Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition

Hello all!

Miss the fun this weekend at the UICA? Have no fear. Here’s a few pictures and a video here to get you all caught up…


National poet and competition judge Linda Nemec Foster.

National poet and competition judge Linda Nemec Foster.

There was even live music afterward.

There was even live music afterward.

But I will say this: it was a real pleasure. I look forward to more readings in the future!


Is Poetry Dead?

The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry, oil on...

The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry, oil on canvas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me clarify: it’s not me asking. It’s the Washington Post.


Lord Byron

Is good Lord Byron rolling in his grave even as we speak? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alexandra Petri, one of the paper’s pundits, investigated the assertion in an article last week (which I just discovered now).  And I quote: “Poets are like the Postal Service — a group of people sedulously doing something that we no longer need, under the misapprehension that they are offering us a vital service.” What’s more, the article goes on to quote playwright Gwydion Suilebhan in delivering the dramatic title of this post: “Poetry is dead. What pretends to be poetry now is either New Age blather or vague nonsense or gibberish. It’s zombie poetry.”

By her own estimation, in fact, there is “no longer, really, any formal innovation possible.”  That world-shaking revelations such as “Howl” or “The Waste Land” are no longer possible in a world where high production movies, video games, and other media are able to do everything the poet can do, but better.

Petri, naturally, was using this as a parallel point to journalism, which if any of you have been following the course of in recent years, is in very dire straits itself. If poetry is dead, then what of journalism?

Personally, I think it is exactly like journalism–in the regards that there will be a struggle for a time, a chaotic crumbling of identity whereby everyone is scrambling to rediscover just what it can be. But is it dead? Will it die? Certainly not. The identity will change. The nature of it will change, and find new ground. But I dare say–nay, I dare hope–this old dose of the literary, stalking us from the very dawning of civilization, is so engrained in us that it could never truly, utterly die.

So poets, journalists, I ask you, what do you think? What are your insights to this, and where do you think things are heading?

Can’t Anyone be a Writer?

One of the great questions (alright, so maybe it’s one of the mediocre questions, but it’s important to me, alright?) writers often face from a less than enthused public is such, generally delivered in a somewhat sarcastic tone: “What does it take to be a writer?”

Of course, the fact that this usually comes after someone in the room has already delivered the very much conversational bombing inquiry of: “Can’t anyone be a writer?” doesn’t make matters much better. To that, of course, the answer is at once both a begrudging yes, and still a resounding no. Anyone can write. Not everyone can take on the title of writer. Even less the title of author, but then, that’s a whole other issue that a great many blogs spend a great deal of time getting flamed about already, so let’s not get into that quite yet shall we?

So what does it take to be a writer, then? After all, every school thrusts an English class at you at some point, and if you have to write creatively for them, doesn’t that make you a writer? No, class, but thank you for asking. I took years and years of mathematics, and that didn’t make me a mathematician, so I’m sad to say that an English class or two isn’t enough to hand out the coveted (Yes, flattery, dang you—give me something) heavy weight title.

The fact is, you’re probably not going to pick up the skill that is writing successfully from school. If you’re a writer, the passion is already there—school and the works offered therein merely provide you with further evidence for said love, and a means to hone it. That said, there are really only three main ways to actually perfect the skill, and begin to call yourself a writer:

  1. Write, damn you. Without practice, your writing will be as flaccid as…an airless balloon. What did you think I was going to say?
  2. Getting it out there. I don’t mean hitting the publishers right off the bat, kiddo—chances are, especially these days, most of them wouldn’t give you what you need anyways, and that’s a critique. Show your work to friends, to teachers, hell, even hire yourself some beta readers or find some eager reviewers. Hunt down a writers group. But get insight—good or bad, it’s the only way you can get opinions to advance your work beyond the confines of your own noodle.
  3. Study. What, you thought this was the path of the indolent? A good writer reads, be it fellow writers of his genre or theories of the same. Immerse yourself in language, and skill, and the lessons they teach will gradually rub off on you. Knock heads with a teacher or fellow writers you admire, and see what they can help you learn. Grow, or stagnate, friends.

Most major writers don’t have a Masters in English; hell, there’s plenty of writers out there without even an English degree in the first place. It doesn’t mean it’s not a path for you, but that’s the thing—it’s only a path for those that know that very specific brand of learning will work. The facts that hold true, no matter the soul, though, are the above.

No man is an island. Don’t make it so. And see what works for you within those boundaries—every person learns and grows differently.

Relaxing the way to Creativity

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin, inventor, American hero, and ladies man. (Public domain image, available through Wikimedia Commons.

Writers: booze is your friend.

Well that got your attention, didn’t it?

In truth, though, it may not be your friend, but definitely mine. Calm down, calm down. Please don’t call the parenting groups on me, and please don’t chalk this up to, “Oh dear, Galfie’s gone and gotten himself shnockered.” I am not about to launch into a sermon to the world on the virtues of guzzling yourself into a gutter. I’m just about to wax philosophic on a certain trait of writing–I’m not a saucy drunk. As Benjamin Franklin said, after all, all things in moderation. Even moderation.

And there was a fellow that liked to share a drink.

Still with me? Good. Now let’s start making some sense.

Booze, and its like-minded if less fondly looked upon cousins (kids, don’t do drugs–I’ll wag a finger at you, most heartily), have long been a staple of the art. Oh hell, who am I kidding: of ART. Drop that “the” right out of there. Perhaps it is certain mental propensities amongst the artists in question, and in many cases you would be right, but the fact is these substances possess a quality very helpful to the creative side of people: the lowering of the inhibitions.

Man’s inclination is toward over-thinking. Our days are filled with stimuli assaulting us from all sides: chattering roommates, blaring car horns, social media bleepings, open browser windows, cell phone calls…it gets to be a little overwhelming, and as one goes down the list, it becomes easy to see why society these days has such a problem with focus. What we need–and hey, this part isn’t just for the creative among us here–is the ability to tune it all out. Some people have the ability to do that on their own. Truly focused, driven individuals, impervious to distraction.

To your face I say, “You lucky devils you.” Behind your back, I say the same thing…in less kindly terms.

The creative flow needs all the help it can get. A few drinks, a short meditation, even a few moments sitting and petting your dog (like this puppy here. See, this is why Ms. Emmie is destined to be a writing dynamo) can be enough to ease the over-flaring of the conscious, and let us sink into the subconscious flow of the creative. After all, that is where the inspiration lies. We need enough of that conscience, that overt logic, to formulate the details, the intricacies–outlines, chapters, and what have you, but the relaxed mind brings forth the flow. It lets us go and go, without constant second-guessing.

For those of us with annoying little fellows on our shoulders, that time of peace is invaluable.

That is not to say, however, that this methodology doesn’t have its flaws. Much as one may write while in this zone, it may be countered with heavy editing, heavy revisions later. Such is the tradeoff: suppressing the editor so the writer may thrive. Yet the important part has been achieved: the pressing of thoughts to paper. Ideas can always be revised, honed, perfected–but we must get them out and breathing our sweet air first. It is an all too difficult process when we attempt to birth them with hands already stained with doubt.

Deep breaths. That’s right–just relax. Those contractions are normal for the writing process.

Any breaking of water in this case however probably means you either, A. Drank too much, or B. should consult a physician. My condolences.

Of course, the simple fact is that this method isn’t for everyone. Some people need that over-abundance of logic. Some people work better when they’re constantly self-editing as they go along. The haze, the fuzzy nature of the relaxation–it actually shrouds their creativity in turn, instead of clearing the ground for it. Find what works for you.

But if you find you can’t get the world outside your head for an hour a day, just relax or go for a run, put on a little music and have yourself a drink or some steaming hot tea…and you just might ease your way into creative clarity.

Exploring the Imagination

The Power of Imagination. Image by DP Studios and Wallpapers on Web.

What is a writer without imagination? It is the font of creativity, the well-spring of art that keeps us moving in a dry, dry world. Reality may lend forms to what we drink, but the imagination – the imagination breathes detail into those shapes. As Emily Dickinson once wrote, “The Possible’s slow fuse is lit by the imagination.” Such a beautiful thing to comprehend.

Which is why I am always curious when a head cocks at the sound of what I do. I write, I say, and I see the eyebrow arch. I enjoy the fantastic. Fiction. Fantasy. Their heads shake and I hear the words, “Why not write something real? Something substantial? Non-fiction is the bread and butter…” And I smile, just a bit, at the concept. They scorn it because of the lack of “real value” to the world. Real value? My goodness, how do we even begin to define…is not the power of the human imagination, the power to showcase how far that human thought can reach, not worth documentation? Every bit of writing employs imagination, to an extent. Fiction or non-fiction – those are merely scales of extent.

Even non-fiction has details we fill in. Auto-biographies, narrated years after the fact, might embellish a detail for the storytelling, reflect on events long gone and add a line, here or there, that prod at the curiosities of our own imagination. They pursue thought, not merely deeds.

As I get closer to releasing my first fantasy novel, though, it is a curious thing to reflect on – this concept of imagination, and where it stands in our society. So much fiction,  fantasy, sci-fi, and what you will flood the market, yet all too often you hear those calls for structure, for the sensible, for the restriction of the imaginative from sources populating that same reality. The disconnect astounds me.

Henry David Thoreau. Image care of Wikimedia Commons.

But that leads me to a few new quotes for this week, revolving around that sense of the imagination, and the creativity it walks with hand-in-hand:

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells.  Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope.  Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
~Theodore Geisel

“They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea.” 
~Francis Bacon

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” 
~Henry David Thoreau

Bringing Art to New Generations

Once again it seems Google is leading the charge to a more collaborative universe, and this time it’s taking an aim at art fans around the world.

Google, whose name has long since been synonymous with web innovation, has now extended its cameras from the streets to museums the world over. From the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Google’s latest program, Art Project, allows users to view hundreds of pieces of classic and modern art without ever having to leave their desk.

The program actually launched last week, for those of you that may not have heard of it, but I myself only discovered this gem a few days ago. I’m already in love. For the art fan like myself, this program opens the doors to 17 museums across the United States and Europe and hundreds of artistic treasures I otherwise likely never would have gotten to see in person.

Yet as interesting as this new realm of possibilities is, Art Project is, at the moment, more intriguing for its potential than for its actual capabilities at the moment. The system is a bugged one in places, and you get the feeling Google’s still finding its ground to stand on with this program. Some locales are higher quality than others; some are fairly blurred and abstract, while with others you can zoom right into high-resolution images such that you can almost feel as though you’re running your hands along treasures like Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” or Byzantine iconography It’s just you and a magnifying glass for these images, so you can pour over every succulent inch.

The museum tours themselves are simply Google’s street view brought indoors, and you can use arrows to tour the facilities at your leisure. In several locales you even get the full 360-degree treatment, so as to lose nothing of the world’s most stunning galleries – like, for example, the beautiful murals in Versailles. Not all rooms in these places are in the boundaries yet, but there’s still enough of a journey that you can busy yourself for several satisfying hours.

Though many museums have already allowed virtual journeys like this, Art Project is still a major leap forward in the interaction of the web and the arts community. It provides easy travel across continents and years of artistic splendor, all gathered nice-and-tidy under one accessible roof. Best of all: it’s an art journey that’s completely free.

With luck and time, hopefully more museums and galleries will sign on to the project. Google itself noted that thus far, while many have been approached, these 17 museums were the only ones to sign on to the idea. If people start devouring this new internet gem, though, it could spark something of a revitalized art craze – and that could stir more of these places to action.

In this day and age, anything that keeps the art scene alive is a good way to go; the old generation needs to get with the program, and this is a nice start on that road. Reconciling the classics to modern technology only helps to further preserve these beauties for the generations to come, and it preserves, above all, the knowledge and culture we should all cherish.

So my review? Good program. Great potential. Definitely worth a look – just be prepared for some bugs, and don’t go in expecting the world. As they say: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Google’s opening its doors to more art than Rome ever saw.