any modern leading lady to convincingly play the ‘supportive’ role long enough to inspire him the rest of the way. I would personally love to see a Gatsby who takes a different stand.
Faith in heroes has changed a lot in the last 90 years. Heroes should probably stop letting themselves be solely the invention of writers. Especially if we keep telling the same stories! Just different cast and costume. The heroes out there need to help us out a little. And what about our audiences? What role do they play in keeping our modern-day heroes alive?
What about that state where all songs and stories were new and a new frontier was always in our horizon? Just as it was in Gatsby’s time. Ah, I think, maybe there lies the beginning of the problem. Maybe the stories that we keep repeating, we do so because these stories are just the beginning of a much larger story that was never fully realized. We can’t get past what we haven’t finished yet.
Always Sometimes Monsters is an award-winning PC game that, if you play, you will most likely only do so once — much like life! Getting you all riled up about everything that is so wrong and right about it. The difference is you could play it again if you wanted to – change all your choices – even develop a mod to change the game. Game only, not life. Or maybe. I don’t know.
Kudos to the Canadian indie gaming company for creating such an interesting experience that had so many people talking on the internet about life choices. It’s cheap, it’s short (unless you don’t use the help guides for that damn boxing interval), it’s – not cheerful. An ending (or endings) worthy of some good ol’ English Lit deconstruction on self-love vs. all the other alternatives. This game got me thinking that lit writers, who aren’t feeling enough love from the paper publishing industry, might want to start turning their attention this way. PC games today may still favour violence and a blatant disregard for logic but this game demonstrates that an absurd world also provides a lot of potential for playingwith, and for, greater and more twisted storytelling.
Reminiscent to this game is the latest poem featured on the lywTube channel, Happy as Monsters, by Lauren Mascitelli: a happy, urban gothic trip wonderfully illustrated by the artist herself. Please check out the poetry video:
War and horror – and everything underlying – happens for a species like ours. We’ve got a long history of it. Bad habits die hard they say. That’s why I say, when you see an expression of the grotesque in art, don’t be so quick to turn the eyes from it. Not always, of course. For the kind of art that ONLY wants to be shocking or gross — I’d rather spare my senses.
However, in Kim Hyesoon’s poem, When the Plug gets Unplugged, it’s not her fault if the grotesque is the inevitable result of her subject. I might get squeamish and back away from her imagery but I can still follow an honest, human voice trying to explain and share a painful reality with me.
The poem seems to be about the aftermath of a war, a battle, probably atomic. But is it that simple? Could it actually be a metaphor of any kind of traumatic loss or suffering? An ugliness or hurt that connects all of us whether we’ve been through war or not.
I’ve never experienced war. I’ve read about it. Seen documentaries that gave me nightmares. I stare at a poem like this and just wonder. Is it really that grotesque? Or just part of what we all are? It is a mess. Should I be surprised? Given our human history? That our imperfections can be that vivid? And can we accept them? In order to start cleaning up somehow. She’s asking for a flame thrower or act of God. Any better ideas?
If art is meant to be an expression of our humanity then it certainly won’t always be beautiful. If I look closely enough at this poem, put aside the repulsion, I may recognize something of my own ugliness and horror that I am turning away from and refusing to deal with.
The latest poetry video on the lywTube channel is a piece from this poem. I do invite everyone to check out the full poem on the Missing Slate journal website.
I’m getting ready to write something important to me and, of course, that means I’m procrastinating. A nicer way to look at it is that I’m attacking the beast from the side.
After several weeks of a trickling work flow, I called a stop and told myself to go back to doing something a little productive, and less daunting.
I have a stack of hand-written semi-professional writing journals spanning roughly the last 5 years that need transcription into an e-form. Why?
Find and Destroy evidence of any stupidity.
Salvage any ideas that I can develop.
Retain a relevant chronicle of myself – the stuff that I think will be important for me to remember in years to come, even if it means keeping some of my stupidity.
Purge the remaining fluff.
Transcribing old journals is like cleaning out and reorganizing your closet. What kind of closet you have depends on what kind of journal you keep. Is it for a specific project? Is it emotional therapy? Stream-of-consciousness? The main purpose of a journal for this writer is to observe my day for anything I might be able to grow as an idea. That’s the goal. Usually starts with ranting.
So, transcribing journals is a good job to take on while I’m procrastinating. It can lead to a forgotten idea or lead me back to the roots of my current ideas. There is a high risk of wallowing in the past while transcribing and I need to be mindful not to linger anywhere too long; try to look at the content with detachment. If a good idea from the past cannot help me look at my present or future with some difference, such ideas are impossible to activate and therefore useless baubles.
Yesterday, I was digging through 2014, dealing with the mind of a girl trying to hammer out a small book of poems – and as always, herself. I had some funny moments during the transcription. One where I thought I was brilliant. Declared myself my own biggest fan – which I know is a very small club – but was proud to lead, at least, yesterday. It’s a great feeling to not recognize something that I wrote and to think, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!”
And then there were the many other moments when I thought I sounded and looked (due to the quality of the handwriting) like a lunatic. Must have been my stream of consciousness exercises where I was just throwing out things that came to mind without any context. Thinking of George Harrison from the Beatles when I write that. He said in an interview that after taking LSD he realized expanding his mind through chemicals was limited and there had to be a better way without them. And if a Beatle said that, then you know it must be true … (just kidding). My point is that journaling is a very healthy and chemical-free way of not so much expanding your mind but exploring your mind, your subconscious and your soul – if you believe in that sort of thing. Go as far out as you want.
Through journaling, I’ve had a life-long and close friendship with myself which I believe translates into stronger self-awareness than people who don’t. Through transcribing this friendship, I return to lessons I’ve forgotten, and as a result, I don’t need to wonder why I continue to repeat into my present day. But it’s not just a nice feeling — it’s a useful feeling — to find that I can still respect and enjoy where I have been despite my mistakes.
The latest poet to be featured on the lyw Youtube channel is a peace activist. Michael R. Burch has many other titles but the selected poems that have been translated into lywtube all sound this particular chord.
Ironically, I received the green light from Mr. Burch to illustrate his poems about the same time that PBS ran their Vietnam War documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novak; a series that showed people from all different sides of that war who were so sure they were right at one time and not so sure at the end. It is a very well-rounded and thorough documentary guaranteed to make me shamefully thankful that I don’t know war and hate to that extreme.
The poems, like this documentary series, do not make me regret taking time for very somber subject matter. I consider it a privilege. They remind me that the world is still healing from a past that we inherited. The poet and the film-makers presented the subjects through intimate, human perspective, like meeting an injured family member who needs me to listen and care for him/her rather than some cold horror being reported on the evening news.
The first poetry video, Ali’s Song, is a poem that depicts Muhammad Ali’s stand against the draft into the Vietnam War and for equality. The second poetry video, Survivors, is a short yet powerful perspective on the definition of a survivor. The third, Something, is a poem dedicated to the children of the Holocaust and Nakba. The first poetry video is loud, rhythmical and strong. The other two are shorter but slower and quiet.
Ali’s Song … I hesitate to summarize anything about Muhammad Ali or his relationship with his country. However, that stand he made makes a great ruler to measure oneself by. Read the story (a version), ask yourself what or who you think was right? What was wrong? What would you have done? He had so many people telling him he was wrong and so many reasons to doubt his decision. And if he ever did, he didn’t show it.
I hope that I should be so ready to take as strong a stand as he did when an equally important choice is presented to me — and, that I am not wrong in my decisions. That’s just it, isn’t it? Yeah, we need more champions today, for sure, but with information being so suspect these days, how do we make sure what we do is right?
Ali’s public image as a heavyweight champion didn’t leave much room for talk about his soul and relationship with God but I think he would have really liked the references in this poem dedicated to him.
The other two poetry videos speak for themselves. They may be a lot quieter and slower than Ali and Ali’s Song but they are just as strong.
I would like to invite you to please check out these new poetry videos on the lyw channel. The text is best viewed in the highest HD setting in Youtube.
Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician, composer, performer and Torah teacher. She is one of the first poets featured on the lyw Youtube channel who dips directly and deeply into religion. In these featured pieces you will find some very nice, sharp balances : the big story – fragmented; a guide to life made personal, individual and introspective; ancient echoes of the past aligned with a modern life.
The poem, Florida, especially rang this way for me. At first, it seems a simple poem about an individual and common feeling of longing, however, now I consider it a look at a society that has learned to desire shiny baubles in such a profound way.
In the second poetry video, Ancient Studies: Coliseum Ghosts, the poet seems to be reconciling ancient wisdom with modern reality. I do not know the Torah and it is clear she writes about something very specific. But what did I find in this poem? A quiet character thinking about how time stretches connects her present life to old wisdom and how well they align. Also, I easily indulged the poem to be that of a writer, like myself, trying to write worth her salt today while minding the legacy of the masters before her. It’s a fine balance to learn from your masters and also have the courage to be your own.
I invite you to please enjoy these two poetry videos on the lyw Youtube channel your way.
1. Florida – Alicia Jo Rabins
2. Ancient Studies: Coliseum Ghosts – Alicia Jo Rabins
So ima gonna tweet once a weekday for a month; see if I can’t blow out or up a decent tune about poetry.
To date, I have only used Twitter as a supplementary tool to my blog. But no longer! The bird will take centre-stage on September 4, marking the beginning of a little poetry campaign through Twitter. I’ve renamed my Twitter account to the Lit Twit in honour of the campaign. During the Lit Twit campaign, I will tweet a couple lines of poetry (classical, contemporary and obscure), ending each week with the persistent question: Why do We Read / Write Poetry? A question that is open to anybody’s answer.
Let’s face it, Twitter is pretty severe for writers. WORDY writers, if that’s what you want to call me. 140 character limit? Why bother? Was my common thought.
But you know what I’ve learned to love about this limitation? I can amplify a piece of poetry that would not have nearly the same volume within the body of a larger whole. In fact, an isolated line of poetry in the frame of a tweet becomes almost like a visual message.
Poems tend to literally look a lot alike – a column with the right side in a waving line if you don’t justify your text. The longer and denser the poem, the more it looks like nothing more than a big column, never mind the text. And quite honestly, since I have a generational sickness of a short attention span, I am less inclined to dig in when poetry looks like that.
I chipped off a piece of a big marble column and presented that instead of the whole column it would certainly have a more unique shape and the size would be less daunting. That piece’s texture and particular veins might become more striking by this isolation. A small piece of poetry can often feel very big.
And it’s not like a haiku. I’ve cut a piece of poetry out of a larger whole. The places where I cut enhance the viewer/reader experience, especially if you stop to imagine what the rest of the column must have looked like; what the rest of the poem might have been saying.
All the living and at large poets who have granted me permission to recreate their poetry on Youtube have also granted permission to quote their work during this campaign. George Elliott Clarke, the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, included. We affectionately tweet him as GEC. I want to publicly thank him again for being so supportive. And the pieces that I struck from his larger poems, are really going to sing as tweets.
During this campaign, I’m also going to share my love for some masterful poets that until a few years ago were unknown to me.
Do you know Adunis? Aka Alī Aḥmad Saʿīd ‘Isbar? Can’t believe I stumbled upon one of his poems by accident a couple of years ago and he could have easily gone unnoticed my whole life. Today, I am a large and growing fan. It amazes me how his work can be both simple and complex at the same time. His poetry feels alive and moving. Flows like thoughts from my own head but shares, clearly, somebody else’s experience.
And Mr. Gerard Manley Hopkins? Spellbinder. That’s what I call him. Read Windhover loud and out loud and, hopefully, you get something of what I did from that poem. Can’t believe I’d never read his work until a few years ago as well.
So, some classical, some ‘obscure’ (to me anyway), some contemporary and some GEC all in a month of poetweeting.
If you are into Twitter and poetry, or think you could be, please find this campaign at #LillianYWong (aka the Lit Twit) starting September 4!
See Wern Hao is the latest, living and active poet to grant me permission to recreate two pieces of his poetry as video on Youtube. Given his penchant for quoting popular music as inspiration for his work both poetic pieces are complimented with dramatic, rock-esque music.
Promoting poetry on Youtube is still a slow build for me but these young, vital poets keep me going. While pursuing a degree in law and liberal arts, See Wern Hao is keeping his lit lit by participating in the 2017 Singapore Writers Festival and scattering his work, like seeds, over the fields of social media and online journals. He is everything that I think a young writer should be: active, available, smart, keeping busy and out of trouble. I totally made up the last part. I have no idea how much trouble he gets into. I do know that when I was in school, I spent a little too much of my time ‘doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before’ [quote from Raspberry Beret, Prince]. I also held the immature idea back then that all I needed to do to be a great writer was hone my craft — which included getting into interesting experiences to write about — and somehow and someway, publishers would find my talent like a beacon calling out to them. I was not nearly as active or in tune to my other options as Mr. Hao.
I also don’t know for a fact that See Wern Hao is all the things that I claim he is. I say it because I see it in the body of work that he has produced of himself online. I see it in his commitment to his poetry. It’s one thing to spread your work around and another to hone your craft. Two completely different things. He’s got the right balance and I can’t wait to see how his craft and career grows in years to come.
I am amazed to follow after this next generation of poets when just a few years ago I honestly believed that all our great poets were from older generations or generations gone by and poetry was a wilting art.
Please check out below the two new videos on the lyw Youtube channel … a channel exploring the online potential for shared and sharing literary works. **Videos are best seen in the highest HD setting otherwise the text looks blurry.
1. a poet is only madness … a poem by See Wern Hao
2. Home of the Professional Dreamers … a poem by See Wern Hao
A long time ago, I penned a peculiar short fiction about a house with a human personality who reacts to a stranger entering uninvited. She – the house is female – is empty only for the fact that a human does not own her.
Now Freudians might scoff that the writer clearly let slip some hidden meanings that are not so well-hidden, however – let me finish the story of the story before judgement:
The story begins with the house noticing a stranger across the street from her. Her initial response is to be afraid yet this man is no threat to her. He doesn’t break or break into anything. He is only a visitor who enters her house much like a beautiful song can enter the ears without need for an invitation or introduction. He, this song, settles by her fireside and takes a moment to rest his weary soul there.
And there it is! This story is about how a particular song had graced my ears once. That’s it. That’s all. I swear. I wanted to use fiction as a unique way to describe how we can feel so familiar with an artist, even though we have never met, simply by experiencing that person’s artwork.
Since I chose fiction as my medium, I didn’t want to take a direct approach. Go figure. I decided to build a metaphor around this experience.
The development of the fear in this story began when I separated the house’s character from myself and the idea. This is a creative writing method I often use to let my character be her own character and thus give the story a chance to grow in unanticipated ways. Boy, did it ever. Being a house, I instinctively made her more domesticated and thus more suspicious of strangers unlike lovers of art who are a little more free-wheeling with the unknown.
I realize my biggest mistake with this story. Without knowing immediately that the main character is the house, the tone of the story can be very creepy instead of very curious. This was the opinion of a friend who I had critique the piece. At the time, I brushed him off as closed-minded. Now I realize that he must have thought the main character was a human woman being stalked and invaded by a maniac and then becoming complacent about it. Totally not what I meant.
If I were to fix the story now it would be a whole new fiction influenced by the person I am today. And I still love the original intent and moment of this story so I will leave it in the past but with the added disclaimer: the main character is the house! And it’s a metaphor for crying out loud!
I heartily invite you to take a moment to enjoy the song, if not the story. The song was Anthony Hamilton’s Do you Feel Me? A very pretty, quiet and soulful tune. He (as in the song — not the artist!) still sleeps peacefully in a special place in my heart.
Fiction is dangerous! But let it. Let it make this writer be more careful and more precise. Let me be misunderstood about something that is meaningful to me so that I can get to a better meaning with another human being. This is a practice worth carrying over to things other than fiction-writing.
Another interesting note: the confusion related to this short also illustrates the stark difference in the way art and real life deals with strangers and strange ideas. When we experience a stranger through their artwork we are more open to letting them in; when we experience a stranger on our doorstep, we are less inclined. Reality makes this difference so sadly wise.
Recently, on the way to my day job, I remembered a film script idea that I had about 10 years ago. I went digging for that old idea in my files and couldn’t find it. I am sure I left it in the past for a reason and shouldn’t be too concerned by the loss. Good or bad, though, I would still like to see it again.
It’s funny how a creative idea that was never realized always feels precious like a rough gem. It could have been the worst idea in the world but as a fledgling bad idea it always has the potential to be magnificent. Funny, still, how I feel more attached towards ideas from my past than people from my past. Perhaps this is because people are not within my control, whereas an idea is — or should be – can be? If nothing comes of my idea, I am the only one to blame. I am that idea’s only hope. Nobody would have that idea quite like me. Certainly, nobody would love my idea quite like me.
Funny on funny. Because, again, if I had developed those ideas into the ugly monstrosities that usually occur when I develop script or novel ideas then that preciousness would be lost.
I did a major purge of creative files a few years ago mainly because I was advised that it was a very healthy thing to do for writers. This purge promised to help me to:
Let go of the past that is keeping me from experiencing the present or having any mind for the future.
If I have been dogging on a story for years and not getting anywhere, remember that I am mortal; my time here is finite.
Realize that an idea that is 10 years old or older probably has little relevance to me now or would need to be turned into a new idea to suit who I am as a writer.
Consider that since I probably have at least a few creative ideas a year — if all of my undeveloped ideas continued to follow after me, year after year, like tin cans attached to my waist with strings – I’d make such a royal din everywhere I went.
Accept that some ideas are just bad and deserve to be put to rest. I don’t know if I can ever believe this statement. After all, aren’t I the bad one if I can’t make something out of one of my brilliant ideas?
**Important Note: I’m only talking about literary ideas. An idea such as doing your own amateur household electrical or medical surgery. No. Don’t do it.
I think the lesson learned is that if I should have a good literary idea then I should develop it immediately. Embrace the sucking, as They say, and just do it — so it doesn’t follow after me for years and I don’t suffer the regret of needing to purge them. I bet some sort of angel or spirit weeps every time an idea dies before it’s even given a chance.
Ultimately, there is wisdom to this funny business. Whenever I have tried to develop a creative concept into a novel or script it has grown into a hairy kind of Frankenstein with lots of heads, arms and legs and eventually feels beyond my control to develop any further.
I do believe, though have not yet proven, that I must persevere long enough to see the beauty in the ugly reality of my idea. That’s life, isn’t it? An idea is an ideal. The ideal is perfection. Longer creative pieces will never turn out the way I had it in mind. The writer and the story develop together and the reality will always come out differently. The reality is where I will learn and test the truth about me, my story and my perspective on this life. Time is a factor as well. The act of stretching out an idea through linear time, page after page, scene after scene — it does stuff to an idea. It applies maddening and rigid logic to the abstract.
Obviously, if my storytelling craft adhered to a popular formula or template the work and product would be different. Ideas, I imagine, would have a clearer and smaller path to follow to completion. Kudos to writers who can successfully write longer creative pieces within a template. My monsters have always managed to escape such prisons.
And those are the few times when I have actually been very proud of my monstrosities.
For the life of me, no matter how hard I try, how many times I edit or how long I take to publish, blogging without the help of an editor always leaves me with useless commas running around my text. I don’t know how they get there! I don’t know how I miss them during my own editing process.
Sometimes I choose to write in fragmented sentences because I prefer to write like I speak whether it’s grammatically correct or not. However, there’s no good reason to have extra commas. It’s not cute. It’s not casual. It’s just wrong and annoying. Periodically, I also suffer from being a semi-colon fool. Since I don’t speak with a stammer, I must stammer in thought or think in a stop-n-go style. This could explain a lot about my issues with longer creative pieces. Oddly, my business writing does not suffer nearly as much from these short, staccato uuhh’s damaging my flow – it’s true, I swear! I suspect this is because I find less to hesitate about.
Regardless, useless commas are the most annoying thing about my blogging experience and expound the importance of the editor. In fact, if editors can save me from those maddening track marks, they should get equal, if not higher, credit for the work.
I am often faced with dualities when it comes to blogging. Whenever I see a benefit, there is always an almost equal risk. The blog’s charm is frequency and immediacy. It encourages me to leave the past in the past, write for the present and keep an eye to the future.
However, this freedom doesn’t provide the same level of polish and quality that would come from a traditional, slower form of publication and processing from established publishing companies or larger publications. Lone bloggers generally don’t have editing and marketing talent behind them.
However to that, there is more creative freedom in a less restricted environment such as a blog. I’m grateful for the way social media has loosened me up (a little) to imperfection and being ‘out’ instead of hidden in that small place in this world where I silently write. Social media provides access to a lot of other great writers and ideas as well as venues to develop a personal craft, story and following.
However, the literary arts industry is already small, and possibly shrinking, suggesting that online writers and publishers need to ally themselves with traditional, industry-standard publishers and academic partners to keep this market growing.
However, blogs in a blog aren’t meant to be permanent and often serve as a prelude to more important work or ideas. A cooking blog is meant to guide us to the more important work of cooking rather than admiring the blog (although, there is an unusual trend of people who would rather stare at pictures of good cooking than make it themselves). My literary blog is aimed at chewing on another literary piece or idea not the blog itself. Is it then worth getting a 3rd party editor to go through this stuff? Yes. At this point, I say, yes. Just because those commas are driving me mad! Blogs don’t need to be Nobel-prize winning stuff but they should be clean-er.
OR, one day, writers like me must evolve enough to be as much a 3rd party editor as a writer. Editing while writing is not a good idea because honestly, I don’t think it’s even possible. Writing needs a pair of fresh eyes to be critical about those little details. Could I learn to separate myself from me, after the draft, long enough to be an impartial editor to my own work? That certainly sounds like evolution.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the honour of coming to know one of Canada’s most esteemed poets, Mr. George Elliott Clarke, as GEC. Cuz that’s the name of the folder that carried all the drafts that helped produce the latest two poetry videos on the lyw Youtube channel.
Nevertheless, I always address him directly as Mr. Clarke. It was a privilege to work with his poetry in my own version of a creative universe. Lots of ways to get to know people but I doubt any compare to the layers and weaving of one’s creative work on another’s. Mr. Clarke very graciously approved and supported the idea of letting me illustrate two of his poems through video.
The first video, Everything is Free, is a gentle poem that lets space and breath build into a feeling of hope and renewal. Amazing dance photography seemed the best way to illustrate this poem. Both demonstrate clean, powerful, precise and beautiful movement even though everything is actually static — everything is actually free ;).
The 2nd video is a little more mysterious because it isolates two poetic fragments from a larger poem, from a larger series of poetry.
Both poetry videos show verses from the book, Whylah Falls, which tells the story of lovers in southwestern Nova Scotia in the 1930s, through dramatic monologues, songs, sermons, sonnets, newspaper snippets, recipes, haiku and free verse. [info c/o en.wikipedia.org]
But a small piece of poetry can sometimes feel very big, and I think the isolation of these fragments actually frees the reader’s imagination to fill in the missing gaps with their own lives, memories … recipes and songs.
When I read Each Moment is Magnificent, I interpreted it as a person who reflects on a river, metaphorical and literal, that has flowed through and around him all his life. I imagine a man lying on his back in an open field staring at the stars, while the sounds of the river flow over him like music. And the music isn’t all peace and harmony and lovey nature – it’s a strong current pulling at a resilient person.
Please check out the two latest additions to the lyw Youtube channel. I’d like to thank Mr. Clarke again, through this blog, for the pleasure of working with his poetry.
Everything is Free
Each Moment is Magnificent
I have to give props to special contributors for these videos. Carlo Cruz and Orestis Charalambous kindly donated their stunning dance photography to the first video. The use of the image of the Sissiboo (aka Sixhiboux) River was kindly donated by the Yarmouth County Museum. Thomas Hawke allowed the use of the piano image in the 2nd video. Full credit details are in the video.
Since I am recently out from the red velvet fiction of Ms. Angela Carter’s the Bloody Chamber, let’s talk feminist literary fiction and theory. That bloody chamber is right.
While reading her work, I admired what I detected as a hidden mirth under a proud and defiant spirit; like a Shakespearean Puck character. The writing is smart, beautiful, and sexy, to boot; regardless of gender.
When I love, then I dissect, literarily not literally. To get to know this writer better, a closer examination of the writing was needed, beyond the super-girl, sometimes gothic, persona.
And let me tell you there are some downright rock-star moments in this book. Rockstar, kick-ass, literary fiction. I never thought those adjectives would go together. I love it! She is her own freakin’ genre. (We should blog later about the definitions of literary fiction, as they are dubious; in need of an Other.)
I wondered about Ms. Carter and the era she grew up in. What was she searching for in her stories? What was she really telling me through her fiction? This trail brought me back to that word I haven’t used in a long time: feminism.
It was a confrontational word back when I knew it and when she was living it; there’s no doubt in my mind that it was. But she willingly put herself in that fight by claiming the title. Did she? Just by the stories she chose to publish in that Bloody Chamber: I think, yes. But how did she do it? Happily, defensively, aggressively, angrily? I am sure she needed a high level of certainty about who she was in order to write so sharply, almost like she couldn’t afford doubt.
While I was in school, whenever feminism came up throughout the history of English Literature, from antiquity, Middle Ages, etc, I felt I was being asked to define who I was as a woman, and if I couldn’t, then I had to confess ignorance of my sex and its role in shaping human history.
I was too inexperienced to honestly consider feminism on a personal level. I was also too busy trying to prove academic opinions when I barely knew enough to have any. The thesis statement: another bloody chamber.
I eventually learned that I don’t need to be defensive, or offensive, to be comfortable in my definition of myself as an intelligent woman because I make my mark everyday by how I choose to be. ie. Today, this is what a woman does. Tomorrow, this is what a woman does. And some days are stupider than others. I adhere to that highly ideal and poetic theory that each one of us essentially define all through being one. ButI appreciate that I enjoy this relaxed stance because those history-making fights for women’s rights, in the Western world, had already been waged for me.
Was Ms. Carter’s fierce brilliance a little defensive? Her fairy tales leave a lot unsaid. Fairy tales generally do. To go further into a fairy tale character might reveal an ordinariness behind that magic designed to dazzle us into following after her. I personally love it when legends become huggable but, sometimes, it is not easy to be both tough and soft.
P.S. On a side but interesting note, after noticing a few references to the Bible — ‘a mark of Cain,’ ‘Eve’s sin’, etc. — in the Bloody Chamber, I wondered if in the process of finding her sense of identity as a feminist and writer, in her era of individualism and defiance for the status quo, Ms. Carter wanted to challenge the biggest male – and arguably literary — presence in her Western culture as an equal — and that would be God. Now, that’s a pretty big statement but an interesting chew, not just for her, but her generation of writers. Whenever literary fiction has taken direct aim at religion there might be a case to be made for these writers wanting to face their own ‘God’ for an ultimate self-revelation. Think of the way religion was used as a form of repression during her lifetime. I might be onto something. Wonder what my former Lit profs would think of that thesis statement …
P.P.S. Was surprised that I could not find any satisfying illustrations inspired by this book …
Summer, somewhere is a poem with a slow build like a quiet voice speaking up in the corner of an empty room. Please check out the below link to this poetry video and give it time to build. Towards the middle it blooms into something intimate and thoughtful and emotionally intelligent.
Pieces of this long poem, by Danez Smith, are currently featured on the lyw Youtube channel, including a 2nd poem entitled, it doesn’t feel like a time to write.
I met Danez online during research for the 2015/2016 poetry campaign that launched the said Youtube channel. He is a young, active and talented poet producing as well as performing poetry live and online.
Poetry freshly pressed, virtually and dynamically in video, and also a poet fresh and too young to need pressing: a combination I rarely find when I look for poetry. But we’re going to change that, right? I’m on the hunt for those young, or old (<–can’t be prejudice against my own kind), living, contemporary, and activepoets who are interested in a growing, revitalized poetry market, one that isn’t niche, almost private or somebody’s sentimental hobby but one that is on the immediate pulse of our daily lives and modern zeitgeist.
I’ve copied below my favourite quotes as a sampler to the videos:
from the poem summer, somewhere by Danez Smith:
there, I knew how to swim but couldn’t.
there, men stood by shore & watched me blue. there, I was a dead fish, the river’s prince.
there, I had a face & then I didn’t. there, my mother cried over me
but I wasn’t there. I was here, by my own water, singing a song I learned somewhere
south of somewhere worse. that was when direction mattered. now, everywhere
I am is the center of everything. I must be the lord of something.
what was I before? a boy? a son? a warning? a myth? I whistled
now I’m the God of whistling. I built my Olympia downstream.
from summer, somewhere by Danez Smith:
if you press your ear to the dirt you can hear it hum, not like it’s filled
with beetles & other low gods but like a mouth rot with gospel
& other glories. listen to the dirt crescendo a boy back.
Link to poetry video of ‘summer, somewhere’ by Danez Smith:
Link to poetry video ‘It doesn’t feel like a time to write’ by Danez Smith:
[Recently, I remembered a passage from a poem entitled, ‘Open Letter to the South,’ by Langston Hughes, which I honour as an example of what I think is great about the American spirit.
Inspired by this recollection, I decided to write my own open letter to the United States of America to continue Mr. Hughes’ dialogue on hope, unity and openness. It is clear to me, throughout Hughes’ work, that he never gave up hope even though he felt often tested. This hope probably gave him his sharpest pain and yet he held on to that hope, showing so much courage and fortitude. Even in his bleakest poems, you can feel that hope keeping him writing. This passion riding on top of his craftsmanship? Of course, he’s my favourite poet. This creative letter ends with that noted passage from the poem:]
November 9th, 2016
Both you and my own city have done some things in the past few years that I don’t quite understand. Regardless of the difference in sizes, I feel as though both our societies have been seeking new answers to more than just economics and politics. This growing feeling of uncertainty has recently led me to reflect more on the things that I am certain about when it comes to you — and me.
Please allow me this moment to share with you, as you venture forward into this new chapter of your history, what this Canadian writer loves most about America. This Canadian writer loves:
The history of American art and culture.
The history of American sub-culture and the American teenager.
The legacy of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The American fight to define freedom and individual value.
From where I live, considering how much my life has been influenced by American art and culture, I know I would not be me without you. Before I knew anything about identity or language, I was surrounded by American culture. I survived my adolescent years under your willful banner and I estimate that at least 30% of my academic and literary studies were steeped in Americano.
Let’s face it: the first teenager must have been American. Some kind of rebellious spirit has always sung out of everything grim and great moment of your last century and helped to develop an incredible range in music, art, story and sport. You have always had an unyielding need to express individuality, despite societal demands for money and guns and other such short-term and limited methods of gain and communication. A subculture isn’t necessarily a good thing but I think their existence indicates a society that is strong enough to question and validate its authority and status quo; and thus in a better position to evolve; though in an often defiant way.
America, you are a society where a voice will find the strength to rise and prevail, despite whatever odds, and actually win, many times. Lots of people fight for freedom and rights; few have been as successful as you. You pave roads literally and figuratively for physical, mental and artistic transportation in a way that no other country has.
Sometimes, you have been accused of arrogance and aggression; of being both culprit and champion for freedom and individual rights. Ironically, and rather poetically, some of your fiercest battlegrounds appear to have been against yourself, being party to the kind of oppression that inspires you to take a stand.
A few months ago, I saw a great documentary series on the Roosevelts which reminded me of two great leaders whose like this world has not seen in a very long time. Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt were two humans who accomplished many great things for more than themselves. They were not perfect and made mistakes yet their legacy reminds me that I don’t have to fear failure in pursuit of my greatest goals because I can do just as much damage and suffer just as much disappointment by settling for something easier, safer and more common. Both of these leaders had reason and opportunity to settle for more common and smaller lives. If FDR had let his disability daunt him or if Ms. Roosevelt had accepted the limitations set upon her gender, my life, I’m sure, would have suffered, if not theirs.
America, like the Roosevelts, has not been perfect yet you are a country where perfection has more freedom to seek itself. You are a country of new beginnings for new immigrants sprung from traditions that have travelled from and to almost every part of this world. Your dominant language, English, is an amalgamation of those new and old ideas and ideals. In fact, might I suggest that your cultivation technique for ideas, finding a way to bloom regardless of your circumstances, is perhaps your greatest resource and strength.
Dear America, please continue to be united as the states of America and under your banner continue to kindle the defining process for freedom and courage for all, although, personally, I would prefer your methods be through love and art rather than guns and politics. Remembering who you were when I was young, what will you be today and tomorrow?
I end this open letter with a quote from one of your greatest poets:
We did not know that we were brothers.
Now we know!
out of that brotherhood
Let power grow!
We did not know
That we were strong.
Now we see
In union lies our strength.
Let unions be
The force that breaks the time-clock,
Ralph Steadman learned to draw not to make pretty pictures but to apply drawing like a weapon; to invite people to observe his world and actively think and act upon it.
In the documentary film, For No Good Reason, Ralph Steadman is shown starting a picture with a splash of ink on a canvas. He explains that when he doesn’t know what to do, he does that. Some artists may think that sounds like – a poorly-planned composition. Objectively, there is little that could dispute that. Nevertheless, throughout the documentary we get to see what Steadman makes out of such a random act: and his career, his talent and his body of work is also, indisputably, impressive.
This is a refreshing documentary that advocates on the abstract side of art; the value of bringing a haunted image out of our imagination for us to have in material or digital form. And this is not just abstract art. This is abstract art often driven with a personal message from an artist who is not shy about his opinions be it politics, war, society or anything else.
A great abstract or conceptual artist, to me, is somebody who creates beyond the aim for beauty, skill, craft and ego, and has enough beauty, skill, craft and ego to pull that off. The great thing about art like this is that there is nothing to measure it by. It either says something to you or it doesn’t. It either excites you or it doesn’t. To discuss how good the art is, or to compare styles or skill, is irrelevant and almost stupid. Just look at it; take what you will and move on.
That Steadman has art skills is beside the point because his stand-out gift is that he can draw a story that no photograph or other human eye could capture. How? Well, I guess, first, he let himself.
An artist who would never start a composition without a plan will also never know what he/she could do in a similar situation.
Stream-of-consciousness writing is the most similar concept for writers: just spewing, or spewing off a subject, until something usable comes out. I lost interest in this type of exercise a long time ago because I wound up weeding through a whole lot of crap. However, I’m glad to know it’s a tool in my holster if I ever want to explore that side of me again. Though my skills may not be good enough to make ‘art’ out of random acts, stream-of-consciousness is still a great exercise in mental and emotional cleansing. Writing coaches often recommend this exercise to get motors rolling and to cure writer’s block.
Honestly, I think an artist needs a little more than just skill to pull off art like this. The artist also needs a high level of faith and trust that the artist is going to find something from that starting place of nothing.
I recommend this documentary for any kind of artist, even if you find abstract art offensive. His reasons, for starting with no reason, are fascinating and his career and dedication to his craft is inspirational. I can see how his style is very good at keeping an artist’s mind hungry and courageous about and during the creative process. It seems to have kept Steadman very agile and youthful.
I will end this short blog with some favourite quotes from the film:
I go out of my way to make something that is as unexpected to me as anyone else.
Anything can exist on that piece of paper.
You can start something and not know how it’s going to come out in the end. If you did, what is the point of doing it?
This poem was actually inspired not by the book that it is named after but by the writer who wrote it.
And even more truthfully, this poem was inspired not so much by this writer, but by a newspaper article written about this writer where, clearly, I found enough to run with.
A great example of how all our truths are based on interpretation and that when you write about somebody else, you might actually be writing more about yourself.
I have, in fact, through this poem, created a fictional character, based loosely on a living writer. The living Xinran is nota sum of her writing or writings written about her; by me or anybody else. This fiction, this poem, allowed me to draw and squeeze out something that I discovered I valued deeply as a result of a story about a writer.
Her name is Xinran. All that I know about her is from a book review I read many years ago in a Toronto Star newspaper article, China’s hidden history, which is fortunately still online. I was inspired by her role as a witness to people who not only needed a voice but a listener. Despite needing this voice, these people wouldn’t tell their stories easily. It was not in their culture to do that. I love that this writer persevered to draw the stories of these people out.
But what is the true source of this poem’s inspiration? I never read the book. I never went any further than this one article. I didn’t research any further for her biographical data.
And what if I should discover the real Xinran is nothing like the inspiration I allowed myself to imagine? One thing remains irrefutable: this is a poem that stands as a tribute to a writer who bears compassionate witness to people who really needed one.
I always intended on reading the book. Honestly, I suspect that the reason I haven’t is because I fear the book might make me sad. I should remember that the article was an inspiration despite having sad realities. And we can’t be afraid of our messed-up human history and nature, if we hope to find more great examples of human love, courage and perseverance.
P.S. Through the course of making the video for this poem, I found an amazing artist named Chiang Yee. Please check out the legacy of this Silent Traveller.
The book selling industry can sometimes come up with strange categories to help consumers make novel choices.
The last category to bemuse me is called, New Adult Fiction (too old to be a teenager; too young to be … what? Like me?!?)
Upgrading this classification system, for helping people to identify themselves and their preferred novels, seems a strange paradox of providing many options while narrowing them down to a few.
Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I got a job at a Coles bookstore. In this little bookstore, where I barely worked, a ‘New Adult Fiction’ section did not exist. The Young and Adult Fiction sections were purposely divided only for cautionary reasons. One was, for the most part, grossly simplified and stereotyped and the other was explicitly grossly simplified and stereotyped. Everything else in between was just fiction, unless already caught by a fan-favourite genre like Mystery, Science Fiction / Fantasy, etc. At the time, the Mystery Section had already spawned a sub-genre called Suspense. Later, I started seeing Thrillers and Psychological Thrillers. The weirdest genre I ever saw was called ChickLit. I’ve never read any of the books in this category but apparently, it raised some controversy.
The youth section, back in my youth, was called the Young Adult (YA) section. Any fiction for those younger than pre-teen went to the Children’s section. Though there were a few good novels slotted in Young Adult, like S.E.Hinton’s, The Outsiders, generally, the Young Adult section was pretty pulpy (starting us young on those pre-processed carbs).
The Adult Fiction section was very specific, too. It was on a high shelf and consisted of two rows and in plain sight of the cash register desk. I think I remember some of them having sleeves to conceal part of the book cover, too.
Today, Adult Fiction has broadened in definition, depending on where you buy books. It is no longer simply a discreet way of separating erotica from hands that may be too young. Adult fiction can also mean fiction that involves adults or adult concerns (whatever that means). New AdultFiction means fiction for ‘newly-made’ adults: people who are fresh out of school, assuming that they all went to school, and learning how to be independent.
I see how these fiction categories are trying to help readers make choices, however, to me, a good novel is a good novel. The Lord of the Rings should be in the same section as To Kill a Mocking Bird.
This opinion is, admittedly, not that practical. Some people really like wizards and they should be able to easily buy books that have wizards in them and not swim through a hundred other books that clearly have absolutely no wizards.
Categories and sub-categories, are also especially practical for large, physical bookstore. These stores are huge and it would be exhausting to browse the entire store for a book with wizards in it. E-bookstores, however, can offer key word searches to help consumers pinpoint exactly what they seek without needing to make more precise categories to help them.
Practicality aside, part of the beauty of reading a fictional story is opening ourselves up to the unknown — at least a little. The more we already know about what’s in the book, the less imagination and wonder that goes in. This strongly applies to writers as much as readers.
My favourite way to choose a book is to read the back and a few pages and see if it grabs me enough to go a little further.
Imagine you were searching for a new partner. You’re single and want companionship. You think you know what you want and you look for it. But imagine getting exactly what you want in somebody. That somebody has nothing new to offer, hasn’t any of his/her own thoughts, ideas or desires that go outside of your own expectations. This might suffice for some people but imagine the flip-side: You meet somebody who has some things that you can safely expect, and want, yet this somebody introduces you to new and wonderful ideas and experiences that you could not have imagined on your own. I think it was in the film/theatre play, Six Degrees of Separation, that suggested that people are like doors or doorways that lead you to new and strange places. Let the cover of a novel be that door. Check it out. Venture in a little. It won’t hurt (hopefully) and it may lead to a pleasant and transformative surprise.
In the case of classifying fiction towards a particular age group, maybe I’m paranoid (actually, I’m pretty sure I am), but I see a subtle risk here. The lucky books that get to fill these categories such as ‘Young Adult’ indirectly imply that these books define not only the genre but the concerns and likes of this age group and what it means to be this age group; thus it becomes creatively and socially stifling. Keeping precise categories hinders the category’s ability to grow and creates fixed expectations.
I have actually read many Children’s Fiction novels as an adult such as, the Little Prince, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, and found these novels had a lot of secrets and wisdom that would be lost if not read as an adult. I’m glad I don’t feel the need to be a child to pick up these books. 😛
Unfortunately, the flip-side is not true. I don’t think children should venture into Adult Fiction, new, or otherwise, to be adventurous. If we really want a useful new definition for the ‘Adult’ label in bookstores, it should just be an aid to children to not be bothered, any earlier than they need to be, by what adults concerns themselves with these days.
WordPress allows me to subscribe to one artist’s journey the way traditional forms of publishing never did. I am always comparing, because I am still always amazed, at how different the literary world is from just twenty years ago.
Today, I launch two new poetry videos on the lyw YouTube channel, because a WordPress poet and artist allowed me to play with some of the work on her site which I had admired.
SB is a poet and artist on WordPress at Sabiscuit.wordpress.com. You’d think that I would be less interested in making a video of poetry that was not my own. It’s actually a very creative and engaging process to make them. The research and development of these videos open me to new ideas for my own creative writing. The David et Goliath video-poem has some bright celestial punch to it and is nicely counter-balanced by the softer and quieter video-poem, Luminous. These videos feature a writer and an artist who has a talent for working with the different shades that can happen with light.
Please check out the links to these videos at the bottom of this blog, and let’s let the work speak for itself.
This opportunity to work with another writer’s poetry is very unique to my current literary climate. Most of the real books (as in not e-books) in my personal library are of great masters whose human bodies have long since passed on or, they are writers who I could never imagine writing back to me if I had a question about their work. I will most likely never have direct contact with them. I will most likely never have access to their daily, personal thoughts as writers or human beings. My impressions of these writers remain as theories in my head. This is a good thing, in many ways. For one, eventually, I learned to answer some of those questions myself thereby truly making these writers’ novels and poetry my own — as a reader. There is a lot of value in giving myself that time to be immersed in another’s artwork.
However, this WordPress/social media thing does something for writers that I believe may be historical, at least to my creative writing world. Not only are creative writers given more power to be their own ‘companies’, make their names their brands, but we do this by showing how human and individual we are as artists. Twenty years ago self-publishing was either an act of desperation or that of a hobbyist. Writing on a day-to-day personal level, as bloggers often do, would not have been deemed professional. Bloggers would have probably been classified as self-publishing columnists back in my day. Today, social media allows writers to develop an unique kind of relationship with their readership, one that can be both social and professional. On this plane, writers present themselves as humans, just like everyone else.
Well, of course, writers arehumans, you might say. And I would tell you that it was a popular way to think, when and where I was a wee lass, that writers, as people who were trying to be true observers of life, were isolated and different from the rest of society. Either we were too brilliant or too spaced out from observation to fit well with the rest of society The fact is that we have had some amazing writers in our human history who have had the wisdom and foresight to fit the more flattering version of that persona. However, there is a more heart-warming connection to those great writers when I allow myself to observe, even in the most brilliant of them, their beautiful human flaws.
Writers on social media, such as SB, present literature and art that is accessible, responsive and actively part of everyday life. When we think of writers like that, I think, this will go a long way to make fiction and the literary market more accessible in popular media.
These are new lit thoughts for me and I thank you for letting me share my chew on them through this blog. I’m not quite sure about them and am curious to see how they will evolve with time.
Here are those video links that I mentioned earlier. I hope you enjoy them:
Until a few days ago, I did not know that literary fiction was popularly known as boring fiction; challenging, yes; questionable, often; but, not boring.
I was actually preparing a short blog series to celebrate literary fiction when coincidentally during my research I was trying to finish a debut novel of a now, award-winning, literary writer.
Marcel is an eloquent and charming short novel, leaning heavily on the passive side. The back of the book said the main character is haunted by the mystery of a family member’s life and death. But there is no haunting. The boy is not haunted. More like mildly curious, in a very mute way. I wasn’t expecting a horror novel but, at least, a character more on edge.
The back of the book also promised me a dramatic discovery of the dead man’s letters yet I was halfway through the novel and no letters. Novels are not scripts, so it’s okay that this writer did not prescribe to needing the main action to start any time soon. It’s good to have variety in our media art. Like having Tolkien’s Ents in our midst. Instead of letters, I was steeped in poignant and poetic descriptive writing, heavy like the air on a hot summer evening. This had been enough to get me to buy the book but the lack of motivation could not get me to finish it. Life is too short.
Subtle is another word used on the back of this book cover. Yes, I got the subtle. Subtle and passive. A challenging combination for any writer to maintain for even half of this short novel especially for my generational sickness of a short attention span.
I said in my last blog that I feel like I meet writers in their fiction and that this is one of the most interesting ways of meeting another person. How interesting a story is depends on how skilled the writer is and how much a writer is willing to give of him or herself. I can’t believe that some writers just aren’t interesting. If I’m not interested in a book either it’s not my type, or more likely, it’s because the writer is holding back or some thing is holding the writer back.
Marcel is the first novel of a writer who was probably fresh out of school. While reading it, I felt like I was meeting a writer who didn’t know how to present himself and so instead, presented what he learned in school over a footprint of human history. At least, I think so. I never finished the book. The writing is very safe and proper.
I do think this literary novel is boring but it’s still better than anything I could have conceived. If I had written a novel fresh out of school, I would have come out with some weird, violent metaphor for my soul that would have frightened the daylights out of anybody. Fortunately, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to go all the way to a full manuscript. This writer did, and went on to continue to evolve his craft.
Who said all literary fiction had to be good anyway? Just like, who said all literary writers write on a higher plateau?
Nevertheless, literary fiction is still the art of creative writing in one of its higher forms; when writers reach for this, we are bound to get the crazy bad with the crazy good. It is still the genre that makes genres and our known archetypes and plot scenarios.
Literary fiction can suck. However, I believe it is only boring when writers let themselves be held back or discouraged. Who was that first person to coin the phrase, ‘Embrace the sucking’? Though its origins may be military, I think brave artists take the phrase to a whole new level.
I was looking for some light reading and picked an e-book that boasted a modern gothic spin on my favourite childhood fairy tales. Red Riding Hood as a modern day biker! Goth my Grimm! What a great concept! I was severely disappointed to find that it was little more than an adolescent attempt at applying erotica to my favourite childhood fairy tales. Not only did the book not deliver what it said it would; it was also poorly conceived.
What gets me is that these writers were already riding on the backs of incredible stories and thus in a great position to ride right into another great story. Gothic fiction is not equivalent to erotica and erotica does not have to be equivalent to cheap and stupid. I am amazed at the use of the term ‘adult’ or ‘mature’ to the two-dimensional story-lines and characters that often make the erotica literature genre. Intelligence, including emotional intelligence, is way sexier; like all things that take more time … and effort … and imagination to get.
For example, think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: this is a story where both the erotic and gothic successfully merged but did not beat the story to death. The story is about a vampire and his human victims, how they strive to exist and survive in the same world and how their natures clash. The Freudian metaphors in this novel are far from subtle yet the story goes without a single, sexual encounter. In this novel, the gothic and erotic were better developed because the whole story was better developed. The erotic scenes or elements actually did something to illustrate or develop the story or characters – not just as a result of oh, somebody hot showing up.
When I read the description of this e-book, I was hoping for a more kick-ass version of the damsel-in-distress archetype of Red Riding Hood, exploring a character who takes a more head-on approach to her path from innocence to maturity, and maybe even a reflection on her own primitive nature. That could have been very sexy.
Our classic fairy tales do what this fantasy-type fiction should have; compare our strangest and most impossible dreams against what we think we can’t do in our waking life regardless of whether we are emphasizing a specific genre in the telling (erotic, gothic, horror, etc.). This theory does not work with porn because that is not the purpose of this type of literature. If I was looking for porn and got a great story, instead, I’d have been just as irritated, right? Yet, this e-book seemed to aim for a hybrid between the two and, I guess, due to lack of focus, it failed.
I firmly believe that even the pulpiest writer is looking to eventually get into his/her ‘own’: the kind of stories that go beyond genre, formula or, in this case, using fiction as a tool. Because writers are artists, too.
Even as a kid, as much as I liked an entertaining, plot-driven story, it was easy to recognize the difference in the stories that momentarily distracted and the ones I cherished; these stories gave more. These cherished books weren’t all classics or critically acclaimed but they all showed a writer’s passion. Reading a person’s fiction is like stepping into the back of a person’s head. Because it’s fiction, I’m not stepping into blood, bones and brains; I’m stepping into the dream of that writer’s best craft: following a clever rabbit down his/her proverbial rabbit-hole. This is true even in the most formulated genre-fiction, if it is written well. These are the books that make the genres that other writers chase.
In fact, I think even porn could be literary. The writer just has to try! First and foremost, pornographic literature needs to have sex in it. To give its readership anything else for the sake of a better story would just by annoying. So, in that case, the best approach would be to start the story right in the act. Don’t even bother explaining who they are or how they got there. Cut out the superfluous, I always say. Dialogue? Forget that, too. Let the action speak entirely for itself and develop character and conflict based on how the players physically react to each other and their given environment. With this concept, a pornographic story can still fulfill its purpose and also provide an incredible stretch for any writer to develop a compelling story with such limitations.
I have heard that the type of erotica that I am criticizing in this blog has made a come-back in the market, bolstering fiction sales where the ‘literary’ kind has not. I must, therefore, accept that my opinion might not be the popular one. But, I ask, who cares what way the market is swinging, when, as a writer, you have a choice between making a real connection with your readers or just something you think they’ll buy? Especially when you are already working off another piece of art? Even a bad piece of art is better than not trying at all.
I have not written a real bite of fiction in years and I wondered if the ability to make-that-believe had been withered too far. Everybody, writers or not, should write a little fiction, once in a while. It’s just good exercise. However, that can be hard to do if we don’t already practice creativity on a daily basis. Like physical fitness, the less creative we are, the more inclined we are to be even less. Why? Why try something different? Is that really an efficient use of time?
Ironically, try to stay away from creativity – or fitness – for too long, and sure enough, life will demand that you be more creative – or athletic. For example, bus charging your way needs you to muster a quick burst of energy. Or, a boss, partner, or nemesis requires a better, or alternative, way of doing, saying, showing something. And at these times, we do not want our creativity to hobble out of its dilapidated hobbit-hole and start poking at ideas with a tentative stick. We want our creativity to spring forth and get its nose and paws into everything; all the while barking, drooling and snarling for the affection and attention of our best ideas.
Can anybody out there describe what it feels like to have a creative breakthrough? Does it feel something like reinventing the whole world? A new pair of eyes all of a sudden? To have awe for something so much that attention and motivation are effortless. Does the world suddenly seem more awake and colourful, if for a moment?
Imagine doing that every day! It’d feel great but we’d surely combust. Getting a great creative buzz, despite how good it feels, can also be very disruptive to a daily life. Reality needs me to come back to earth, too soon and too fast, and refocus on more daily and routine needs.
However, if we train our creativity regularly, like an athlete trains, we could stay more animated more often and still get our jobs done. For example, if a couch potato suddenly got up and ran 5K, that potato would be cooked! Ready for sour cream, chives and a dusting of paprika! A well-trained athlete, however, might treat a 5K run as a warm-up. There are creative artists out there that engage themselves this way every day. (But, I hope that never becomes common-place for them.)
Writing, and reading, fiction is a great tool for flexing creativity. No matter how short it is, fiction requires pure creativity – even when a writer/reader tries to base fiction entirely on fact. Fiction requires a new version of how things may seem to the writer/reader and always gives a new pair of goggles to look at the world through by the end of the piece. I have known this fact since the day I fell in love with fiction.
How great those new pair of googles are depends on the level of passion for the piece and the level in which you let yourself believe in what you write/read.
But how do I start, after being away so long and becoming so creatively conservative and slow?
First, I need to remember some basics. Fiction is not pulled out of the air. My stories come from only one source and that is me. Any research, any fantasy or science fiction and any external inspiration have to first be absorbed by me and my perspective before they can enter a story that I write or interpret through reading.
So, I could write a fiction on anything that I am able to imagine but who wants to write about anything they can imagine? I should write, or read, about something that I care about, or believe I could/should learn to care about. This provides passion for the story and characters that I am building in my mind. This makes the experience a lot more personal and challenging to write well.
By comparison, it would be easier to write fiction if the subject didn’t matter to me; that is, if I just wanted to tell an entertaining story. A writer/reader can still get quite a buzz from this kind of story, too. Unfortunately, for me, that’s always fallen under the category of why don’t I just write about anything? And hence, I have never found this type of fiction easier to write. I think eventually, every writer/reader will wants something more personal and challenging — and still be thoroughly entertained. A beautiful thing about creativity through fiction is that even if you only set out to spin an entertaining yarn, eventually, your own passion will seep into the story. Fiction is a great way to learn about yourself; to truly read in between the lines, yours and everybody else’s.
However, there is another important given to writing/reading fiction. After I pick a subject that I care about or think I can care about, I then need to try to read and write about the subject away from myself – try to accept the subject from the different perspectives, settings and situations that are presented or available. It seems like an odd thing to do but how else are you going to get new creative perspective on something you care about or think you know all about? How else is it going to become fiction?
So here is one great example as to why creativity, through fiction, can give us a great burst of energy. It works on some extreme paradoxes. I start and base my story entirely on me, I then try to distance it as far away from me as my imagination can take me. With that distance, so many things can happen. Down the rabbit hole as they say and – well, you have to try it, to believe it. Thus, the art of making believe.
Alice in Wonderland rabbit image c/o: http://aliceinwonderland.wikia.com/wiki/File:627x900_1669_White_Rabbit_2d_illustration_alice_in_wonderland_rabbit_fantasy_concept_art_picture_image_digital_art.jpg
WordPress is a lot like a farmers’ market for writers and artists. I separate writers from that lot because no matter what your art-form, or passion, all bloggers have to be writers to some extent.
And that’s essentially it, we are offering our specialty ‘wares’ directly to the consumers, without any promise of permanency or consistency and providing:
less refrigeration 🙂
less time in storage*
Fresh-out-of-the-oven press. I still hear what the publishing industry use to say about self-publishing 15-20 years ago: that a writer should never self-publish unless he or she had exhausted all other avenues. Self-publishing had a stigma that meant you were a writer who couldn’t meet industry standards. Bloggers don’t have agents, editors, and the years of expertise from an established publishing house to foster their talent and work. Bloggers don’t need to go to school for anything to start blogging and publishing. That rawness certainly does show sometimes. Internet readers have to read a lot of bad stuff with our good stuff.
But the truth is, the same could be said of published and approved works. And another truth that I have always suspected is that there were never any real industry standards to be met — well especially not in the literary genres.
Artists make the standards for their art-forms. Writers make the standards for their genres with our readers. And it’s only when we can prove that we can sell those standards that the publishing industry is more likely to get involved. Their side is the business. The writing is not.
I would argue that creative writing is not a commercial art at all — even in its most commercial form. Nobody picks this profession to be rich — even pulp writers rolling in the benjamins — I’d bet money that at some point their pulp characters and pulp plots eventually start to express a little more. It’s inevitable because how can a writer resist the opportunity?
What are the benefits of a farmers’ market for writers?
Farmers’ markets help maintain important social ties, linking rural and urban populations and even close neighbors in mutually rewarding exchange.
market traffic generates traffic for nearby businesses
buying at markets encourages attention to the surrounding area and ongoing activities
by providing outlets for ‘local’ products, farmers’ markets help create distinction and uniqueness, which can increase pride and encourage visitors to return.*
Reduced transport, storage, and refrigeration can benefit communities too:
lower transport & refrigeration energy costs
lower transport pollution
lower transport infrastructure cost (roads, bridges, etc.)
less land dedicated to food storage*
You might be thinking, ‘some of these farming references are stretching this comparison a little thin’, but stay with me:
Refrigeration: bloggers don’t sit on their drafts as long as print writers do. It’s often very fresh and can easily put writers on a rhythm to be producing regularly, building skill, talent and style — more publicly than is probably good for us, though. As well, the more we publish, the less we fear the ‘outing’ or ‘coming out’ process. Our work doesn’t have time to become chilled by fear and insecurity.
Lower transportation infrastructure: sometimes we really need a good editor, huh? I tell you, published typos and bad grammar are the worst shame. However, the fewer hands that a draft goes through, the better editors we become of our own work. And it’s got a more ‘organic style’. With any art-form, there is the risk of too much polishing and perfecting that can scrub the soul out of a piece. This leads to long periods of refrigeration.
Less land dedicated to food storage: no more drafts decaying in your files. And if you’re older like me, you might have a few piles of hard copies of older drafts cluttering your living space.
I know I’ve started some controversial subjects in this blog and a lot more can and should be said about it. However, blogs were not meant to be long and I’ve already gone too far – in more ways than one. I will leave everything else that needs to be said to linger suggestively in cyberspace.
Today’s video and blog concludes the poetry campaign on the lyw YouTube channel, having gone for approximately five months. It’s been a great ride into social media and the business of other poets and artists online.
In five months, I was introduced to the first young, living poet for who I would become a fan. My research dug up master poets from the past, as well as from different cultures and languages, that would have never existed for me without this campaign. I animated poems both old and obscure, strange and passionate through music and video; watching some of my own poems dance this way and that. I connected with strangers online knowing next to nothing about them other than a common interest in art and poetry.
Since the purpose of this campaign was to promote poetry appreciation, it seems ironic that I found my own appreciation was not as active as I thought. I write poetry. I certainly like my own enough. And I like the poets that helped to form my style and tastes. Most of these poets are writers who I found when I was an active student of literature; that was over 20 years ago.
With old poetry always evolving, or being discovered, and new poetry constantly being written, I can hardly say I am current.
With reflection, I think I must have assumed that today’s poetry was just like me: an older generation writer holding onto an older generation’s genre and therefore that genre must still be stuck in its past glory. Thus, I must have further assumed that the poets that I looked up to 20 years ago, made up the same master canon for great poetry today. My old canon was also limited to what was available to my North American education. Poetry is international and multi-cultural.
As this campaign’s goal was to stretch the shrinking niche market of poetry; so did my own revitalization begin. How priceless is that?
I hope that poetry explodes on the Internet. I think it is the best place for it now. At this point, it will not make anybody rich. Writers can be liberated by that fact. Poetry can be made exclusively for the craft, and certainly NOT made exclusive to a few.
However, there is a risk to poetry storming the Internet. It is the same risk that many Internet news sites and social media tools are under: too much filler content. Content for the sake of content should be an Internet sin. Readers are drowning in this stuff. Blank space is beautiful and better on the eyes and mind than some of the ‘news’ I have read online. Pinterest has become one of my favourite social media tools because it values visual content over text. This may seem contradictory for a writer of words, however, in this bombastic Information Age, less is so much better.
So poetry not only needs to take advantage of the benefits of the Internet, it can be part of its solution. Don’t let your wonderful poetry get buried under six feet of fillers. And if you have a 50 page epic poem that is itching to be read, you just need to be extra inventive in the way you present that online. There are lots of free, online tools and tutorials on how to do that. Plain text is not the way to use a platform that hosts text, images, audio and video, as well as social networking tools.
Also another idea for the dream of a Poetry Revolution online: I think copyright permissions need to be easier to request and get. Publishers need to make it easier to share their publications for non-commercial use and get more master poets (meaning: more than the usual suspects) actively read online. Let’s make them the next YouTube sensations! If kitten videos can get a million viewers then so can our best poets.
I would also love to see more living, contemporary writers have their own professional websites or web profiles that make them easier to contact. The stereotype of writers who must work in extreme isolation and loneliness has never been a healthy one; even for introverts, like me. For writers who are available online, people might be so moved by your work that they will promote your work through their own social media. Writers online make it easier to share their great work, as well as contact, for proper permission, to use their work.
Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you enjoy the last video installment to our poetry campaign on the lyw YouTube channel. The theme is simple: these are clips from poems I found during the poetry campaign that are fabulous but didn’t fit any of my other themes:
When music and poetry meet, it can be a beautiful thing. Sometimes, music can carry and keep words in our minds far better than static words on a page. A vocalist can interpret and add an emotional connection to the words. With music, a poem can become an anthem.
So what’s the difference in a song, once poetry gets involved? This is open to interpretation, and argument, as with any art-form that wants to evolve. However, I think it’s safe to say that lyrics, which are also poetry, shouldn’t sound too stupid or naked once the vocals or music are taken away.
Songs lyrics can actually be considered a separate literary genre because they build meaning and emotion in a unique way. Through repetition, tone and rhythm, songs have an incredible power to communicate and tell a story that goes all the way back to tribal times. The power of song can actually change the meaning of a story by the way the words are sung. Spoken word poetry works in a similar way; however, this is only one genre of poetry and does not define all of poetry.
A song lyric needs more, or even less, than a strong message or emotion or a desire to be serious, intellectual or important to be poetry. Of course, that’s arguable.
However, the most irrefutable statement about poetry is that it is not prose. Why does a writer choose to say something in this ‘different’ way? Just to be weird or something? Hopefully, when we choose to express ourselves in verse it is simply because we think poetry expresses, whatever we are expressing, better than prose; and becomes proof that sometimes the human race feels and communicates beyond ordinary speech and language.
So this week’s video, as part of the ongoing poetry campaign on the lyw Youtube channel, is a poetry compilation, taking pieces of lyrics from popular Western music. I was so sure I could quote at least one Smith’s song in this video but, alas, these are lyrics that not only need the singer and music behind them but a strong dose of teenage angst.
I started this video with the opening lines from Homer’s, the Odyssey. It is not a song itself but captures beautifully why literature would want to get up and sing.
Some extra notes about the making of the video:
Google searches for poetic song lyrics are not adequate. I had to dig through my own library for songs thus totally outing myself and my corresponding generation. Though part of this video may seem like I am a Baby Boomer, that is actually one good indication that I am, in fact, Generation X.
The second note, about the making of this video, is that I became acutely aware that my search was limited by the English language. Music is a multi-national and multi-cultural art that unites. Half my collection is not in English. I have no idea what these songs are saying and they still mean so much to me.
Reading out loud is an excellent exercise to strengthen mental and physical coordination, as well as improve our ability to speak with confidence. The type of literature that we choose to read aloud can reap even greater benefits. Poetry over, say, cereal boxes, can turn a practical exercise into an indelible moment.
The practice of reading aloud improves verbal articulation, pronunciation, flow and confidence in how we introduce ourselves to people, groups or deliver a presentation. We might be surprised at how awkward reading aloud can be compared to reading silently, if we don’t do it often. The eyes, the mouth, the vocal chords are all going at the same time that our minds are interpreting the language, meaning and emotion of these funny marks that make up our written language. Quality presentation, personal or professional, requires quality physical and intellectual control. In addition, when we read a poem, like we were the poet who wrote it, we also exercise our range of emotion and empathy.
There is a little acting involved in reading poetry aloud. For those of us who aren’t actors, the fun is there if we can surmount any fear of being foolish. Foolishness has a magical way of breaking down shyness, stress and insecurity and thereby providing us with an opportunity to shine as much as we can or want.
One of the coolest poems to read out loud is, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley. But only as cool as we can be convincing.
Another feel-gooder (I know that’s not a real word) is by Sarah Williams, from the poem, The Old Astronomer to His Pupil:
Often when I meet people who don’t like poetry, they often tell me that it’s because they just don’t/can’t ‘get’ it. Aside from all the practical and personal benefits from reading poetry aloud, to me, the most important benefit is that it negates the reader’s need to ever ‘get’ a poem again. If we read a poem like we were the person who wrote it, there would be nothing to get outside of ourselves and this old art-form can take on new life through us. I would love to hear and see more people embrace poetry this way.
In lieu of a poetry video created by me, I have copied below several Youtube links to excellent dramatic readings to great poetry. There aren’t any grim readers in this list:
Making poetry part of our daily exercise can be as compelling as HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workouts. Obviously, working different muscle groups but, I swear, the same burn can be there. It can last a lot longer, too.
HIIT training workouts have become a popular fitness trend because they provide quick bursts of physical activity and adrenaline with optimal results in a short amount of time.
What are the terms that we hear with HIIT training? Fire, heat, burn. It hurts. And people like that. It seems an obvious answer to an urban lifestyle that can often numb the senses and one’s vitality.
In this modern society, the brain needs as much stimulation as the body to stay healthy. Diet and exercise help the brain but nothing like a daily dose of ‘huh?’ The most popular forms of poetry are sentimental, day calendar fillers and greeting card varieties. This might toast some bread, lightly, but it will not fire up your brain and may curdle your imagination.
Poetry isn’t easy on the brain. The good stuff never is. It’s meant to work the mind in the same way a good physical workout changes your muscles and organs in as little as a few lines of poetry. Great creative literature compels the imagination to engage; it don’t work if you don’t. Unfortunately, this kind of poetry is often met with, ‘I don’t get it — and never will.’ To that, please consider that we all can’t get to 60 burpees without starting at 10.
A great hit of poetry can stun the mind into a whole new place for at least a moment or two. It’s the same feeling one can get when running outside when one has passed being sore and annoyed.
A great hit of poetry is a beautiful image or idea to follow you for the rest of the day like a secret meditation place in your mind, reminding you of something bigger than your daily grind.
And every once in a while, you will get the best result, which is, you will meet a poem, a workout, that changes you – for better, not worse; transformation over mutation. (Hey, I admit, there is dark literature that grows nothing but fear and other nasty things – and often written with the best intentions. However, that is for another blog.)
I’ve said it before that poems make great friends, the best ones, that when you find them, will stick with you for the rest of your conscious life; always ready for you if you just open them.
There is so much of this poetry out there. I am often surprised at just how much great poetry has been written by our species. The irony is that until these poems are found and read, they remain so quiet and dormant, when in fact they are bursting with vitality and our humanity.
This next poetry video, for the lyw YouTube channel, features clips to give the mind and imagination some challenging sport. I tucked in an old poem called, A Windhover, into this video. It’s extremely dramatic. When read on its rhythm, and with feeling, it is a thrilling ride. I hope nobody comes down on me for rendering the whole poem. It’s so enchanting that it feels like spell-casting. I didn’t want to leave anything out. I think everybody should feel this poem.
Thanks for reading this blog. I hope you enjoy this video:
When studying poetry from China, I noticed three common traits in the ancient masters: hermitry, piety and drinking. What an extreme combination!
Now I’m sure these poets had more common things in common than that but either they liked to write about these subjects or people liked to write or publish these subjects about them. Or maybe I isolated these traits to flatter my own childhood mythology of the old, kung-fu sage living wild in the forest.
Nevertheless, I mean no disrespect to these fine poets and wish to loudly celebrate their virtues in this next instalment of our poetry campaign on Youtube and this blog. And, again, without disrespect, ask that we consider how these extreme traits either sculpted these poets or these poets sculpted these traits through poetry. Did the art bring them to extremes or did the extremes bring them to art? I think it’s important to note that apparently enjoying wine was not considered a bad habit in China by these poets. Their poetry suggests that it indicated a person who enjoys the raptures of life — when they are available.
Last week, this blog discussed how artists can benefit from making a study of their contemporaries as much as the masters of our crafts. This week, we’ll try the flipside and look at some of the oldest and, to this day, most revered master poets from China.
Poetry from back in that ancient day in China is shrouded in mysticism and exoticism. How can any of us be anything but ignorant when reflecting on a culture and time that is like a fantasy novel? Yet as far away as these times and these poets are from us now, through their poetry, they join us today. And they are wonderful souls to meet; hermit souls that bring us poetry devoted to nature and harmony without ignoring the restraints of the human society and court that surrounds its borders. Essentially that seems to be what hermitry gives to the writer — or the writer takes from hermitry; wild isolation wouldn’t be that interesting if it wasn’t an escape from a cultivated society.
A big difference I noticed in the way I read this ancient, Eastern poetry, compared to most of the modern Western poetry I have been featuring, is that each line of poetry needs a pause afterwards. It does not flow like water or music. It makes for pretty slow reading but I think that’s part of its charm. Please forgive me though for producing a 9 minute video, as a result.
As fantastic legends or passionate extremists or ordinary human craftsmen, this week’s poetry video, for the lyw Youtube channel, would like to introduce you to the masters: Hanshan, Po Chü-i, Tu Fu, Wang Wei and Shiwu.
Shout out to the great interpreter and translator, Red Pine, aka Bill Porter. His translations have made many important Chinese texts available in English and thus to a greater part of the Western world. As well, his translations are beautiful and show an incredible poet in himself.
Also, if curious about the biographies of these fine fellows, below is a list of my online research sources:
Most artists learn by studying the masters of whatever craft that we aspire to learn; however, by looking sideways to our great contemporaries we learn to be part of our craft’s current zeitgeist. Our peers inspire us to get to work towards our own ‘mastery’. Comparing masters and peers is like saying that was great, what about now? That’s the great thing about art. Any creative craft by its nature wants to evolve. Whether we are great or not, if we’re going to call ourselves artists, we are responsible for now. This may seem like an obvious fact but if you’ve spent most of your career studying instead of doing; it becomes a necessary reminder.
Now, we wouldn’t call anything a ‘master work’ if it didn’t have a timeless quality that speaks to any generation. However, it’s not comparable to an artist who is living in that generation. I guess that depends on whether you believe that art is a reflection of its society.
One startling realization, after reading Tom Hiddleston’s quote, is that all of my favourite poets have already passed away or are definitely from an older generation. I don’t pursue contemporary artists unless they are being loudly celebrated and awarded. And unfortunately, contemporary poets are not loudly celebrated.
Funnier still is that there are many masters and master works that did nothing for me. A ‘master’ work can suck as much as amateur one, in my subjective opinion, and a master work can easily escape ever being published or promoted, yet I still assume that I should study the established canon more than a contemporary artist.
The poet, Warsan Shire, that I featured in a previous blog is one of the first living and contemporary poets that has truly moved me – ever. She’s just 28! How did I find her? During a Google search for something other than her.
I would love to say that for this week’s poetry video on the lyw YouTube channel, I have a montage of clips from our latest and greatest contemporary poets, but the task to hunt down copyright permissions is not worth a 5-minute video.
Instead, here is a link to some great contemporary poetry contest prize winners online as well as larger poetry sites, with copyright permissions.
Thanks for reading this blog/rant. I realize many of my opinions in this one are strong and there are many other artists that would argue in other directions just as strongly. It is just something to consider, and should in no way take you away from your art — to argue about art.
Warsan Shire is a great example of a modern poet who inspires her readers to the point where they engage. At risk of infringing on copyright laws, her fans have produced their own Youtube videos, blogs and websites to honour her work. She has inspired her readers to be active and passionate about poetry.
As a result, Warsan Shire has achieved exactly what I aspire towards as a poet. She has achieved what I think poetry needs in its readership: active engagement — not just for our beloved ‘dead poets’ societies’ but also our living ones; the poets of this era and generation.
Warsan Shire’s popularity on YouTube alone has garnered over 100K views from these independent videos. Her poem, ‘For women who are ‘difficult’ to love’ has generated so many different interpretations by other artists that it inspires me to think: Wouldn’t it be great, if all great poems, from living poets, were celebrated in such an unabashed way — giving pop music videos a real run for their money? And suddenly the reader becomes more involved in judging and valuing what today’s poetry market will and should be.
However, we should note that while her readers are showing love, they aren’t obtaining proper copyright permissions; a sensitive issue with the level of share on the Internet. We all need to hesitate when at risk of infringing on another artist’s intellectual property, no matter how good the intentions are. These laws are in place to protect the work of the artists as well as the publishing industry.
However, I have met lots of obstacles in producing the videos for the current poetry campaign on the lyw Youtube channel. I, too, have worried a few times if I was going too far in the liberties I was taking to show my appreciation for some poets and poetry. Copyright permissions are hard to get. Contact information for the poets or the publishers is hard to get, as well. I have done my best to adhere to the ‘fair use‘ concept used in copyright law and persisted because I believe poetry would have more love and reads, if it were more accessible, in a contemporary way.
I have a small story to illustrate a startling point. In trying to find choice material for this blog’s poetry appreciation campaign, I started digging for poems from my own dusty library. My library is a collection that comprises four years as an English Literature major, one year working in a bookstore, which gave me a huge discount on all books, and the rest found while wandering through used and new bookstores looking for random ideas to inspire me in any which way. In this collection I found an anthology of ‘world contemporary poems’. I must have bought it about 20 years ago and most likely only read about 30% of it. Just one month ago, while producing the video ‘… a small piece of poetry can sometimes march’, I found the most amazing poet in this book – an amazing poet lying dormant and unknown in my own library all this time because he was buried in a 600 page anthology. Apparently, he is also described as the greatest living poet of the Arab world. I had no idea! Again, he was buried in a 600 page anthology. I was young when I bought that book. I skimmed! How easy it is to miss the extraordinary!
And when I discovered that his poems, ‘Song for A Man in the Dark’ and ‘Elegy for the Time at Hand’ weren’t copied all over the Internet like all my other English favourites, I just wanted to shout his poems to the world. Adunis. His name is Adunis, aka Adonis or Ali Ahmad Said Esber. He’s around eighty years old now. He has no lack of controversy posted about him online but too few poems.
I wish I could show you all the great poems in my library that are not being actively celebrated online. I would love a great big, ‘show and tell’, online because there are too many poets lost in my library. I think poetry needs readers to be encouraged to be active fans. I love the passion of Warsan Shire’s fans. It gives me hope for the future of poetry. But there is that fine line:How do we protect the artists and the artist’s industry while keeping our reads bright and burning? Something to think about.
Till then, this week’s poetry appreciation video(s) are links to two videos produced for Warsan Shire on Youtube by other artists. Please enjoy this amazing poem, ‘For women who are ‘difficult’ to love’:
Poetry is the title of a film about a grandmother, from a small town in Korea, reacting to her current life and a recent local tragedy that has involved her family. Despite her age and the odds against her, she continues to try to better her circumstances by taking a poetry class.
The film itself is very visual and always gives just enough character and plot to keep your imaginations grasping for the rest of her; very much like the fragmented narrative style of modern poetry.
The main character is unable to plainly tell us or anybody how she really feels or what she is doing and why. And never does. At the end of the film … well, I’m a natural-born spoiler, so I won’t go any further about the contents of the movie. Despite feeling quite melancholy after this 2 1/2 hour long film, I think it is worth seeing. The story and main character are beautifully portrayed and I continued to think about the film for several days after seeing it.
As part of the poetry campaign for this blog, this week’s poetry video takes a sample from a poem within this film to entice you to either read the full poem or watch this film.
This is, by far, my favourite poetry video that I have done for the lyw channel on Youtube. This poem so captures the delicate yet enduring quality of the main character of this film. It was a pleasure to choose the quiet black and white photography to breathe with this meditative text. I only wish I could have had the freedom to render the whole poem.
I don’t know if it’s a copyright thing but the entire poem is difficult to find on the Internet. The one I did find was not faithful to the English translation provided directly in the film. However, when I went back to the film to read the poem faithfully, I found the placement of periods and commas a little confusing there, as well. Most likely, something was lost in translation. We just need to learn Korean, I guess, for the real version of the poem.
Please visit the following link to this week’s poetry video, sampling one of Poetry‘s poems:
The work of food writers should not be exclusively enjoyed by food lovers. I spent last Friday afternoon giggling over reviews of the Stock restaurant in Toronto. Good food writers take you on an unique palatable experience full of sense and satire, and the timing of a stand-up comic. I think it comes from eating a lot of good and bad food. Eating is a personal and sensuous experience. Regular bad dining would make a hostile satirist out of anybody. A good dining experience would have to be exceptional for those who must eat themselves out a lot.
My boss asked me to look into the Stock for a business lunch and I was intrigued by the ‘chocolate-lab’ that the poorly designed restaurant website showcased. So I spent part of the afternoon falling into some brilliantly unimpressed reviews of this restaurant.
One of my long-time favourite food writers is Corey Mintz who writes a weekly column called FED for the Toronto Star food section. Food is paramount to his writing and this appears to have armed him with the most essential elements of a great storyteller: passion for his subject, tons of experience with his subject, and thus, the ability to fully experience a moment, at least in a kitchen or restaurant.
Better than flash fiction; though the experiences are real, they hold the creative flavour of great story. Check out a local food column or blog for a literary sweet.
I was recently asked to survey a Canadian-wide distributed literary journal. The survey was designed to determine how and how often I read their journal, who I was in terms of their demographic and what I liked and disliked about their journal.
My response reminded me of the various stages and avenues that I take and have taken as a writer who seems destined to always be ‘new.’ The ‘new’ part, though I am not as young as the word makes me sound, is something I have learned to appreciate. I will always be a student to my art-form.
Below is the comments section response that I left with this survey:
Thank you for allowing me to take part in your survey.
To be honest, I have not been drawn to a literary journal for a long time.
When I did buy or borrow journals it was to, as advised by the Submission Guidelines, read the journal prior to submission. Though lucky enough to be published in a few small lit journals as a wee lass, I must admit, I saved these books just to look at my own work, in print, once in a while.
If I look to enjoy new short fiction and poetry these days, I do searches on the internet and find a wealth of writers who are current, active, connected and free. Blog-sites have become interesting hubs for writers. I would rather subscribe to one artist’s journey than to a literary journal. I find the experience more personal and vital.
Another great way to connect with new short fiction and poetry, as well as the people who write them, is to join writing groups either locally or virtually, or create your own. Surprisingly, the last magazine to tickle me with their creative, non-fiction, writing skills was the CFA Magazine for Chartered Financial Analysts.
If I look for guidelines or instruction on how to improve me as an artist, I look to all art-forms and all kinds of artists to inspire and motivate me. This is always best when done live and in-person if you can get it that way.
When I think of writing my own fiction and poetry, I no longer put my hope in literary journals to publish or validate me as a writer. For me, it is more important to write to write rather than to write to publish. For that reason, wordpress.com and online self-publishing has helped me continue to write outside the shadow of my solitude and be open to other artists and the public.
Admittedly, sitting in on weekly investment team meetings for an administrative day job is not my idea of creative inspiration. In the past few months that I have been with this contract job, I’ve contemplated meditating my way through these meetings since for the most part I do not understand what they are laughing about, very few action items arise from these discussions and they spend a large amount of time staring at graphs and charts in silence — but they need me to change the slides on the projector screen. Oh, how they need me to do that.
Admin is still admin, whatever industry I find myself in. All executives have pretty much the same executive needs. All offices operate pretty much the same as other offices. However, the lingo of investments was quickly not earning any charm it never had with me.
The writers for the CFA Magazine (as in Chartered Financial Analyst) gave me a refreshing correction. I began flipping through my boss’ copy of the magazine during some downtime and thoroughly enjoyed (and understood!) a powerful balance of logic and passion.
The cover is what first lured me. It read ‘Time-Bomb Zombie Swans from Outer Space’ with a clever and colourful illustration of a Godzilla-like black swan and fleeing, open-mouthed pedestrians in an urban setting. In this issue, amid the solid, yet sometimes boring structure of financial logic runs playful probabilities and absurd humour, which is apparent by the cover piece alone.
This kind of journalism is not dumbed-down as is common in most general reading yet it has entertainment value that involves the variety of everyday life. This makes all the difference to me: to find common ground where I didn’t expect to find any from a perspective that is alternative to me.
In this world of Chartered Financial Analysts, though the plot doesn’t change much, the stuff of all great stories comes into play. In the March/April issue, one article discussed emotional intelligence for investors better than any women’s lifestyle magazine I ever peaked through. Another article discussed religion and social responsibility in, ‘Islamic Finance and Socially Responsible Investing.’
My favourite article, in this issue, was Ralph Wanger’s article, ‘Heads, You Win.’ I ignorantly never thought to read a CFA article referencing Tom Stoppard or dramatic theatre. I also never thought an equation could be beautiful but I appreciated being presented with that possibility and a mind that did. The article was educational not just to my own common logic.
When we talk about trying new cultures, Investments and Finance seem strange countries to venture. And like most trying cultures, a taste sample often only perpetuates false conclusions. Immersion is the way to go. I appreciate that I would have never jumped down this rabbit-hole, if it had not been for this administrative desk job. Sadly, I suspect I am probably one of very few non-CFA readers of this magazine.
It is a pleasure to say that Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi, is one of the few books from a living author that I both enjoyed as entertainment and valued artistically in over a decade. I am grateful that it was published. Too often when I walk into a bookstore the fiction tables are full of reprinted classics from dead writers.
It is a good piece of Canadian literature that won its many accolades with humour always at its side. The truth is, in the aftermath of my English Literature studies, if we are telling stories about humans and it’s not funny in a weird and dark sort of way then my faith in its validity will likely not rise.
I remember warning a friend, who was (is?) an atheist that this book professed to make one believe in God. She advised me frankly that she had already read the book and though she remained immune, still enjoyed the tale. The book’s treatment of religion, faith and the literary imagination is athletically academic, really getting the hands, feet and whole body fully immersed in a playground of ideas, twisted and celebrated by the youth and innocence of a boy who just wants to love God and in this ‘… attracting religions the way a dog attracts fleas.’
Quote from Life of Pi, by Yann Martel:
“I’ll be honest about it. It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while … But we must move on. To doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”
Currently, I am letting my partner read this novel to me. I didn’t want us to see the film version until he had read the book. As wonderful as the reviews have been, I already know that the film does not look anything like it did in my mind when I first read it. I am certain it does not look like it did in yours either, if you read the book prior to seeing the film. I want this story to look, first, like no other in his mind as well. Thus is the magic of literature.
I am even particular about the book cover. I would rather have the older illustrated copy of this book than the reprinted version depicting the film. Let all book covers be illustrations and leave some part of the space to the reader’s imagination. Again, as beautiful as the film must be, it cannot compare to the unfolding time, place and happenings that are evoked when we follow the trail of flat, black ink across the off-white pages.
The hero is always ready for whatever adventure (she) gets – even though (she) isn’t conscious of it or directly pursuing it … Myth prepares us to understand the Mystery … Myth prepares us to accept the adventure or not. (Joseph Campbell)
Recently I explained to a friend why I thought the novel was the greatest goal of any writer. The novel in its best form is the most intelligent and spiritual connection that one can get to another person’s mind and spirit.
Through fiction we are more likely to stumble upon the truth about our motives and desires than in any other kind of writing. Playwrights and scriptwriters may argue with me but the visual side of our artistry must admit that the fictional world is something only the mind can make real, and thus the meaning and possibilities of something as simple and singular as a chair are enriched.
Words are very arrogant and always try to take ownership and define whatever it describes. By taking ownership and defining a fictional story, and admittedly the unknown, we are more likely to liberate our words from this pride.
I referenced Joseph Campbell in this conversation because I almost always do when I talk about my love for fiction and the meaning of our modern mythology. As well, he is an excellent example of a writer who I feel close to, because of the passion and dedication he put into his work, though I have never met him. As far as I know, he never wrote fiction himself but his writing feasts on the works of great story and myth that spans our entire human existence. The way he examines them and shares his understanding leads to an overwhelming profundity that suddenly becomes not about the stories of our culture but the ones we are living right now: that our present lives are stories unfolding just as heroically and inevitably as any of our greatest and smallest mythical and fictional heroes, from Luke Skywalker to Odysseus to Inanna.
A blog is no place to get too academic on you, so I will leave these thoughts open to your consideration. I realize I just left open some very large statements. 🙂 And please do look up Joseph Campbell whose incredible body of work timelessly speaks to our sense of self.
I picked up an article called, “The sexual fantasies of the working woman,” out of my father’s copy of the Toronto Star’s newspaper and was charmed by the writing style of Katie Roiphe; a sharp, intelligence and passion that was prominent but well-checked. Class, sex and feminism – I couldn’t remember the last time I read a newspaper article that jumped on that much. I reserved any judgment on her opinions about the new bestseller, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ because I didn’t want to interrupt the flow. Through the act of reading the article, I reviewed my own thoughts and feelings about those old debates. However, at the end of the article, she completed her own thoughts so well, I felt no need to rebut her, in spite of my own.
I decided to ‘Like’ her article. Thought it was a brilliant slice from a refreshing writer. Feeling good about that, I decided to Google this artist. And, wooo! Quite a controversial career! At first, I felt like I had ‘Liked’ a monster. I should have suspected that a mind that good with words came from that highly academic background that sometimes went looking for prey. After digging further into bio information, her writing, and the writing of her critics — and the critics of her critics, I again became accepting that she is what she is (like Popeye) – a writer sinking her teeth into her subjects throughout a lengthy and very upfront career. This short cap fits the different positions throughout her body of work.
As much as I felt literary and feminist theory learned me good during my term in post-secondary, I never looked back at it once it was done. I mean, with my recent talk about the sport of boxing, that world was exactly that. So many pointy points needing to hit their mark. And often it felt like the only progression was towards the next round. Personally, and I guess proudly, I’ve learned to prefer having as many strong opinions as I want but, in writing, to leave the positioning to either the characters or subjects, unless speaking in the first person. She is, though, much stronger than me. It makes me curious what that strength has meant to her over the course of her career; the power of her words over her subjects – and herself. The more I think of it, however, the more exhausted I feel. Boxing is better, if you ask me.
However, that is not what I think is truly fascinating about this little explosion, as a result of taking my father’s newspaper. The point that is stickin’ me in the eye right now is how strongly adverse I am to some of her earlier work but this doesn’t change my mind about the beauty in her writing.
I’m talking strictly about the writing. Rhythm, tone, pace. I love it. Subject-wise, I even have to applaud the level of conversation her work generates on feminism which not too long ago I remember reading another article that suggested the term, ‘feminism’, was dead.
Regardless of offense or defense, I personally would love to see her writing reach a balance – a place that doesn’t have to be so punchy to be powerful. Talent like this is beautiful when it comes full circle. Perhaps the literary world really needs these punchy intellects to balance it or tip it over. She is very good at it.
Monster writer, monster feminist, monster monster? Whatever. I’ll not judge a working writer.
I argued with a friend last week that old-fashioned picketing, petitioning and protesting was no longer an effective means to communicate to the world or the government. Friend assured me enough had already been done and communicated which was why, decades after the 60’s had come and gone, he was ready to get behind the CLASSE movement.
I countered that the minute I see an excited large group of people my skepticism goes up and my ears seem to shrink. I can’t completely trust any message being delivered by emotion. Nor do I entirely trust information delivered without any emotion, as per the news. Mass information and the local and global needs of this neighborhood, this city, this country, this planet, make it difficult for me to decide where I am going to take a stand – or firmer stand.
Several months ago, my local boxing gym rallied for petition support for head coach, Peter Wylie’s wife, Jackie. She was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and needed a treatment that was not approved by the Ontario government, although it was in use in Nova Scotia and British Colombia. I was advised that the Wylie family were also staging a protest in front of Queen’s Park. I signed the petition but my skepticism doubted that our passion would move the Ontario government.
One day after I dared to argue with my friend, I visited Cabbagetown Boxing’s website and discovered they had won their petition. I am glad they, at least, had the courage to keep fighting instead of just praying, like I did. Though I ain’t knockin’ the weight of good prayer, however, the petitioning and protesting, in this case, was definitely more effective.
I am glad I was proven wrong though I think my reasoning is still sound. Social media and the arts are the best way to communicate awareness for a cause. Last week a lady from MSF asked me to join her webinar for a conversation – just a conversation – on the crisis in Sudan. A few months ago, I read a comic-book by Guy Delisle called Pyongyang: a journey into North Korea and learned that people, like me, really do live in North Korea and it’s not just one large military camp. Late last year I saw Lucy Walker’s The Waste Land documentary that translated the lives Rio de Janeiro’s garbage pickers through works of art.
This is a way of bringing what is foreign, daunting or frightening inside my home and inside my daily conversation — like a friend. And we would all help a friend in trouble, wouldn’t we?
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), in association with Doctors without Borders, sent an email out a day ago asking me to join an online conversation with Canadian MSF emergency coordinator Tara Newell about her work in South Sudan. Just join the conversation.
The conversation was through an interactive webinar through Ustream. I logged in and let this bright-eyed woman, and fellow Canadian, bring a personal account of her recent experiences living and working with refugees in the Sudan. She wasn’t asking for donations. She wasn’t campaigning. She was telling me her stories and letting me into the experience — about meeting a remarkable 90 year old woman who survived the exodus to the refugee camp, about the daily sense of urgency for basic needs such as food and water, about trying to incorporate yoga into her stress management program while sharing cramped quarters with the other workers. It felt like sitting down with a friend who had been away for a long time.
It’s a little funny if you ask me to round up what I know about MSF. I can tell you quickly that I donated money a few years ago. That’s probably how they know my email. I remember their commercials. I can remember that they are often referenced in the news when discussing international aid.
I also think of Guy Delisle‘s graphic novels / travelogues. He’s an animator / comics guy who documents his travels through graphic novels. His wife is a doctor for MSF. Through Delisle’s very particular narrative style, I’ve joined him and his wife through Burma‘s and Jerusalem‘s checkpoints in a way that no news cast, reel or feed could ever deliver.
This is social news and a more effective way of bringing news about the world — home. They are talking about daily life that is suddenly not so foreign or far away.
The situation in Sudan is critical. They need help like many people around the world, in a very daunting way.
What can one person do? MSF just asked us to join the conversation. And it is something to keep the conversation and those stories unforgotten and current. More will be inevitable.
My friend got me talking about Langston Hughes. My first introduction to my favorite poet was on the inside of an incredible book called Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin. I was only a kid in the 80’s when I read that book and I’m glad I read it when I was young. It gave me a head-start on what is self-awareness.
I dug up my old copy. It still smells the way all paperbacks did from the 70’s.
The documentary I just watched, Brownstones to Red Dirt, also brought me back to that book. One of the children said that he often felt that he was judged poorly because he was black. He made me wonder how relevant Griffin’s book is today, though it is deeply embedded in the very specific time of the civil rights movement in America.
I was very pleased to see that there are still current articles and discussions on the book throughout the internet. The first link is a good read and the second is more a history of the book: