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.
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.
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
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.
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,
civilian defenses is a poem about salsa-dancing as a defense against the extreme highs and lows of life; an anchor, especially for private citizens within a large, urban society.
Most times, salsa is danced for merely recreation, exercise and socialization.
When things are either too much or too little in one’s life or in one’s city or country, why in the world would one stop to dance salsa? How can salsa be a civilian defense? And against what?
If you are too passionate, too angry, too desperate or too high in whatever way, salsa can refocus you and your energy into a very specific time, place and activity. The real risk of physically turning you and your partner into a hot mess keeps you at attention.
If you are too low, too sad or too numb from whatever you are going through, salsa warms the blood, forces breath into our most held breath and gets the eyes blinking again.
Either way, salsa reconnects the body and mind to some other part of the world outside of ourselves and is a reminder, when we need that reminder, that we are vitally alive and not alone.
It is a peculiar thing that human recreations (ie. jazz, blues, baseball, boxing) have often been strengthened during difficult times in human history. It is a peculiar thing to witness humans reach for sport or the arts when they feel they have little else to reach for.
… an interesting observation that started this poem for me several years ago. Please check out the below poem, stirred up with a little colour and sound, in a little video on Youtube.
(P.S. the text displays best using the HD setting in Youtube):
*dance art painting c/o Andres Giraldo at salsaycontrol.com
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.
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:
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:
This week’s video and blog is celebrating classic epic-style poetry. Though this is not the easiest type of poetry for the modern reader, this video attempts to prove that sometimes it’s fun to get ‘lost in the translation’ be that from the ancient languages that much of this poetry comes from or due to the cultural and literary differences between that long, long time ago and our current day.
I suspect that the term, ‘lost in translation’, must have been born from the study of our ancient poets because the richness and beauty of their epic poems is often dependent on the strength of the translations.
I have found when reading some translations of the Roman poet, Virgil, that often I am compelled to shout, ‘it doesn’t always have to rhyme!’ However, I recognize that my tastes are subjective and influenced by my own culture and society. Much of the epic poetry known to the Western world is translated into Old English. It was as different a time and place, to me, as was ancient Greece and Rome. It is natural that I prefer the more direct and modern translations of our classical, epic-style poetry by the great American poet, Robert Fitzgerald.
Another impediment to epic poetry for the modern reader (who is like me) is that these publications often resemble ancient Greek or Roman columns; blocks and blocks of text, text and more text. For the TV babies out there, raised to have short attention spans, the mere sight of these poems is daunting. These stony blocks of classical verse are a huge contrast to the fluid lines and generous use of airy space found in most modern free verse poetry. For this reason, it is essential for lovers of these classic poems to bring us their favourite passages in bite-size pieces because, after all these centuries, hidden deeply within these columns of text, are lines of poetry that have not lost a drop of their original succulence; have not withered any of their heroic richness; and speak on themes that are as relevant to our current day.
It was the film, ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ that re-introduced to me Homer’s epic poem, ‘The Odyssey,’ by providing a small quote in the beginning of the film. I hadn’t read it since University and back then, it did feel like a chore. So it took the Coen brothers to revive for me this quintessential quote for the human soul’s trials through this earthly life.
“O Muse! Sing in me, and through me tell the story
Of that man skilled in all the ways of contending,
A wanderer, harried for years on end …”
*The translation appears to be a slightly tweaked version of Fitzgerald’s translation.
I should also note that epic poetry is an international genre. There have been epic poems written in many different cultures and languages. Unfortunately, I’m limited by what is available to the English language, and online.
After completing the research for this poetry video, I have concluded that our master epics need a fresh translation with every generation. The alternative solution would be for a new Homer or Dante to emerge and write a new ‘Odyssey’ or ‘Divine Comedy.’ However, it is hard to imagine a world of literature without these specific pieces somewhere inside despite having been written so long ago.
I hope you enjoy this next video installment to our poetry campaign on YouTube. This video will introduce to you some bite-size pieces of poetry from Ovid, Homer, Dante, Virgil, and (my favourite poet) Anonymous:
(Aug 6, 2016 – I’ve tweaked this video twice now to improve flow and sound quality. Hard to tell if it actually does sound better because I believe WIN 10 has messed up my audio! Everything sounds ‘tinny’.)
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:
a tantric guide is a funny poem about a woman’s introduction to tantric yoga in her pursuit of personal wisdom while living in an urban, middle-class society.
Yoga has been a popular form of exercise in almost every major Western city for decades. Not only is it great exercise, it helps the body prevent and heal from injury – and some argue, from sickness. The physical practice also calms the mind and relaxes stress.
Yoga is more than just physical exercise, however, since the physical is enough to cover the above benefits, most of us don’t look further. In the twenty years that I have practiced yoga, I satisfied myself mainly with just the physical study and a little meditation.
The focus of this poem surrounds my attempt to go a little further out there into tantric yoga — with as open a mind as I could possibly manage. I started with a book. I took from it what wisdom I could but had to leave a lot of it behind.
Tantric yoga is a fascinating study that makes the asanas (physical exercises) of yoga seem like child’s play in comparison. Though there is wisdom in this study, I am glad that I had enough self-awareness to decide what was or was not for me. I’m also glad that I didn’t close myself completely at the first sign of ‘I ain’t doing that’, for I would have lost the opportunity to find what beauty and wisdom that I did in tantric yoga. I didn’t forcefully reject anything. I put aside what wasn’t for me, kept what seemed good for further consideration and continued to the end of the book.
One needs the courage to be vulnerable to accept life lessons. However, one also needs the self-confidence to know when something is not right for him or her. This may seem difficult if one is trying to learn that self-confidence. I think your heart will always tell you, regardless, if you listen carefully. I hope so, anyway.
You know what I think is my saving grace in life lessons? I never take myself too seriously. Lessons, I absorb as earnestly as I can but I remind myself that I am an absurd little human and I learn wisdom very slowly and because I am uniquely absurd, somebody else’s mantra is not necessarily my own.
I have wondered if this mindset prevents me from taking the greater wisdom from life lessons. This has been suggested a few times in my personal and literary studies as much as the opposite. I do take some things very seriously but this is an exclusive list. And even then, I think there is room for a little humour.
I hope you enjoy this funny poem despite being a little out there.
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.
Hephaestus is the title of a poem about a difficult relationship between two artists; one is a writer and the other is a classical painter. Despite their beautiful art forms, these artists cannot seem to create anything other than conflict between each other. As a result, the writer realizes that their efforts to hammer out something beautiful together has made them artists of a different art-form; one requiring a lot more sweat and toil than their preference.
Hephaestus refers to the Greek mythological god of blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes. He is described as lame, having been thrown down from heaven, yet powerful as well as creative: a symbol of art that endures.
Dedicated to my loving, yet maddening, helu.
Please check out this latest video addition to the lyw channel on Youtube, featuring hephaestus from the poetry chapbook, ya helu:
This Rock Wears a Wild Crown is a poem about a funny guy, royally stubborn in loyalty, steadfastness, inappropriate humour and recreational pugilism. The zen quality of rocks and the flow of time has failed to smooth any part of this demeanour.
Ironically, this poem and character can be a great yet indirect support to overly-sensitive people or anybody stuck in their own heavy moods. His inappropriate humour and proud opinions dumbfound sensitivity and disrupt both serenity and melancholy.
Despite his roughness, he is friendly. Despite his offensiveness, he intends no harm. Despite his admiration for the art of war, he is honest – relatively – more honest than you’d expect, anyway.
And despite my persistent confusion over his approach to life, I can’t help but think he is searching for the same things as me – just in a more combative way. What is that, ultimately? Love? God? Maybe. I’ll only indirectly admit that in poetry.
I’d like to invite you to meet this character in the poem, this rock wears a wild crown; the latest video installment to the lyw channel on Youtube, promoting poets and poetry through online media, as well as a selected poem from the poetry chapbook, ya helu.
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:
‘helweh, the troll’ is a poem about a character who seeks an answer to a question that is thrown upon her: ‘how do you earn a living?’ She is a mythical creature considering the human pursuit of financial security and quality of life. She is a character who finds herself in employment that does not suit her natural talents.
Written with affection and humour for somebody I know, as well as many people who I suspect have a little troll blood in them, she was a former co-worker who I shared many a coffee break and, back in that day, a smoke break. We worked many hours in the same business district and cultivated a strange balance of dedication to our work and finding time for our own personal well-being. She, unfortunately, had a shorter fuse and patience for office culture and never stayed at any job for long. Funny as hell though and as long as I work downtown, I hope she does, too, even though she would prefer something else. Office environments need people like her.
This quasi fairy tale / myth was written using the breadcrumb trail of poetry as the vehicle for narration. The poem is part of the poetry chapbook, ya helu, as well as this week’s addition to the lyw channel on Youtube, currently rolling out a poetry campaign making poets and poetry our daily treat and exercise.
When creating Helweh as my hero, I drew inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Dante Alighieri’s epic poem,The Divine Comedy. In this poem, Helweh’s character makes a hapless comparison between her journey and that of Dante’s epic journey through Hell and Purgatory towards Heaven.
In regards to Joseph Campbell’s, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, many years ago, I found this non-fiction book a compelling read that dissected the role of the hero in human myth and story. As well, this book left me with the hopeful idea that I am, or can be, the hero in my own life’s story – alas, a hope that I have often found disappointed ever since. Still, it’s a beautiful and passionate book for a work of non-fiction and I don’t regret this aggravated kernel of hope imbedded in my heart. I humour it sometimes and it keeps me humble. At the end of the poem, I left Helweh with a possible answer to her riddle yet it is unknown if or how she will implement it. If I, or my friend, have not lived up to the call-to-adventure, then perhaps this Helweh lass will.
As an aside, I remember having a cynical thought when I finished reading Campbell’s book, that today’s real world did not look for leadership from heroes or encourage the possibility of living heroes. It is as if the concept is left to fantasy, film and fiction; for those who wear capes and need special powers.
It was a wonderful journey writing this poem. I did not know how it would end or how I would help Helweh answer her question when I first began writing it. I guess if I wanted to make myself feel better about Joseph Campbell’s book, I could say that I did answer a very subjective call-to-myself in this poem.
Thanks for reading this blog and please visit our latest link and video to the lyw YouTube channel:
A good, solid friendship is a lot like poetry; that kind of thing that is difficult to fully appreciate until one really, and often accidentally, benefits from it, and then, it becomes worthy of headline news and daily study.
Poetry on friendship, however, is often over-loaded with too much sentiment, and like too many sweets, can hide the goodness that should be there – in fact, it can make a poem feel like it lacks substance – and that should never happen when writing about a friend. Having and being a good friend is not just sweet but essential to healthy, human success.
In this week’s poetry video on the lyw channel, we celebrate poetry that values reliable friendship — friendship that not only provides sweetness, but protein, good fatty acids, and bitter healthy greens. This video is also a great way to balance the poetry on war and strife that was discussed in the last blog on this site.
Creating a video compilation of poetry on friendship, even in fragments, was a challenge. Most of what I found on the internet was of the greeting-card variety — very generic and easy to apply. Poems on friendship, like other ‘sentimental’ poems, are the hardest poems to write well because of the over-abundance of sentiment, similes and the need to explain in prose. i.e. ‘I love you because you’re great… etc., etc., etc.’
Now I realize my ideas of what makes a great poem is not universal. As well, poetry found on-line, on any subject, is limited. However, it makes me sad that I found more great poems on the subject of war than great poems on friendship, in my biased internet research.
I began crafting this video with Maya Angelou’s, ‘A Conceit,’ for its warmth balanced with strength and clarity. Then, I invoked a little T.S. Eliot, as well as a fragment from one of my favourite friendly poets, Robert Burns, even though I have difficulty understanding his Scottish English. It is easy to understand his warmth, vitality and poetic eye for what he values most in his life. He aims his poetry very specifically and with a robust heartfelt vigour. I also featured a sample from Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market poem. Although this poem doesn’t directly address friendship very often, the heroism in the poem is an act of profound love and friendship.
Thank you for reading this blog. Please click on the link to enjoy the latest video compilation on the lyw Youtube channel celebrating of poetry on friendship:
I would also like to invite poets to submit poetry celebrating a friend or friendship to this blog site, ‘a reliable friend.’ It is an old blog site that was originally created to celebrate a friend arriving at her 40th birthday and reinvented in an effort to continue building an on-line library of poetic friendship strong enough to hold any kind of front-line.
Melancholy of old thrills me again
Talking to you, a sense of helplessness creeps into my heart
I away fear that we’ve toiled in vain
And then we chart a while and part
And after you are gone, I sit and revisit your words.
I feel so sad, so sad and so numb
In the darkness, I’m alone cold, cold is the night
Watching the news, reading Hemingway and most non-fiction tends towards that factual quality that says: take it or leave it for what it is. And when the news is unpleasant, it can leave one feeling a little helpless. And when such a story meets a great poet, this combination can be an effective vehicle for delivering uncomfortable truths.
Like the news, a poem can inform a reader on all the realities of our day but with a lot more empathy. A great poet can make a news story, the poet’s story. A great poem invites readers to make the poet’s story, their story – if for just the moment of reading. Thus, this kind of news can be quite powerful.
Some of the best poems ever written are about the ugliest subjects such as war, hatred and other such human sorrows and evils. My purpose in this blog is to attract more readers to poetry not disturb them away, however, since we explore the best qualities in poetry I think this less sunny side must be touched on a little bit.
Langston Hughes was the first poet, in my research, to pull me in this direction. While his work is very soulful and searching, his poetry is also very political – for lack of a better word. I don’t think he crafted himself that way as a poet. His life was simply submerged in political and social circumstances and he let that out in his poetry.
Deeper into this research, I found two incredible poets who wrote amazing poetry about war. It was late at night. I was alone in front of my laptop. I fell into the war poetry of Miklós Radnóti and Wilfred Owen and it felt like the world stood still. The poems are disturbing but I can honestly say I am grateful to be disturbed by this work, especially the postcard series from Miklós Radnóti. Not only did he write powerfully but he gave the raw story about his circumstances, while still retaining his humanity and helping me feel my own even when reading about such a horrible time in our history. I’m being deliberately vague. If interested, please find the full poems. They are uncomfortable, though. His poems brought me closer to that time in history than any film, book, teacher or documentary I have experienced on that subject. And they are very short poems.
If this blog has peaked your interest, please check out this week’s ‘poetry appreciation’ video on Youtube, … a small piece of poetry can sometimes march, which is a short collection of fragments from brilliant war and political poetry, with a fitting intro from one of Dylan Thomas’ famous poems. I took care to exclude anything that was too graphic or depressing. The purpose of this video is not to disturb anybody but to suggest that some poems, some poets – like some subjects – may be worth being disturbed by and to invite readers to seek out these poems, as well as other poets that have the skill to tell our harder stories.
Also, if interested in exploring other art forms that were inspired by social/political circumstances, please check out:
ANPO: Art X War – a 2010 documentary film directed by Linda Hoaglund. This film discusses the post-war American military occupation in Japan through the eyes of visual artists. http://www.anpomovie.com/
The Wasteland – an uplifting documentary of an artist who goes to Rio de Janeiro’s largest landfill site to create portraits with garbage aided by local garbage pickers. http://www.wastelandmovie.com/
Also please check out Andrew Graham Dixon’s art documentary series on Russian Art where he features the courageous work of the Wanderers. It was available online but unfortunately I was unable to find an active link. He’s prominent on YouTube. I imagine it will become available again soon.
Poetry readings were pretty bad when I was younger – the ones I went to, anyway. I remember going to a few random poetry events in my late teens. I convinced myself I wasn’t cultured enough to fully appreciate them and kept going. By mid-university, I wouldn’t go to a poetry reading unless a friend or I was reading. I needed to be friendly or at least a compassionate fellow writer to sit through these things.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if the writers were better public readers. Or there was something else at the event to break up the rhetoric. A reading could go on for an hour or two, with an intermission in between, much like a theatre play. The stage directions were: stand or sit there and read.
I remember one lady who read poetry like a monastic chant. She completely spaced me out; I have no idea what her poems were about. I was no better. I would shake like a leaf and bury my head in my piece of paper.
Poetry, like Shakespeare, is often read in the most grim and joyless manner even by some famous and well-established actors – regardless of whether the poetry is tragic or not. I think this is due to English classes that teach poetry as something very serious and important. It wasn’t until I studied Shakespeare in university that I had a great teacher who deconstructed the human passion out of our academic studies. Poetry and Shakespeare was not written to be bitter medicine for my intellect but because it was printed, performed, or whatever to be experienced – be an experience.
A couple of years ago, I had a great idea. I clearly lack the connections and charisma to pull it off, so this idea is free to be taken by anybody who does – and has interest, of course.
My idea was to make poetry readings into theatrical spectacles — though more like a little circus than a play. The writers would collaborate with a small theatre group and have the poems performed at a small, cozy venue like a café or bar. Three or four small stages or platforms would be scattered throughout the venue. A few times throughout the evening, there would be a pleasant call to attention and the stages would be used to perform a series of poetry that ran for no longer than 15 – 20 minutes, alternating stages per poem. The stages could also be used to showcase other live talent between poetry sets. The audience could sit but also move around and mingle. And there could be themed parties! Like a masked ball, disco-nite, a Brazilian carnival, a Mardi Gras party, etc. Lots of possibilities, no?
So that’s the brainstorm. I haven’t done disco in decades and never with poetry. Maybe somebody can do something for me.
Thanks for reading this blog and please visit our latest link and video to the lyw YouTube channel, promoting poets and poetry through online media. This week’s selection is written by me from the poetry chapbook, ya helu. It’s a funny poem about a dedicated but struggling runner:
ya helu is a collection of poems that I wrote as a poetic self-portrait following the past few years since my mother passed away.
While writing, I didn’t want to be too self-centred in my approach to these poems. Instead, I tried to write about the people, ideas and activities that I gravitated towards during this time; I wrote about what I found most engaging about them as a way of painting a picture of myself. The indirect approach to self-examination is sometimes more accurate and appropriate.
The book concept was also influenced by recent studies in classical painting. Most students of this art usually attempt a self-portrait at some stage in their development. I wanted to attempt something like this in a poetic form and as a progressive stage in my development. Thus, my approach to the poems was also very visual and mostly in the third person. Unfortunately, there is nothing classical about my written form even in literary terms. I haven’t any talent for iambic pentameter. I also indulged in more humour and absurdity than would be typical of a classical self-portrait.
There’s a great scene towards the end of Virginia Woolf’s novel, Between the Acts. In this scene, actors performing a festival play turn upon the audience with pieces of reflecting objects such as tin cans, mirrors, candle-stick holders, etc., ‘Anything that’s bright enough to reflect, presumably, ourselves?’ The audience, while watching, suddenly become part of the last act of the play as characters watching themselves in fragmented pieces.
This is a lovely metaphor for how to piece together a temporary sense of identity with a limited human perspective. In ya helu, I looked at the lives and activities that drew me when I found it difficult to be drawn — from the gruelling desk, the heavy bed, the funny moods — to reflect back to me interesting pieces of myself.
Thanks for reading this blog and please accept the below invitation, welcoming one and all to check out the book as it is introduced through various social media channels:
Unlike the usual handshake and hello, if you want to get to know a poet, meet him or her in their poems. Poets reveal themselves in their work though not always directly or deliberately. It’s like having a backdoor to somebody’s character, bypassing small talk and public appearances.
Maybe we don’t want to get to know people that intimately. Maybe we are already buried with what people want to share.
Langston Hughes continues to be one of my favourite poets and though many of his poems are brilliant not all of them are great. His contribution to poetry goes beyond his acclaimed and academically studied poems. This poet wrote so prolifically that it is easy to feel like you can meet him through the various stages of his life, and through his poems I always have access to a beautiful searching soul.
We are all beautiful souls. Not all of us have the talent (or time) to express or study them the way our master poets have.
Now there are many writers and poets who I have found beautiful in their work and not so much in their biographies. ie. Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, etc … So, maybe I am being naïve about a writer’s humanity being revealed in their work? Maybe a horrible person can still produce beautiful poetry? Fact is, there are many beautiful souls who do not write beautiful poetry.
To the not-so-beautiful poems, a voice needs the opportunity to evolve and they don’t all evolve the same way.
And to the beautiful writing but questionable characters? Go ahead and call me naïve but I think if these writers did not always live their lives well, or to my best opinion, anyway, they got a chance to show their better sides in their writing. Better doesn’t always mean pretty or nice. Hughes’ beautiful soul didn’t always write pretty poems or happy ones. Sometimes, it’s that courage or chance to be more real. And that can often happen by accident in creative writing.
Poets never leave; they don’t die. Poets never stop asking their questions; they never stop looking for their answers. Poets are always accessible and alive whenever you are ready to open their poems.
Please also check out the latest addition to the lyw channel on Youtube, making poets and poetry our daily treat and exercise. This new addition is a video in two parts called, ‘… a small piece of poetry can often feel very big…’ In this video, I collected some fragments of poetic gems and animated them with a little eye-candy and background music. I hope I am not too biased when I say the animation does actually animate the text.
Video Part 1: ‘… a small piece of poetry can often feel very big …’
Video Part 2: ‘… a small piece of poetry can often feel very big …’
A couple of years ago, I attempted to form a poetry project group to explore new ways to market poets and poetry. The group is still forming and I’m ready whenever it becomes so. Patience is something. But in the meantime, with that initiative in mind, I recently opened a YouTube channel specific towards sharing videos on poetry, literature, art and to promote my own work as a poet.
YouTube is a great way for writers to present individual work. By adding a little sound, colour and animation, literature can have a much wider and dynamic reach.
Anybody who has enjoyed a great literary work knows that once you get into that great piece you don’t need anything external to give you music, motion or visual engagement. However, the truth is that the poetry market is very small and very niche. I want my poetry as well as the poets who inspire me to be more widely read and made relevant to today. Being online is as live and current as it can get in terms of marketing and publishing.
No more old-school cafe poetry readings for me. Nobody wants to listen to a shy writer who can’t perform in public. Now, if I’m not a great performer, I’m also not a professional video editor either but the videos are a far better marketing tool than me trying to sweat out my work on a local and lonely stage.
I never dreamed of having a YouTube channel, however, I am certain it has more promise than the traditional trade routes for poetry these days. Let’s just see how this goes. I promise not to post too much. 😉 Social media these days can sometimes feel like a barrage of over-share.
If you would like, please check out the first video launch in the below YouTube link. There are other poetic and literary videos shared on this channel. I hope that if my own poetry does not move you, this channel’s mission might encourage you to explore the online potential for shared and sharing literary works.
The Ferry Woman – by lyw @ YouTube.com :
* Also, writers interested in looking into the creative projects ongoing on this WP site, please visit the following link:
Othello practises White Rum, his scale of just music, and clears the love song of muddying his morals. He sets his glass down 1ovingly, a whole chorus of molecules sloshing in harmony. He vows he will not, he will not be a dead hero, no way, suffering a beautiful sleep, trimmed with ochre, hazelnut, dressed in mahogany, smelling of last-minute honey and tears, regrets rained upon him too late in the guise of wilted, frail flowers. Instead, he will sleep right now, while he still can, up to his thighs in thighs, gnaw dried, salty smelts, ana water song with rum. Sweet Sixhiboux, run softly till I end my song.
Wearing the lineaments of ungratified desire, Selah sashays from the livingroom, watches dusk bask in the River Sixhiboux. She tells Othello to shut up because Jericho’s where she’s gonna go when she falls in love. Yep, when that someday man come out the blue to Whylah Falls, Beauty Town, to serenade her and close his wings around her, she’ll be in Jericho at last like the fortune-tel1er says. She’ll jump the broom and cross the Nile.
I stroll outside with strange music in my skull. Here’s the Sixhiboux River, tossed tinfoil, crinkling along the ground, undistracted by all the grave lovers it attracts, all those late Romantics who spout Lake Poet Wordsworth, “The world is too much with us, late and soon,” and brood upon the river’s shimmering bliss before tossing themselves within, pretending to be Percy Bysshe Shelley at Lerici. I’ve thought of the Sixhiboux in those erotic ways, dreamt it as midnight-thick, voluptuous, folding — like a million moths, furry with a dry raininess — over one. No matter where you are in Sunflower County, you can hear it pooling, milling in a rain storm, or thundering over a hapless town. Even now, I can hear its shining roar pouring over Shelley’s house, polishing the roses that nod, drunken, or spring — petalled crude — from earth. All I hear is an old song, her voice, lilting, “Lover Man.”
The first poem that I read from Nizar Qabbani was ‘A Letter from a Stupid Woman.’ At first, I thought this was a poet who had been bitter towards a lover. On the contrary, it is a beautiful and thought-provoking poem from a poet who loved women. This poem’s simple honesty is powerful and elegant and continues to have a lasting impact on me.
Late last year I made the attempt to revitalize my interest in poetry. When was the last time you asked somebody if they had a favourite poet or poem? I was jaded but I started that way. I expected people to tell me that they did not read poetry. In this way, I met Qabbani’s poetry. I was lucky to have clicked on this poem first.
Love poetry is often best served in a good song; great music and voice to sugar-coat the sugar coats. However, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ is a song that I prefer to read. This is a beautiful poem. There is no sugar. There is a lot of passion, though, and depth; enough to make one want to turn down the noise and listen to the words very carefully.
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:
a friend asked me who my favourite poet was. I always name Langston Hughes. And every time after I name him, I think about him and the poem, ‘dream variations.’ Very complicated and prolific writer. He is a poet’s poet.
I love the rhythm, the clean delivery, the simplicity, and the subtle emotion of that poem. It was the first poem I ever read of his. It’s, at first, beautiful and quiet and gentle; accepting and part of the flow of a very busy life. It always eventually feels a little sad – a little restless – especially at that point of rest at the end of each stanza.
To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me-
That is my dream!
To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening…
A tall, slim tree…
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.