In recent poetry meanderings, I came across a poem by Lyn Hejinian in a Poetry Foundation podcast (called PoemTalk) that I find enormous enjoyment from and don’t talk about at social events.
Lyn Hejinian, ‘constant change figures’
The poem itself – imaged here and linked appropriately – takes the reader on a circuitous rout of reflection and memory that the poem’s form reflects. It’s brilliant. You’ll have to read it a few times before it leaves more than an evaporating mnemonic impression. This is my attempt at working out some of its ideas and the further ideas it produces in me as a writer.
I spent some time with the piece. What I found interesting enough to chase after when I set the poem aside was Hejinian’s curiosity in everyday life and how we talk about it. She defends these things as important settings or subjects for avant-garde literature. Or any literature and art, for that matter. Continue reading
Meaning literally “god out of the machine” or “god from an artifice,” Deus Ex Machina is a Latin term that’s evolved primarily into a literary device usually equated with divine intervention in the plot structure. Seemingly, “the literal meaning of ‘DEM’ comes from the lowering of a god via stage machinery into the setting of an ancient Greek play.” This is most often considered a plot failing in which the author (as Wikipedia puts it) has “painted himself (or herself) into a corner.”
As seen in the structure of a plot, it generally receives scathing critique whether intentional from the first word or not. One only has to read the Goodreads reviews of Stephan King’s The Stand or look up the eagles in Lord of the Rings to see what I mean. (May I remind you that the eagles were not used to drop the ring into Mt. Doom. Could’a happened!) DEM has become something of a pet peeve for many readers to point out on forums and reviews, and stories are often accused of Deus Ex Machina whenever something steps in to save something else. Continue reading
January 2, 2015. 1:10 PM — approximately a week after finishing Ben Lerner’s inside-out, upside-down novel, 10:04, and my mind is still reeling as if from a drug-induced experience (or, at least, my perception of what a drug-induced experience could be like). That’s the simultaneous joy and pain of stepping inside Lerner’s mind for a few post-Christmas days: Lerner’s particular intensity of observation produces a similar intensity in his readers. One begins to notice everything as the author shows you what he notices. I haven’t slept as well since simply because I can’t turn my mind down enough for good sleep. Continue reading
The Art Of Reading Poetry: Internalize Its Care for the Written Word
Why is it that a 90-page book dressed in pastoral colors and containing a greater amount of white space than text seems more daunting than Crime and Punishment?
From the golden days of the sonnet to the free-verse poems of today, poetry has suffered from anonymity. It’s often neglected in the classroom, and I’ll bet the Auden or Frost on your grandparent’s shelf hasn’t stretched its spine in a while. And yet this often overlooked form of literature has a power that can be stronger and sharper than prose.
There is certainly an art to reading poetry (not to mention writing it) that can feel elusive to the unintentional reader. Reading poetry so often feels like listening to the joke that everyone but you understands, and that’s partly due to the unlock-the-riddle way it tends to be taught. Continue reading
From Charles Dickens to countless modern works, including some of my own stories, orphans are among the most common characters in fiction. I find this especially true in fantasy – so much so that The Orphan might have its own place among the pantheon of other iconic fantasy figures such as The Soldier, The Peasant, The King. But at what point do these figures become bland labels that define the character more than his or her actual traits?
Fantasy, a genre that so often pulls characters from the grab bag of tropes on display in either The Lord of the Rings or Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, has received countless literary complaints over its apparent lack of variety. When a book’s first act describes a backwoods young farmer – unwise to the ways of the world (and obviously having some convenient prior experience with weapons via hunting) – I automatically assume that said farmer will be sitting on a throne before the end. Continue reading
Pretty soon, we’re going to need a genre that labels books that might once have been science fiction, but are now closer to realistic fiction. I’m calling it “pre-realism”.
As I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars for the first time, I’m fascinated by the sheer plausibility of the ideas. And as humanity works on putting people on Mars, the first colonizing/terraforming project might not be too many generations in the future. It might not be too many years in the future. Continue reading
“We don’t want your genre stories.”
I see this message more and more in the submission guidelines of writing journals and magazines, especially in those dedicated to fantasy and science fiction.
Speculative fiction is what we’re calling it nowadays. The Sword and Sorcery glory days are at an end. Writers and journals alike don’t want to be pigeon-holed in hopes they’ll reach a broader audience. And fantasy is fighting to be taken more seriously, which means intensified abrogation of the regular tropes. There’s still a place out there for the old classics, but that’s because they’re, well, classics. Continue reading