Fate is Fatal

Photo Credit: Author

 

Toni Morrison once said that if you can’t find the book you want, write it.

I only discovered that quote two years ago, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve been living it since I was twelve, when I wrote my first novel in a fit of rage.

Or arrogance. I prefer not to wax philosophical about it.

The reason for my rage was that one of my favorite book series at the time had not finished with the outcome I wanted. So, I decided to write my own version of it. I would like it noted that it wasn’t a very well written novel. For example, here’s a small passage: “We all have a purpose in this life, Creston, but this isin’t ours, to destroy everyone else with our greif this is not what our parents wanted from us and you know it!” That was page ninety-seven, in the middle of a very dramatic scene between two villains.

My misspelling of grief and isn’t was intentional. I not only misunderstood the point of contractions, but I had very strict rules about punctuation back then, (meaning I did not believe in the use of it) so the entire book is just one continuous sentence, consisting of about seventeen paragraphs. I thought it was the most ingenious piece of Literature since The Bible, and thus dubbed it Fate is Fatal. I passed it around to close friends and teachers, hungry for feedback.

That fact strikes horror into my soul, for the reasons mentioned above. Why didn’t anyone just force me to use a period? However, back then, I only felt terror at the prospect of other people seeing my work. Did that mean I was a writer? I spent every spare moment editing and adding to this story, compiling a folder of new ones. They loitered on the home screen of my parent’s old desktop computer, which glitched out every few moments. Yet still I wrote. Still I edited. Still, I handed out my improperly punctuated and grammatically incorrect novel.

I wanted more, but I was afraid of what that meant.

After all, DID WRITERS EVEN GET PAID?

As a child, I had always assumed that writing was a volunteer job, similar to working at a soup kitchen on Sundays or picking up diapers from the side of the road. You know, they’re all very noble endeavors, but not an actual job. It was philanthropy. Beautiful and useless. My fear festered years after that first novel, bled into my self-confidence.

Eventually, I stopped shoving my book into the hands of random strangers, I barely mentioned to anyone that I wrote. Yet I cradled the zebra-striped, broke-spine journal that held my first novel close to my chest.

Every day, I would sit at the croaking, stiff computer chair in my family’s living room. I endured the ten-minute long whir of an old desktop as it prepared itself. Those nights when insomnia crept along the shadows and crooks of my imagination, I would sneak into the living room and write. I filled hundreds of word documents with gibberish, which is to say, stories about flying people, knights, queens and shape-shifting wolves. I read ravenously and wrote reinterpretations of what I had read. It was as if I fancied myself a critic, or a fanfic writer, either one.

I dreaded what this meant, to be so in love with what I saw as “useless work.”

Now, I have added poetry (spoken and otherwise) to the files on a subsequently healthier laptop. I stash my old journals in the bottom drawer of my desk; and take them out only when old fears start to rear to the surface. It is the same terror that beleaguers most writers. I fully expect to stumble awake and realize punctuation is real and I live beneath a bridge. I wonder what ignorant mistakes I’ve hidden between paragraphs and sentences now, and if secretly my readers are laughing at my stupidity. In the spare moments when the world slows enough for me to hear my own breath, I contemplate if this passion that seemed so magical when I was thirteen is only a shadow of what the world truly needs. I wonder if I am only a shadow, gesturing desperately at the sunlight behind me.

Yet even as those fears remain, I understand now what useless work looks like. I have observed people who spent their lives doing absolutely nothing, but they did so for good reasons. Those who undertook hurtful actions with good intentions. I empathize with them, because they, too, fear waking up beneath bridges, the world having spun out of orbit.

Yet that empathy only spurs me to write more. Yes, writers don’t get paid the big bucks (or any bucks, commonly) but writing itself is not useless work. I attribute any and all of my successes to the fact that I love books. The skills I use daily, whether it be for a class project or contacting any number of people for fundraising, I have only because I started rage-writing a novel at the age of twelve.

As Toni Morrison said, I understood something was missing, and decided to fill it with myself. Maybe that was a stupid idea. Maybe I should relocate to the nearest bridge now, but I doubt it would help. I’d only keep filling the voids, gesturing desperately at the light, misspelling simple words, and tucked safely into my bottom drawer would be a broke-spine, zebra-printed journal.

Dissecting the Imagined Past

knight

Credit: Pixabay

When I read a poem, the first thing I look for is strong and impactful imagery, something that captures my imagination and runs away with it. Kenyon Review’s latest online edition, The Poetics of Science, Laura Kolbe’s poem “Dissecting Blade” gripped my imagination tight and did just that. With a strong sense of how childhood can affect a writer in the present day through the opening “Every past-less child has a favorite false world,” I began to reflect on my own past and how it might have shaped my writing.

Right from the beginning, I’m carried off into the lands of make-believe that I traversed through my childhood, playing the hero wielding a sword of justice. The rich history Kolbe evokes, calling upon ancient Greece to more European trappings pulls me deep into the poem with lines such as “the violence of knights, or of more ancient men crouched/on dark heaths or Greek coasts,” drawing me away from the outside world. This displacement from reality is only temporary though, as the last stanza instigates a real world setting where the victorious sword is a scalpel, a weapon that can teach, a multipurpose tool.

Kolbe’s manipulation of imagery yanked me into her poem headfirst and had me back in time when I was in my own “favorite false world,” shifting me out of my current reality. Much like Silk Road’s upcoming issue on displacement in its variety of forms, Kolbe uses the concept of displacement as a nostalgic tool. The narrator is separated from their present and drawn into their childhood dreams to better illustrate the importance of their skills with the modern-day blade, a scalpel. Moreover, the phrasing of “every past-less child” signifies an even stronger sense of displacement from both the past and the present. It shifts the reader and the narrator from the present into a more imaginary past through the strong imagery and symbolism of a sword, which Kolbe uses to effectively invoke both a strength of will with the present occupation and the desire for something more. This desire for more stems from the “past-less” childhood and the idea of the imaginary realm which gives a “holy” sense to wielding the scalpel in the present. The idea of donning “the bridle and the robe” roughly mimics both a knight readying for battle as well as a priest readying for a sermon. These images then illustrate how dynamic and fluid the imagination can be, especially when relating it to Kolbe’s studies in medicine. And while the “sunless dream-light of the lab” isn’t the battle fervor setting of the past, it is still something that the narrator and reader can cling to and find immense meaning in.

For me, reading Kolbe’s poem opened quite a few doors into my own childhood and how the imaginary battles to save my kingdom relate to my current path as a writer. While I still look to the past and the worlds I created, my writing now looks towards all the possibilities in future fictional worlds and how they could affect me later. And while I may not wield a scalpel like a sword, my pens and pencils attempt that level of precision and mastery on the page.

By: Gillian Reimann

Rewards of Empathy and New Perspectives

Image Credit: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 4.0

Image Credit: Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 4.0

Perspectives are diverse and how any given person observes the world is unique and beautiful. Poetry speaks in images, theories, joy, pain, and has the ability to change views, alter beliefs, and present common threads through artistic uses of language. When we dance down enjambments and hang from impactful line breaks, we are knowingly or unknowingly engaging in a journey that serves as a social ground for souls to mingle. Let us mingle amidst words, rhythm, and images that speak many stories of who we are, but most importantly toward all that we might not see.

How does any form of literature apply to my own life or experiences? Jericho Brown’s book of poems, The New Testament, gave even more weight to this often asked question. Every time I open the cover of a book reading becomes a journey, a there and back again experience that returns me to my world with new ways to see it.  The theological explorations, allusions and themes brought forth from the Bible weave an amazing tapestry of suffering, tragedy, commonplace misperceptions, and rebirth into new understandings and ideas. We had the pleasure of having Jericho Brown visit Pacific University.

My poetry class shared good conversation and delicious sushi with Mr. Brown. His playful manner and wild laugh welcomed us all to engage with him in jokes and lively banter. Jericho Brown spent time in our classroom as well, a more serious setting where we discussed his poems, how he interacts with his own students, and his admiration of Langston Hughes and the influence Hughes has had on him and his love of poetry.

Jericho Brown had a wonderful sense of humor, but I could see his seriousness as a writer, poet, and professor; his presence and energy at the podium during his reading captivated those in attendance.  His passion for poetry and words that he gained through his time as a youth in church and library helped me see why theology and poetry should be explored in the way he examined it. I feel it was all about perspectives and new thought, as the doctrine of Science of Mind Church in which he attends might seem to encourage through the studies of life, nature, and tenants of thought in a spiritual universe. The church has connections to the essays and ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson, a great detail in adding the unique perspectives in The New Testament to my own.

Poetry is powerful; words hold meaning that can destroy or create, cut or heal, and show us how to see through different eyes. Empathy is one such reward that is bestowed upon its readers. Life is full of battles, and living scars us inside and out.  Those who share those scars and growing pains make living a richer experience.  Jericho Brown’s collection of poems shares many scars of racial intolerance, adversity, poverty, identity, and society. The sharing of the scars and blessings that shape a life or identity is one of the many things that make poetry one of the best ways of showing and sharing what it is to live and experience.

The voices of the speakers in Brown’s poems do not speak in hatred or animosity; the voices speak in sadness, frustration and anger. “The Interrogation,” a poem within the collection speaks through gritted teeth toward hope for change that exists within the words that speak toward truths of intolerance and fear projected by a mislead society. The poem, “Colosseum,” has images of struggle, pain, and scars outside and inside. The gladiators being fed to the lions or fighting for their lives had every day to fear; they also and every day to embrace while dealing through the pains and suffering of adversity. Brown’s words allude to life being a colosseum where all the battles are fought or lost throughout every day of living. Life is fleeting and sometimes ends all too soon, but the scars pile on while the living gets done. Poetry is the gift that is born out of how society and the world at large affect us.

The matter of society, class, race, and sexual orientation come together through many of the poems found within The New Testament. While I could not plug my own life into all the experiences in these poems, there are some that translated through empathy. One of the important rewards of reading is empathy and understanding beyond our own limited perspectives, and the poems from this collection gifted new sight beyond my own little rat race. The poetry from Jericho Brown is deep and meaningful and there is much understanding to be gained through his writing.

Jericho Brown’s website: http://www.jerichobrown.com

By: Steven Childress