War and horror – and everything underlying – happens for a species like ours. We’ve got a long history of it. Bad habits die hard they say. That’s why I say, when you see an expression of the grotesque in art, don’t be so quick to turn the eyes from it. Not always, of course. For the kind of art that ONLY wants to be shocking or gross — I’d rather spare my senses.
However, in Kim Hyesoon’s poem, When the Plug gets Unplugged, it’s not her fault if the grotesque is the inevitable result of her subject. I might get squeamish and back away from her imagery but I can still follow an honest, human voice trying to explain and share a painful reality with me.
The poem seems to be about the aftermath of a war, a battle, probably atomic. But is it that simple? Could it actually be a metaphor of any kind of traumatic loss or suffering? An ugliness or hurt that connects all of us whether we’ve been through war or not.
I’ve never experienced war. I’ve read about it. Seen documentaries that gave me nightmares. I stare at a poem like this and just wonder. Is it really that grotesque? Or just part of what we all are? It is a mess. Should I be surprised? Given our human history? That our imperfections can be that vivid? And can we accept them? In order to start cleaning up somehow. She’s asking for a flame thrower or act of God. Any better ideas?
If art is meant to be an expression of our humanity then it certainly won’t always be beautiful. If I look closely enough at this poem, put aside the repulsion, I may recognize something of my own ugliness and horror that I am turning away from and refusing to deal with.
The latest poetry video on the lywTube channel is a piece from this poem. I do invite everyone to check out the full poem on the Missing Slate journal website.
I’m getting ready to write something important to me and, of course, that means I’m procrastinating. A nicer way to look at it is that I’m attacking the beast from the side.
After several weeks of a trickling work flow, I called a stop and told myself to go back to doing something a little productive, and less daunting.
I have a stack of hand-written semi-professional writing journals spanning roughly the last 5 years that need transcription into an e-form. Why?
Find and Destroy evidence of any stupidity.
Salvage any ideas that I can develop.
Retain a relevant chronicle of myself – the stuff that I think will be important for me to remember in years to come, even if it means keeping some of my stupidity.
Purge the remaining fluff.
Transcribing old journals is like cleaning out and reorganizing your closet. What kind of closet you have depends on what kind of journal you keep. Is it for a specific project? Is it emotional therapy? Stream-of-consciousness? The main purpose of a journal for this writer is to observe my day for anything I might be able to grow as an idea. That’s the goal. Usually starts with ranting.
So, transcribing journals is a good job to take on while I’m procrastinating. It can lead to a forgotten idea or lead me back to the roots of my current ideas. There is a high risk of wallowing in the past while transcribing and I need to be mindful not to linger anywhere too long; try to look at the content with detachment. If a good idea from the past cannot help me look at my present or future with some difference, such ideas are impossible to activate and therefore useless baubles.
Yesterday, I was digging through 2014, dealing with the mind of a girl trying to hammer out a small book of poems – and as always, herself. I had some funny moments during the transcription. One where I thought I was brilliant. Declared myself my own biggest fan – which I know is a very small club – but was proud to lead, at least, yesterday. It’s a great feeling to not recognize something that I wrote and to think, ‘Hey, that was pretty good!”
And then there were the many other moments when I thought I sounded and looked (due to the quality of the handwriting) like a lunatic. Must have been my stream of consciousness exercises where I was just throwing out things that came to mind without any context. Thinking of George Harrison from the Beatles when I write that. He said in an interview that after taking LSD he realized expanding his mind through chemicals was limited and there had to be a better way without them. And if a Beatle said that, then you know it must be true … (just kidding). My point is that journaling is a very healthy and chemical-free way of not so much expanding your mind but exploring your mind, your subconscious and your soul – if you believe in that sort of thing. Go as far out as you want.
Through journaling, I’ve had a life-long and close friendship with myself which I believe translates into stronger self-awareness than people who don’t. Through transcribing this friendship, I return to lessons I’ve forgotten, and as a result, I don’t need to wonder why I continue to repeat into my present day. But it’s not just a nice feeling — it’s a useful feeling — to find that I can still respect and enjoy where I have been despite my mistakes.
The latest poet to be featured on the lyw Youtube channel is a peace activist. Michael R. Burch has many other titles but the selected poems that have been translated into lywtube all sound this particular chord.
Ironically, I received the green light from Mr. Burch to illustrate his poems about the same time that PBS ran their Vietnam War documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novak; a series that showed people from all different sides of that war who were so sure they were right at one time and not so sure at the end. It is a very well-rounded and thorough documentary guaranteed to make me shamefully thankful that I don’t know war and hate to that extreme.
The poems, like this documentary series, do not make me regret taking time for very somber subject matter. I consider it a privilege. They remind me that the world is still healing from a past that we inherited. The poet and the film-makers presented the subjects through intimate, human perspective, like meeting an injured family member who needs me to listen and care for him/her rather than some cold horror being reported on the evening news.
The first poetry video, Ali’s Song, is a poem that depicts Muhammad Ali’s stand against the draft into the Vietnam War and for equality. The second poetry video, Survivors, is a short yet powerful perspective on the definition of a survivor. The third, Something, is a poem dedicated to the children of the Holocaust and Nakba. The first poetry video is loud, rhythmical and strong. The other two are shorter but slower and quiet.
Ali’s Song … I hesitate to summarize anything about Muhammad Ali or his relationship with his country. However, that stand he made makes a great ruler to measure oneself by. Read the story (a version), ask yourself what or who you think was right? What was wrong? What would you have done? He had so many people telling him he was wrong and so many reasons to doubt his decision. And if he ever did, he didn’t show it.
I hope that I should be so ready to take as strong a stand as he did when an equally important choice is presented to me — and, that I am not wrong in my decisions. That’s just it, isn’t it? Yeah, we need more champions today, for sure, but with information being so suspect these days, how do we make sure what we do is right?
Ali’s public image as a heavyweight champion didn’t leave much room for talk about his soul and relationship with God but I think he would have really liked the references in this poem dedicated to him.
The other two poetry videos speak for themselves. They may be a lot quieter and slower than Ali and Ali’s Song but they are just as strong.
I would like to invite you to please check out these new poetry videos on the lyw channel. The text is best viewed in the highest HD setting in Youtube.
So ima gonna tweet once a weekday for a month; see if I can’t blow out or up a decent tune about poetry.
To date, I have only used Twitter as a supplementary tool to my blog. But no longer! The bird will take centre-stage on September 4, marking the beginning of a little poetry campaign through Twitter. I’ve renamed my Twitter account to the Lit Twit in honour of the campaign. During the Lit Twit campaign, I will tweet a couple lines of poetry (classical, contemporary and obscure), ending each week with the persistent question: Why do We Read / Write Poetry? A question that is open to anybody’s answer.
Let’s face it, Twitter is pretty severe for writers. WORDY writers, if that’s what you want to call me. 140 character limit? Why bother? Was my common thought.
But you know what I’ve learned to love about this limitation? I can amplify a piece of poetry that would not have nearly the same volume within the body of a larger whole. In fact, an isolated line of poetry in the frame of a tweet becomes almost like a visual message.
Poems tend to literally look a lot alike – a column with the right side in a waving line if you don’t justify your text. The longer and denser the poem, the more it looks like nothing more than a big column, never mind the text. And quite honestly, since I have a generational sickness of a short attention span, I am less inclined to dig in when poetry looks like that.
I chipped off a piece of a big marble column and presented that instead of the whole column it would certainly have a more unique shape and the size would be less daunting. That piece’s texture and particular veins might become more striking by this isolation. A small piece of poetry can often feel very big.
And it’s not like a haiku. I’ve cut a piece of poetry out of a larger whole. The places where I cut enhance the viewer/reader experience, especially if you stop to imagine what the rest of the column must have looked like; what the rest of the poem might have been saying.
All the living and at large poets who have granted me permission to recreate their poetry on Youtube have also granted permission to quote their work during this campaign. George Elliott Clarke, the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada, included. We affectionately tweet him as GEC. I want to publicly thank him again for being so supportive. And the pieces that I struck from his larger poems, are really going to sing as tweets.
During this campaign, I’m also going to share my love for some masterful poets that until a few years ago were unknown to me.
Do you know Adunis? Aka Alī Aḥmad Saʿīd ‘Isbar? Can’t believe I stumbled upon one of his poems by accident a couple of years ago and he could have easily gone unnoticed my whole life. Today, I am a large and growing fan. It amazes me how his work can be both simple and complex at the same time. His poetry feels alive and moving. Flows like thoughts from my own head but shares, clearly, somebody else’s experience.
And Mr. Gerard Manley Hopkins? Spellbinder. That’s what I call him. Read Windhover loud and out loud and, hopefully, you get something of what I did from that poem. Can’t believe I’d never read his work until a few years ago as well.
So, some classical, some ‘obscure’ (to me anyway), some contemporary and some GEC all in a month of poetweeting.
If you are into Twitter and poetry, or think you could be, please find this campaign at #LillianYWong (aka the Lit Twit) starting September 4!
See Wern Hao is the latest, living and active poet to grant me permission to recreate two pieces of his poetry as video on Youtube. Given his penchant for quoting popular music as inspiration for his work both poetic pieces are complimented with dramatic, rock-esque music.
Promoting poetry on Youtube is still a slow build for me but these young, vital poets keep me going. While pursuing a degree in law and liberal arts, See Wern Hao is keeping his lit lit by participating in the 2017 Singapore Writers Festival and scattering his work, like seeds, over the fields of social media and online journals. He is everything that I think a young writer should be: active, available, smart, keeping busy and out of trouble. I totally made up the last part. I have no idea how much trouble he gets into. I do know that when I was in school, I spent a little too much of my time ‘doing something close to nothing, but different than the day before’ [quote from Raspberry Beret, Prince]. I also held the immature idea back then that all I needed to do to be a great writer was hone my craft — which included getting into interesting experiences to write about — and somehow and someway, publishers would find my talent like a beacon calling out to them. I was not nearly as active or in tune to my other options as Mr. Hao.
I also don’t know for a fact that See Wern Hao is all the things that I claim he is. I say it because I see it in the body of work that he has produced of himself online. I see it in his commitment to his poetry. It’s one thing to spread your work around and another to hone your craft. Two completely different things. He’s got the right balance and I can’t wait to see how his craft and career grows in years to come.
I am amazed to follow after this next generation of poets when just a few years ago I honestly believed that all our great poets were from older generations or generations gone by and poetry was a wilting art.
Please check out below the two new videos on the lyw Youtube channel … a channel exploring the online potential for shared and sharing literary works. **Videos are best seen in the highest HD setting otherwise the text looks blurry.
1. a poet is only madness … a poem by See Wern Hao
2. Home of the Professional Dreamers … a poem by See Wern Hao
A long time ago, I penned a peculiar short fiction about a house with a human personality who reacts to a stranger entering uninvited. She – the house is female – is empty only for the fact that a human does not own her.
Now Freudians might scoff that the writer clearly let slip some hidden meanings that are not so well-hidden, however – let me finish the story of the story before judgement:
The story begins with the house noticing a stranger across the street from her. Her initial response is to be afraid yet this man is no threat to her. He doesn’t break or break into anything. He is only a visitor who enters her house much like a beautiful song can enter the ears without need for an invitation or introduction. He, this song, settles by her fireside and takes a moment to rest his weary soul there.
And there it is! This story is about how a particular song had graced my ears once. That’s it. That’s all. I swear. I wanted to use fiction as a unique way to describe how we can feel so familiar with an artist, even though we have never met, simply by experiencing that person’s artwork.
Since I chose fiction as my medium, I didn’t want to take a direct approach. Go figure. I decided to build a metaphor around this experience.
The development of the fear in this story began when I separated the house’s character from myself and the idea. This is a creative writing method I often use to let my character be her own character and thus give the story a chance to grow in unanticipated ways. Boy, did it ever. Being a house, I instinctively made her more domesticated and thus more suspicious of strangers unlike lovers of art who are a little more free-wheeling with the unknown.
I realize my biggest mistake with this story. Without knowing immediately that the main character is the house, the tone of the story can be very creepy instead of very curious. This was the opinion of a friend who I had critique the piece. At the time, I brushed him off as closed-minded. Now I realize that he must have thought the main character was a human woman being stalked and invaded by a maniac and then becoming complacent about it. Totally not what I meant.
If I were to fix the story now it would be a whole new fiction influenced by the person I am today. And I still love the original intent and moment of this story so I will leave it in the past but with the added disclaimer: the main character is the house! And it’s a metaphor for crying out loud!
I heartily invite you to take a moment to enjoy the song, if not the story. The song was Anthony Hamilton’s Do you Feel Me? A very pretty, quiet and soulful tune. He (as in the song — not the artist!) still sleeps peacefully in a special place in my heart.
Fiction is dangerous! But let it. Let it make this writer be more careful and more precise. Let me be misunderstood about something that is meaningful to me so that I can get to a better meaning with another human being. This is a practice worth carrying over to things other than fiction-writing.
Another interesting note: the confusion related to this short also illustrates the stark difference in the way art and real life deals with strangers and strange ideas. When we experience a stranger through their artwork we are more open to letting them in; when we experience a stranger on our doorstep, we are less inclined. Reality makes this difference so sadly wise.
Recently, on the way to my day job, I remembered a film script idea that I had about 10 years ago. I went digging for that old idea in my files and couldn’t find it. I am sure I left it in the past for a reason and shouldn’t be too concerned by the loss. Good or bad, though, I would still like to see it again.
It’s funny how a creative idea that was never realized always feels precious like a rough gem. It could have been the worst idea in the world but as a fledgling bad idea it always has the potential to be magnificent. Funny, still, how I feel more attached towards ideas from my past than people from my past. Perhaps this is because people are not within my control, whereas an idea is — or should be – can be? If nothing comes of my idea, I am the only one to blame. I am that idea’s only hope. Nobody would have that idea quite like me. Certainly, nobody would love my idea quite like me.
Funny on funny. Because, again, if I had developed those ideas into the ugly monstrosities that usually occur when I develop script or novel ideas then that preciousness would be lost.
I did a major purge of creative files a few years ago mainly because I was advised that it was a very healthy thing to do for writers. This purge promised to help me to:
Let go of the past that is keeping me from experiencing the present or having any mind for the future.
If I have been dogging on a story for years and not getting anywhere, remember that I am mortal; my time here is finite.
Realize that an idea that is 10 years old or older probably has little relevance to me now or would need to be turned into a new idea to suit who I am as a writer.
Consider that since I probably have at least a few creative ideas a year — if all of my undeveloped ideas continued to follow after me, year after year, like tin cans attached to my waist with strings – I’d make such a royal din everywhere I went.
Accept that some ideas are just bad and deserve to be put to rest. I don’t know if I can ever believe this statement. After all, aren’t I the bad one if I can’t make something out of one of my brilliant ideas?
**Important Note: I’m only talking about literary ideas. An idea such as doing your own amateur household electrical or medical surgery. No. Don’t do it.
I think the lesson learned is that if I should have a good literary idea then I should develop it immediately. Embrace the sucking, as They say, and just do it — so it doesn’t follow after me for years and I don’t suffer the regret of needing to purge them. I bet some sort of angel or spirit weeps every time an idea dies before it’s even given a chance.
Ultimately, there is wisdom to this funny business. Whenever I have tried to develop a creative concept into a novel or script it has grown into a hairy kind of Frankenstein with lots of heads, arms and legs and eventually feels beyond my control to develop any further.
I do believe, though have not yet proven, that I must persevere long enough to see the beauty in the ugly reality of my idea. That’s life, isn’t it? An idea is an ideal. The ideal is perfection. Longer creative pieces will never turn out the way I had it in mind. The writer and the story develop together and the reality will always come out differently. The reality is where I will learn and test the truth about me, my story and my perspective on this life. Time is a factor as well. The act of stretching out an idea through linear time, page after page, scene after scene — it does stuff to an idea. It applies maddening and rigid logic to the abstract.
Obviously, if my storytelling craft adhered to a popular formula or template the work and product would be different. Ideas, I imagine, would have a clearer and smaller path to follow to completion. Kudos to writers who can successfully write longer creative pieces within a template. My monsters have always managed to escape such prisons.
And those are the few times when I have actually been very proud of my monstrosities.
Since I am recently out from the red velvet fiction of Ms. Angela Carter’s the Bloody Chamber, let’s talk feminist literary fiction and theory. That bloody chamber is right.
While reading her work, I admired what I detected as a hidden mirth under a proud and defiant spirit; like a Shakespearean Puck character. The writing is smart, beautiful, and sexy, to boot; regardless of gender.
When I love, then I dissect, literarily not literally. To get to know this writer better, a closer examination of the writing was needed, beyond the super-girl, sometimes gothic, persona.
And let me tell you there are some downright rock-star moments in this book. Rockstar, kick-ass, literary fiction. I never thought those adjectives would go together. I love it! She is her own freakin’ genre. (We should blog later about the definitions of literary fiction, as they are dubious; in need of an Other.)
I wondered about Ms. Carter and the era she grew up in. What was she searching for in her stories? What was she really telling me through her fiction? This trail brought me back to that word I haven’t used in a long time: feminism.
It was a confrontational word back when I knew it and when she was living it; there’s no doubt in my mind that it was. But she willingly put herself in that fight by claiming the title. Did she? Just by the stories she chose to publish in that Bloody Chamber: I think, yes. But how did she do it? Happily, defensively, aggressively, angrily? I am sure she needed a high level of certainty about who she was in order to write so sharply, almost like she couldn’t afford doubt.
While I was in school, whenever feminism came up throughout the history of English Literature, from antiquity, Middle Ages, etc, I felt I was being asked to define who I was as a woman, and if I couldn’t, then I had to confess ignorance of my sex and its role in shaping human history.
I was too inexperienced to honestly consider feminism on a personal level. I was also too busy trying to prove academic opinions when I barely knew enough to have any. The thesis statement: another bloody chamber.
I eventually learned that I don’t need to be defensive, or offensive, to be comfortable in my definition of myself as an intelligent woman because I make my mark everyday by how I choose to be. ie. Today, this is what a woman does. Tomorrow, this is what a woman does. And some days are stupider than others. I adhere to that highly ideal and poetic theory that each one of us essentially define all through being one. ButI appreciate that I enjoy this relaxed stance because those history-making fights for women’s rights, in the Western world, had already been waged for me.
Was Ms. Carter’s fierce brilliance a little defensive? Her fairy tales leave a lot unsaid. Fairy tales generally do. To go further into a fairy tale character might reveal an ordinariness behind that magic designed to dazzle us into following after her. I personally love it when legends become huggable but, sometimes, it is not easy to be both tough and soft.
P.S. On a side but interesting note, after noticing a few references to the Bible — ‘a mark of Cain,’ ‘Eve’s sin’, etc. — in the Bloody Chamber, I wondered if in the process of finding her sense of identity as a feminist and writer, in her era of individualism and defiance for the status quo, Ms. Carter wanted to challenge the biggest male – and arguably literary — presence in her Western culture as an equal — and that would be God. Now, that’s a pretty big statement but an interesting chew, not just for her, but her generation of writers. Whenever literary fiction has taken direct aim at religion there might be a case to be made for these writers wanting to face their own ‘God’ for an ultimate self-revelation. Think of the way religion was used as a form of repression during her lifetime. I might be onto something. Wonder what my former Lit profs would think of that thesis statement …
P.P.S. Was surprised that I could not find any satisfying illustrations inspired by this book …