When the Plug gets Unplugged, a poem by Kim Hyesoon

Photo by Henrik Donnestad, Unsplash.com

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.

Check out the poetry video at this link:

© lyw 

Ali’s Song: an old call for peace re-Activated

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.

Ali’s Song, a poem by Michael R. Burch:

2. Survivors, a poem by Michael R. Burch:

3. Something, a poem by Michael R. Burch:

© lyw 

the Lit Twit: a poetry campaign on Twitter

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!

© lyw

light bulb image c/o Alvaro Serrano at Unsplash.com

Links to the works of some of our campaign’s featured poets:

drums, electric guitar and See Wern Hao

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

© lyw 

Thank you to Unsplash.com for the use of their beautiful library of hi-res photography in the making of these videos.

fiction to fill an empty house

 

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.

© lyw 

Link to song:

Side note on the The Treachery of Images by René Magritte https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Treachery_of_Images

Photo of House by Cindy Tang on Unsplash

digging up old ideas

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:

  1. Let go of the past that is keeping me from experiencing the present or having any mind for the future.
  2. If I have been dogging on a story for years and not getting anywhere, remember that I am mortal; my time here is finite.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

© lyw 

Photography credits:

Dave Michuda

Nirzar Pangarkar

GEC stands for Mr. George Elliott Clarke

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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 ;).

slide1

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.

The Fiction between being Young and Adult

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 Adult Fiction 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.

Thank you for reading this latest literary chew.

© lyw 

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A Poet’s Words Pressed through a Tube Named lyw

https://sabiscuit.wordpress.com/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 are humans, 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:

David et Goliath – a poem by SB:

Luminous – a poem by SB:

© lyw 

Goth my Grimm: Go Ahead and Make my Day

artwork by Blender84 c/o Deviantart.com

image by Blender84 c/o pinterest.com

I was looking for some light reading and picked an e-book that boasted a modern gothic spin on my favourite childhood fairy tales. Red Riding Hood as a modern day biker!  Goth my Grimm! What a great concept!  I was severely disappointed to find that it was little more than an adolescent attempt at applying erotica to my favourite childhood fairy tales.  Not only did the book not deliver what it said it would; it was also poorly conceived.

What gets me is that these writers were already riding on the backs of incredible stories and thus in a great position to ride right into another great story.  Gothic fiction is not equivalent to erotica and erotica does not have to be equivalent to cheap and stupid. I am amazed at the use of the term ‘adult’ or ‘mature’ to the two-dimensional story-lines and characters that often make the erotica literature genre.  Intelligence, including emotional intelligence, is way sexier; like all things that take more time … and effort … and imagination to get.

For example, think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: this is a story where both the erotic and gothic successfully merged but did not beat the story to death.  The story is about a vampire and his human victims, how they strive to exist and survive in the same world and how their natures clash.  The Freudian metaphors in this novel are far from subtle yet the story goes without a single, sexual encounter.  In this novel, the gothic and erotic were better developed because the whole story was better developed.  The erotic scenes or elements actually did something to illustrate or develop the story or characters – not just as a result of oh, somebody hot showing up.

When I read the description of this e-book, I was hoping for a more kick-ass version of the damsel-in-distress archetype of Red Riding Hood, exploring a character who takes a more head-on approach to her path from innocence to maturity, and maybe even a reflection on her own primitive nature.  That could have been very sexy.

Our classic fairy tales do what this fantasy-type fiction should have; compare our strangest and most impossible dreams against what we think we can’t do in our waking life regardless of whether we are emphasizing a specific genre in the telling (erotic, gothic, horror, etc.).  This theory does not work with porn because that is not the purpose of this type of literature.  If I was looking for porn and got a great story, instead, I’d have been just as irritated, right? Yet, this e-book seemed to aim for a hybrid between the two and, I guess, due to lack of focus, it failed.

I firmly believe that even the pulpiest writer is looking to eventually get into his/her ‘own’: the kind of stories that go beyond genre, formula or, in this case, using fiction as a tool.  Because writers are artists, too.

Even as a kid, as much as I liked an entertaining, plot-driven story, it was easy to recognize the difference in the stories that momentarily distracted and the ones I cherished; these stories gave more.  These cherished books weren’t all classics or critically acclaimed but they all showed a writer’s passion. Reading a person’s fiction is like stepping into the back of a person’s head.  Because it’s fiction, I’m not stepping into blood, bones and brains; I’m stepping into the dream of that writer’s best craft: following a clever rabbit down his/her proverbial rabbit-hole.  This is true even in the most formulated genre-fiction, if it is written well.  These are the books that make the genres that other writers chase.

In fact, I think even porn could be literary.  The writer just has to try!  First and foremost, pornographic literature needs to have sex in it.  To give its readership anything else for the sake of a better story would just by annoying.  So, in that case, the best approach would be to start the story right in the act.  Don’t even bother explaining who they are or how they got there.  Cut out the superfluous, I always say.  Dialogue?  Forget that, too.  Let the action speak entirely for itself and develop character and conflict based on how the players physically react to each other and their given environment.  With this concept, a pornographic story can still fulfill its purpose and also provide an incredible stretch for any writer to develop a compelling story with such limitations.

I have heard that the type of erotica that I am criticizing in this blog has made a come-back in the market, bolstering fiction sales where the ‘literary’ kind has not.  I must, therefore, accept that my opinion might not be the popular one.  But, I ask, who cares what way the market is swinging, when, as a writer, you have a choice between making a real connection with your readers or just something you think they’ll buy?  Especially when you are already working off another piece of art?  Even a bad piece of art is better than not trying at all.

© lyw 

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Qabbani’s Letter from a Stupid Woman

salsa2The 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.

Reading Life of Pi, again

from amazon.ca

It is a pleasure to say that Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi, is one of the few books from a living author that I both enjoyed as entertainment and valued artistically in over a decade.  I am grateful that it was published.  Too often when I walk into a bookstore the fiction tables are full of reprinted classics from dead writers.

It is a good piece of Canadian literature that won its many accolades with humour always at its side.  The truth is, in the aftermath of my English Literature studies, if we are telling stories about humans and it’s not funny in a weird and dark sort of way then my faith in its validity will likely not rise.

I remember warning a friend, who was (is?) an atheist that this book professed to make one believe in God.  She advised me frankly that she had already read the book and though she remained immune, still enjoyed the tale.  The book’s treatment of religion, faith and the literary imagination is athletically academic, really getting the hands, feet and whole body fully immersed in a playground of ideas, twisted and celebrated by the youth and innocence of a boy who just wants to love God and in this ‘… attracting religions the way a dog attracts fleas.’

Quote from Life of Pi, by Yann Martel:

“I’ll be honest about it.  It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics.  Doubt is useful for a while … But we must move on.  To doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

Currently, I am letting my partner read this novel to me.  I didn’t want us to see the film version until he had read the book.  As wonderful as the reviews have been, I already know that the film does not look anything like it did in my mind when I first read it.  I am certain it does not look like it did in yours either, if you read the book prior to seeing the film.  I want this story to look, first, like no other in his mind as well.  Thus is the magic of literature.

I am even particular about the book cover.  I would rather have the older illustrated copy of this book than the reprinted version depicting the film.  Let all book covers be illustrations and leave some part of the space to the reader’s imagination.  Again, as beautiful as the film must be, it cannot compare to the unfolding time, place and happenings that are evoked when we follow the trail of flat, black ink across the off-white pages.