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.
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!
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.
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.
[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?
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.