Poetry Readings, Interviews, and an Award to Boot!

If only one got a nice, comfy couch every time they had to read poetry...

If only one got a nice, comfy couch every time they had to read poetry…

Time to mark some calendars.

I spoke last week about a rather serious life update, and a huge professional milestone for me. Now I’m prepared to attach some numbers to the featureless and let you all in a little deeper into the fold of the Dyer-Ives award.

The Dyer-Ives Foundation was begun 50 years ago, an organization dedicated to building grassroots and neighborhood functions in the community. For the past 46 years, they have also run the Kent County Dyer-Ives Poetry Competition–an event divided into three different categories, for the young, the undergraduate and the young at heart.

My poem, Grand River, won first place in the adult side of the competition, and as a result I will be giving a public reading of it, alongside fellow poets, at the Grand Rapids Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA) on JUNE 7, 2014, from 1 – 2:30 p.m. Dearest readers, are any of you from Michigan? If so, you’re more than welcome to attend–the event is free of charge and everyone is invited!

Additionally, my work is going to be published in a chapbook. Print copies of the chapbook will be made available at the reading (and attendees can get us to sign shiny copies there as well), but they’ll also be made available online in late May, if you feel like waiting.

This is the point where I say: but wait, there’s more!

This little poet is also going to be on the radio. If you can stand my voice for even more time, there’s going to be an interview with me on 88.1 WYCE at an undisclosed future date–once I’ve made those necessary arrangements, I promise you’ll all be the first to know.

What all this boils down to is that the month to come is going to be quite a ride; I’m excited, I’m nervous, but most of all I’m looking forward to what all of this means. For me, this is my first (true) step into the professional side of the poetic sphere. Published author was already under my belt, but now I can add published poet to the plaque alongside it–and that’s enough to swell this creative heart of mine with bliss.

Never forget where we came from, and the dream of what once was.

There are friends I could (and shall) thank for all this–friends that helped me come to this. My family has never ceased in its support. What’s more, I can extend personal gratitude to what once was One Stop Poetry, and the dream it had embodied; I learned a lot there, and I’d like to think it helped me hone my trade. Of course, one also has to extend a hand to Michigan itself–my beautiful, if troubled state, which has always been a source of inspiration.

But don’t think that any of the rest of you have been forgotten. If blogging weren’t worthwhile, if I didn’t enjoy sharing with you all, and hearing from you, and doing these silly things I do–I wouldn’t do them. You have all helped me grow, and I hope you shall continue to do so in the future.

Onward!

Victory!: A Writer’s Tale

“He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!”
~Emily Dickinson

What a week! Weddings going viral (and purple) in Westeros (no really, I’ve been waiting for that GOT moment for far, FAR too long), Winter returning (and departing again) to Michigan just to make sure we didn’t miss it too badly, and a lot of serious progress made on As Feathers Fall. I’ve hit some roadblocks on that path in the last couple months, but I think I’m finally getting my footing back. I’m in a good place, and the scenes that are coming from that place are making this little writer downright giddy.

Speaking of writing, though, I’ve some rather serious news for my fellow blogophiles out there.

Monday evening, about 10 o’clock, I was sitting around the old apartment when I got a mysterious phone call. Private number and all that. When I pick up, who does it turn out to be? The good people at the Dyer-Ives Foundation.

What is Dyer-Ives, you might ask? They are an organization in Michigan dedicated to building grassroots, neighborhood organizations and fighting poverty and isolation, with a particular focus on my fellow Grand Rapids residents.

What might they want with me? Well, Dyer-Ives also happens to host an annual Kent County Poetry Competition—this year will mark their 46th year doing so. After consideration, my poem “Grand River” was selected as the winner of their adult competition!

Yet after some serious hopping, skipping and jumping for joy, the turn of phrase comes with certain other rewards as well. In addition to publication (winning poems and poets—that’s me!—will be posted online at dyer-ives.org later this Spring), the foundation will also be hosting a poetry reading at the Michigan Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, at which I have been invited to give a public reading of my poem.

Glee, I say. Sheer, unadulterated glee in this update!

Stay tuned for future posts on the when details, in addition to the above where, for the reading—and thank you all for the support that has helped me grow to this point. I wouldn’t be the poet I am today without you all.

Book Review: Lexicon

Or, The Power of Words

[Today’s post is going in conjunction with another resource out there for you fellow literary sorts, by the by, so let me just give a shout out and say: I use Grammarly – the best plagiarism checker out there – because every time an author is scammed, a Sad Panda is born. And really, what do you have against Pandas? They are fuzzy (also like some writers) so any counter-argument is invalid and anti-cute. Thank you.]

As a writer, Max Berry’s Lexicon comes predicated on a notion dear to heart: the (mystical) power of words. Because who among us has not read and wished to see a true glimmer of magic in their scribbles? But with power (yes, I know you’re expecting “responsibility”, but this is where I say: psych!) comes the shape and capability of a weapon. Since the dawn of time, men and women have used words as shields and spears both, but in Berry’s entertaining new novel, poets are literally walking, talking weapons.

The power, you see, is in the suggestion. Poets’ power has always been in the rhythm and rhyme, the melody and the makeup of their works, and for Berry’s organization of manipulators on display here, the right sequence of sounds can actually pop the cork on a whole person. Suggestion, destruction, domination…all of these things become possible, without any pesky interference from the logical bits of the brain.

Unless you’ve built up something of an immunity to that sort of thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Lexicon, you see, takes us down the trail of languages lost and tensions raised by crazy people and somewhat megalomaniacal figures empowered not by radioactive superpowers, but words themselves. A town has gone silent: Broken Hill, Australia, is no more. In this science fiction tale it seems certain wild cards from a group known as the “poets” are likely responsible—people taught to manipulate and coerce, and to generally be the best of the best.

Enter Emily Ruff and amnesiac Will—the former, a sharp-tongued youth from the streets; the latter, a survivor of Broken Hill that may have the answers everyone’s seeking. Between them? A boarding school, a lot of secrets, and a manhunt from not only a former poet, but the current leader of the poets as well. Both want Will’s memory. The only question, really: who will be quicker on their toes?

It’s a fast-paced contemporary adventure, it certainly must be said. The idea it’s built around (if I might partake of the recap rap) immediately winds up this little scribbler’s heart because of the fact that words are already magical for me—but how Berry’s engage the idea is, more generally, fascinating in and of itself. Like the kid in school that always said he couldn’t be hypnotized, you have to start to wonder: just how durable is the human mind and what lies behind our decision-making process?

The book is told through alternating viewpoints, with each chapter bouncing between the aforementioned Emily and Will. Together, they piece the whole of the story together, with more than a few twists and turns along the way, but it’s structured well. As Will is in the dark, so are we, and there is the sense that we are piecing it together with him.

Launching Berry into action-based sci-fi, however, has its own share of thorns. The action, while genuinely exciting, can be a bit scattered—not only in how your sense of acceptable reality must be adjusted, but more generally, his descriptive qualities can leave the scenes a little muddled or vague at times. He is, in general, not the most descriptive, or intricate, but his ideas are sound and engaged in a creative display. Some of the characters could probably stand a little more humanization to them as well—i.e. a little more depth, if you please—but the main characters, the focus, are well-flushed out and there are some genuinely moving moments contained in their threads.

Overall, it’s a relatively quick read that, if you’re looking for something to engage and charm for a few days, will do the trick. It’s sophisticated without being overbearing; suspenseful without maddening; entertaining without losing focus. It won’t tax the mind or leave you contemplating deep truths as to the nature of man or the future of mankind, but it will dazzle you with a magical wink, demand smiles and frowns in equal measure, and manipulate your heartbeat with some rather explosive displays.

Now, vartix fintign nabula karepsis: and remember, friend, when you get me that hot cocoa, I like it with little marshmallows. Thanks!

Put to the stars? 4/5

By the Morning

When the sky strikes clouded hour

it should be sleep which you devour–

ancient rites

to lay your sights

upon the treasures of your birth;

shaded, still, but gold by mirth

a notion-thought, a nation-state

set upon the starry plate

lips consume by golden ticks

of time, of hearts, of callous pricks

(of soul, you dirty mind)

that in their feasting bind

further dawn, further hope

and leave the starving poets to elope

with museless musings

by economic typings–

which is to say, by morning I am weeping

for all the pains that you’re still keeping.

Poetic Measurements

I may have mentioned earlier in the week that the poetic muse was striking me again (it has been some time since our last encounter). Perhaps it’s all the sun, perhaps it was the drama of nature’s power on display a few weeks ago, or simply life being in a sustainable position at the moment. It could also be the steady march the next novel’s taking to completion–got initial edits back from the editor a week or so back, and it has set my creative mind into a furious spiral of scribbles (or his own rather strikingly wonderful bits of poetry he shared with me at the time–mark my words, he’s going places). So much to do.

Regardless of the source though, a frenzy followed, and numerous works were penned this week. So it seemed only good and right to toss out a sample this weekend. Thus I give you the short “Poetic Measurements”…

Poetic Measurements

The weight of a poet

lies perched upon a strand of hair:

a breath could shudder out the shape of it

yet the light could scarcely lay it bare.

Its power crawls in shadow

a textured investigation of the fall

clinging fractions of humanity endow,

wriggling whispers beneath the mortal pall.

Poetic Spotlight: Count That Day Lost

English: George Eliot

By Sir Frederick Burton: George Eliot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Mary Anne Evans, or rather, George Eliot as she is more likely to be known, was a writer’s writer of the 19th century–a scribbler, yes, but also a journalist and a translator as well. What’s more, her skill with a pen helped her to go on to be renowned as one of the foremost writers of the Victorian era.

 

First thing’s first: you may, in fact, be wondering about the rather stark difference of name. Yes, she was a female author that took upon herself a male pen name–an act, she noted, undertaken to guarantee her works would be taken seriously, and likely to safeguard her privacy as well. The limitations the stereotypes of gender put upon an author, she seemed to feel, were that women struck up romances, while men took up the loftier works of society–thank goodness time has beaten that engrained belief into a fine and scattered pulp.

 

Born to life on a farm, education was, for her, nevertheless a thing of voracious appetite. She devoured all that tutors, school, and her own explorations could unveil. Eventually, she would go on to editorship (officially, assistant editor–but she actually did most the running of the business) of The Westminster Review. Though she began to contribute pieces to this magazine, her works also began to make gradual prods out into the larger market. Success lay in her future, however–by the end of her days, Queen Victoria of England herself proved to be an avid reader and promoter of Eliot’s work by the end of her days.

 

Many of her works were rural in setting, and deeply psychological. She had a knack for character, and her methods and skill would go on to inspire future writers as well, Virginia Woolf among them.

 

Count That Day Lost

 

If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went –
Then you may count that day well spent.

 

But if, through all the livelong day,
You’ve cheered no heart, by yea or nay –
If, through it all
You’ve nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face–
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost –
Then count that day as worse than lost.

 

~George Eliot

 

Poetic Spotlight: We Wear the Mask

English: Paul Laurence Dunbar (June 27, 1872 –...

Paul Laurence Dunbar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week’s poet was a true milestone in the poetic history of the United States, being one of the first African-American poets to gain national acclaim: Paul Laurence Dunbar.

A native Ohioan, and the son of escaped slaves, Dunbar lost his father at just 12 years old. The only African-American student in his high school, he appeared keenly aware of the pressure on his person–but did not let it, nor the death of his father, hold him back. Rather, he excelled. Becoming the editor of the school newspaper, and eventually, class president (as well as president of the school’s literary society), he proved consistently that a determined soul can achieve anything he wishes, no matter the obstacle.

By the time he was publishing his literature, he was also taking an active hand in the success of his works. Rather than leaving it to the publishers, this was a man that actively hit the streets, earning back his investments and making more than his fair share on the side by selling copies of his works personally. This said, his life was one of financial difficulty as, from a young age, he found himself having to support his mother in addition to himself. Much of his life was spent in debt, even as fellow writers delivered consistent, favorable reviews of each successive new work.

By the time of his death, Dunbar had written a dozen books of poetry, four books of short stories, five novels, and a play. He had even traveled abroad, to bask in the wonder of London’s own literary circuit. He made heavy–and engaging–use of dialect in much of his work, though he also proved over the course of time that he had no trouble conforming to the more picky poetic types’ concepts of poetry either.

He inevitably died, as so many others of the age, of tuberculosis, at the age of 33.

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,–
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

~Paul Laurence Dunbar

Poetic Spotlight: Dover Beach

British poet and critic Matthew Arnold viewed ...

British poet and critic Matthew Arnold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week’s spotlight falls on British poet and critic Matthew Arnold. Though remembered today largely for his essays and his prose, it was his poetry that actually won him early acclaim. Religious, and the very picture of a proper British gentleman, one of his greatest desires was for new literature “to animate and ennoble” the readers of his time. A graduate of Oxford University, he would go on to be a teacher, and later, a government school inspector, and education, above all else, became one of the driving forces of Arnold’s life.

Many of his poems struck at social issues, and reflected rather clearly the values of the era, while others struggled with the concept of psychological isolation. It could be argued the man had a certain lofty sense of self, based on some of his written self-assessments, yet given the praise he garnered in a time of Victorian sensibility, it’s small wonder. Today, however, his poetry is mostly to be found in school anthologies, and as such, many students may remember today’s piece–”Dover Beach,” one of his most well-regarded pieces.

Dover Beach

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

~Matthew Arnold

Poetic Spotlight: To L.H.B.

Alumna, Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some achieve lasting fame through epics that define a nation’s culture, its heritage, and cannot help but grind their way through bits and pieces into the hearts and minds of its people, as was the case with last week’s spotlight, but others do in few words what others struggle birth reams and reams of them. Such is the case with this week’s spotlight: short fiction writer and poet Kathleen Beauchamp, better known by her pen name: Katherine Mansfield.

This New Zealand writer was a woman blessed to write at the dawn of one century and the end of another. Born at the tail-end of the 1800s, Katherine was born to a socially prominent family, but did not suffer from the head-in-the-sand effect so many in her situation often did. Even as a young girl, she looked out at her home and saw beyond love and friends and nature–she saw alienation, saw repression of the natives around her, and wrote sympathetically for them in her literature. She was a modernist, drew inspiration from writers like Oscar Wilde, was a friend of people like Virginia Woolf, and traveled extensively where she could, becoming one of the era’s many bohemians.

She was also, from what historians now see, a rather unique individual of her time in that she pursued love not just to the accepted boundaries of the time–she was a bisexual, and wrote about it rather openly in her journals. However, one of the great trials of her young life came in the form of tuberculosis, which prevented her from returning to her homeland. It would also lead to her death at 34, though not before publishing volumes of short stories, many of which are still considered some of the best fiction of her time–pieces like The Fly and Prelude continue to be shared today.

Much of her writing reflects her childhood in New Zealand, focusing heavily on the notion of remembrance, but one piece of hers I’ve always found touching was a dedication to her brother, Leslie. Leslie died in 1915, as soldier fighting in WWI on the fields of France. They were close, these two, and his sudden death both traumatized and invigorated Beauchamp’s work, setting her to furious new paces in her scribbles, and sending her spiraling ever deeper into the sanctuary of nostalgia–memories of the land and the home they both had shared.

And thus, without further adieu, I offer unto you a most haunting poetic remembrance this week…

To L.H.B. (1894-1915)

Last night for the first time since you were dead
I walked with you, my brother, in a dream.
We were at home again beside the stream
Fringed with tall berry bushes, white and red.
“Don’t touch them: they are poisonous,” I said.
But your hand hovered, and I saw a beam
Of strange, bright laughter flying round your head
And as you stooped I saw the berries gleam.
“Don’t you remember? We called them Dead Man’s
Bread!”
I woke and heard the wind moan and the roar
Of the dark water tumbling on the shore.
Where–where is the path of my dream for my eager
feet?
By the remembered stream my brother stands
Waiting for me with berries in his hands…
“These are my body. Sister, take and eat.”

~Katherine Mansfield

Poetic Spotlight: The Tale of Kieu

Last week, we shared a little rumination on the life and words of Vietnamese poet Ho Xuan Huong, and what her works mean to the identity of Vietnam’s literary tradition. Today, we continue our journey through this nation’s heritage, to the scribbles of one of Huong’s contemporaries, and one of those responsible for making Chữ Nôm, the ancient writing script of Vietnam, into the accepted pen it is today: Nguyen Du.

Unlike Huong, Du was, perhaps, more typical of what one might expect in the writers of his time and area. He was a politician, and a diplomat, a man who made words his life even outside the creative fence. He was the seventh son of a former prime minister that would die by the time he reached thirteen years, and to a dynasty that would also fall within his lifetime. He himself would one day serve as his nation’s ambassador to China, a position that would seal his place in history, as it was during this time that he wrote his most famous work: The Tale of Kieu.

Though today regarded as the finest sampling of Vietnamese creative capabilities, The Tale of Kieu was not, in its day, written under Du’s own name. This is due to the fact that it, like those works of his contemporary, —, was at its heart quite critical of the social tenets governing the society of their time–Confucianism. A staggering 3,254-verse epic written in 6/8 meter, the poem recounted the life and struggles of a certain beautiful maiden by the name of Thúy Kiều, who would go on to sacrifice herself to save her family–forced through prostitution, and unwilling marriage, and all the horrors one can imagine accompanying such. It prodded the culture’s distaste for romance, and broached the notion of falling in love multiple times–under Confucian morals, you were supposed to be devoted to one person your whole life (as chosen by your parents, no less). It was actually based on an even earlier tale–Kim Vân Kiều, by Qing Xin Cai Ren, a Chinese writer.

And now, a taste of what’s is perhaps Vietnam’s most significant literary work, through one of its many translations…

The Tale of Kieu

Within the span of hundred years of human existence,
what a bitter struggle is waged between genius and destiny!
How many harrowing events have occurred while mulberries cover the conquered sea!
Rich in beauty, unlucky in life!
Strange indeed, but little wonder,
since casting hatred upon rosy cheeks is a habit of the Blue Sky.

By lamplight turn these scented leaves and read
a tale of love recorded in old books.
Under the Chia-ching reign when Ming held sway
all lived at peace—both capitals stood strong.
There was a burgher in the clan of Vuong,
a man of modest wealth and middle rank.

He had a last‑born son, Vuong Quan—his hope
to carry on a line of learned folk.
Two daughters, beauties both, had come before:
Thuy Kieu was oldest, younger was Thuy Van.
Bodies like slim plum branches, snow‑pure souls,
each her own self, each perfect in her way.

In quiet grace Van was beyond compare:
her face a moon, her eyebrows two full curves;
her smile a flower, her voice the song of jade;
her hair the sheen of clouds, her skin white snow.
Yet Kieu possessed a keener, deeper charm,
surpassing Van in talents and in looks.

Her eyes were autumn streams, her brows spring hills.
Flowers grudged her glamour, willows her fresh hue.
A glance or two from her, and kingdoms rocked!
Supreme in looks, she had few peers in gifts.
By Heaven blessed with wit, she knew all skills:
she could write verse and paint, could sing and chant.

Of music she had mastered all five tones
and played the lute far better than Ai Chang.
She had composed a song called Cruel Fate
to mourn all women in soul‑rending strains.
A paragon of grace for womanhood,
she neared that time when maidens pinned their hair.

She calmly lived behind drawn shades and drapes,
as wooers swarmed, unheeded, by the wall…

~Nguyen Du