11th Edition Cecile’s Writers Magazine: Special Poetry Edition

During our editorial staff meeting in the summer of 2015, we debated whether or not to focus on a special edition of our digital magazine for the following year. All options were on the table, we thought about a theme-based issue, we played with the idea of word-restricted submissions, or maybe a flash fiction edition, but in the end, we decided on publishing a poetry edition.

We were amazed at the number and the quality of the poems we received and we proudly present 15 poems in this edition.


Review: The Chalk Circle by Tara L. Masih, Ed.

13561800This polished collection of prize-winning essays is a result of a call the editor Tara L. Masih placed in 2007 for intercultural essays dealing with subjects of culture, race and sense of place.  Masih is a dedicated writer and editor whose work (herself a Native Indian American raised in New York) is deeply concerned with intercultural relations.  The Chalk Circle collection reflects many complex issues of this seemingly shrinking world and its many cultures.  Through arranging the particular essays into comprehensible chapters – each dealing with a different issue, Masih shows keen insight in intercultural relations and what it means to be “the other”.

The mere fact that the authors are people of different backgrounds inevitably supports the mosaic design of the collection, but is by far not the only element of diversity.  Topics vary from sense of place, self-identity, war and race, to encountering “the other”, being “the other” and spirituality, all while being neatly arranged into seven easily manageable topical “bites”.  This collection is an extensive what-if game that authors play with both the reader and themselves: what if things had been different?  What if circumstances changed?  What if roles were reversed?  What if identity is more complex than we think?

Short author’s “bio” introduces each essay, although in each case it is rather a lengthy list of credentials than a short biography.  This might be a missed opportunity to show the author’s inspiring life journey in a nutshell, instead of providing the proof of their professional skills (which, considering the high quality of the essays, is unnecessary).  Noticeably, much thought and care went into designing this book and one can only imagine how difficult the task of selecting and organising the pieces of this collection was, especially considering how holistic, yet concise the end result is.

Each of the twenty essays shows equally vivid images of author’s personal complexity and their struggle in search for catharsis, whether it is feeling uprooted and searching for home (Christine Stark), realising that intolerance is a problem of wide spectrum between ignorance and racism (Samuel Autman), feeling like a war crime “perpetrator by lineage and cultural inheritance” and seeking forgiveness (Shanti Elke Bannwart), or pushing your boundaries and purposely exposing yourself to the “otherness” (Katrina Grigg-Saito).  These tales of personal and cultural identity are so well crafted and sometimes even irresistibly humorous (Samuel Autman, M. Garrett Bauman), that it is almost easy to confuse the book with a light-hearted pleasure reading, which the Chalk Circle is anything but.

The collection is very accessible, thought provoking and so riveting that you might be inclined to devour it in one sitting, which I found being equally tempting and impossible.  However well crafted these essays may be, the gravity of the topics doesn’t offer the opportunity for a casual read-through and you will have no choice but to pause, to re-examine your personal stands and opinions after each and every essay.

Perhaps that is why this collection is perceived mainly as a teaching tool for young people in their formative years (when the question of self-identity is oh-so-important).  In relation to this, I would argue that this publication is absolutely not another intercultural communication textbook – in the best possible sense.  Not only because of its artistic value, but because it transcends the old concept of merely preaching tolerance.

The collection provides a reality check; yes, perhaps especially to us millennials, who tend to think of themselves as liberal by default and mighty tolerant.  It points out that we only think we understand the cultural differences, because they can be so obvious, but there is a great amount of small things we don’t know we don’t understand, and that creates the true barrier between us.

The Chalk Circle as a whole challenges the long-preached idea that race, religion, etc. does not matter – because it does.  It gives their bearers means of self-definition, at the very least. It suggests not to ignore the differences, but to be aware of them and appreciate them.  The idea that dominates the collection is that being the “other” – if just for a while (as Lizette Wanzer puts it in her piece Signatures: “to step inside another’s skin, to borrow perspectives”) – is the true means of creating understanding.

That is a highly evolved perspective, free of colour-blind hypocrisy, which is time over time debunked in the most unapologetic, brutally honest writer’s experience (and their interpretation of this experience), like in this excerpt from Mary Elizabeth Parker’s essay Miss Otis Regrets:

I wish for one day to come when a person’s race won’t register so sharply with me. But I’m not there yet. Often, if I try a friendly nod at a black person out in the world, I read in his or her face hauteur, disdain, anger, disgust, Keep Off! But that may be only my own expression mirrored at me: My friends and family claim that I always look angry, judgmental, or supercilious.

To top this fresh approach to interculturalism off, we are reminded that true intercultural understanding is a bottom-to-top initiative, laying the responsibility for intercultural relationships with each individual: I think it’s the work of people in their ordinary lives that weaves the bounds between cultures” (Shanti Elke Bannwart, Tightrope across the abyss).

Carefully designed questions for discussion at the end of the book somewhat affirm its educative nature, although in my experience they provide highly nutritious fodder for thought also outside of the classroom.

To sum it up: I like travelling because it provides you with the perspective you didn’t know you needed.  This book works a great deal like travelling.  If you want your own viewpoint widened, this book should be high on your list.


phot_veronikaVeronika Bacova was born in a country that no longer exists and raised in Slovakia.  She studied Media & Communication and consequently, she doesn’t take herself seriously or anything that she sees on the news.  Veronika takes keen interest in pop culture and science.  She’s acquired her English language skills largely from the Cartoon Network.  When she doesn’t play ukulele as means of procrastination, she enjoys making complicated sciency texts approachable to all.  Because democracy.

Review: Karate Chop by Dorothe Nors

41otnj0t5kl-_sx326_bo1204203200_The short stories in Dorothe Nors’ collection Karate Chop speak to the depths we lock away inside ourselves.  Together they form a brief but profound exploration of our interior lives under modernity; a sweeping survey of our own unspoken inner landscapes.

As I read this book I could not help but imagine a stone well.  I felt something a little cold, and endlessly deep.  I pictured someone boring a hole through solid bedrock.  I thought of water rushing where no one could see it.

Dorothe Nors writes beautiful prose.  Maybe that is where we should start. Her text feels cultivated, honed.  Pruned to perfection.  Nors is a writer that knows how to craft a sentence.  No part of it seems out of place.  Every word adds to the overall effect of its respective narrative, and the fact that the arc of these narratives feel largely unstructured, almost improvised—Nors actually drafted the entire collection over the course of two weeks—makes their obvious precision on a sentence-by-sentence level all the more impressive.  There is abundance here, but no mess.

If there is any repetition between these fifteen stories, it comes from this openness of structure.  Most of the tales are told from a first person perspective.  They feature very little overt “action” in the conventional sense.  More often than not, the conflict bubbles up from the interior.  We are presented a narrator in a moment of relative quiet, a place of stillness and reflection, though not necessarily calm.  In Nors’ stories the present moment tends to serve as a kind of anchoring point.  It keeps the narrative pinned to a spot in linear time, as her prose slowly revolves around it.  Her narrator’s thoughts move from past to present to utter fantasy.  They sway first in one direction, then another.  They bound forward.  They double back.  And it is through these dizzying mental leaps that most of the stories generate their momentum.

I was reminded of a hurricane.  The eye of the storm, and all the wind that surrounds it.

The overall technique is reminiscent of stream of consciousness, only much stronger, in my opinion, because it is free of the posturing.  There is a casual confidence on display in these one hundred and twelve pages.  It doesn’t feel like Nors has anything to prove.  Rather than assault the reader with noise in an attempt to agonizingly recreate the shifting rhythms of human consciousness, Nors chooses instead to use strong and considered prose to bring interior and exterior together.  Her stylistic clarity balances out any hurried, improvised effect.  She writes in such a way that the borders between the mental and physical worlds begin to break down, and the two are rendered equal under the broad sweep of her language.  She writes characters whose minds will shift from object to object, alight on one thing then another, with patterns emerging as they do so.  Slowly the story’s arc dawns on the reader, as each seemingly disparate piece falls into place, and the themes are developed through collage.

The collection manages to feel simultaneously dense and weightless in the way it parallels that very same dichotomy as experienced by any thinking person.  So many neurons firing in sequence.  So much thunder in our heads.

Take for example the story “Do You Know Jussi?”, in which a woman’s consciousness flits between childhood memory, the fantasies she had within those memories, and a news program playing on the TV.  Or “Female Killers,” an exploration of our fears and fascination with the perverse, as told through one man’s late night googling of famous female serial killers.

And it is no coincidence that one of the killers Nors includes in her story is fellow Dane, Dagmar Overbye, perhaps the most famous murderer in her country’s history.  The collection is peppered with small references to Nors’ native Denmark, almost all of which emanate some degree of menace.  Copenhagen in particular hangs like a shadow over many stories in what is an already dark collection.  Take for example “The Heron,” in which the titular birds wander like plague victims around the ponds of Fredericksburg Gardens, before the narrator digresses into the story of a murdered woman whose body was found there, stuffed inside a suitcase.  Or “She Frequented Cemeteries,” in which the seemingly blissful beginning of a woman’s new relationship is offset by gossip, the unspoken sadness of her partner, and her tendency to wander the gardens housing Copenhagen’s dead.

Then there is the final tale in the collection, “The Wadden Sea,” where the wild, untamable wetlands of northern Denmark parallel a mental point-of-no-return that the narrator’s disturbed mother is steadily approaching.  It is perhaps the most overt example of how Nors paints her Denmark in darker hues, and how the book works hard to conflate exterior environments with interior mental landscapes.

As individuals we travel such inside spaces day and night.  It is why this collection is so effective.  We cannot help but walk with one foot in front of us, and another planted in some deeper place, in which thought and feeling are wholly our own.  They remain inaccessible to anyone outside ourselves, save for when we choose to communicate them.  Painters translate them into colour.  Composers render them as sound.  A writer takes words, and arranges them in such a way that these otherwise inaccessible interiors are suddenly thrust forward.  Brought forth from the mind to rest in our hands.  To render them so vividly is no small accomplishment, and that is exactly what Nors has done in this small but remarkable collection.  She has built a fine book upon the air and bedrock we call thought.


Photo_Bob SchofieldBob Schofield is an American writer of British, Chinese, Pakistani, and Egyptian descent.  He currently lives in the Netherlands.  He is the author and illustrator of The Inevitable JuneMan Bites Cloud, and Moon Facts.  He likes what words and pictures do.  He wants to be a ghostly presence in your life.

Reflection: Guillaume Apollinaire and Cubism in Literature

Courtesy of poets.org
Courtesy of poets.org

Italian by birth, Polish by name (Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki), and Parisian by choice, Apollinaire was an important figure in art and literature in the early 20th century.  A leading name in poetry, he was in the artistic community at the time with famous names like Pablo Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Gertrude SteinMax Jacob, André Salmon, André Breton, André Derain, Faik Konica, Blaise Cendrars, Pierre Reverdy, Alexandra Exter, Jean CocteauErik Satie, Ossip Zadkine, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp and Jean Metzinger.  He first coined the terms orphism in 1912, and then surrealism in 1917.

Apollinaire’s art reflected his colorful life.  He had worked in libraries in the beginning of his writing career; he had worked as a teacher (in which period he met Annie Pleyden and fell in love with her, writing his work ‘Alcools’ inspired by this love); he compiled the works of Marquis de Sade; and he even got arrested and jailed on suspicion of stealing Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre museum in Paris, but he was released after five days.  At the last years of his life, he fought in World War I and got seriously injured on his head.  In 1918, he died from the Spanish Flu. Read More

Different Language, Different Story?

© Bruce Guenter via flickr.comDoes the language in which you write influence the content of your story?  That was the question I was left with after reading a magazine article about bilingualism.  They interviewed Mohsen Edrisi, a clinical psychologist from Iranian descend, living in the Netherlands.  He has done research into the relation between language and personality traits.

In his experience and research, there are differences in one’s sense of self, self-in-relation-to-other, and level of pathology.  He suggests that people tell their story differently when speaking in the mother tongue versus an acquired language.

In the magazine interview Edrisi says that it is easier for people to distance themselves when reflecting on themselves in an acquired language.  They feel emotions as shame and guilt less strongly, and that talking about taboo issues such as sex and violence is also easier.

It got me wondering what this would mean for fiction writing?  Of course writing in an acquired language is more difficult on a linguistic level — limited semantics and challenges with syntax — but could the essence of a story improve because one can be more honest?  Would it work out to write the outline of a story in an acquired language, and then to write it out in one’s mother tongue.

Just a thought.  Perhaps it is worth a try.  Perhaps it is why some authors do not write in their mother tongue.

Vanessa Deij

[Editor at Cecile’s Writers Magazine]

Writing Prompts: Characters and Momentum

photo-1473147654241-a26ffc2146bbI find it hard to care about most characters in the books I read.  I think it’s got something to do with me being a writer as well as a reader, with my background in poetry just making it worse.  I’m always mulling over word choice, weighing the significance of sound and rhythm, why the author made the decisions they did.  My attention skews to the micro rather than the macro, and the broader sweep of character arc and narrative structure holds less of my interest than the smaller choices an author made in arranging their words.  Over time it has become difficult for me to turn this analytical side of my brain off, and simply enjoy a text for what it is: a story.  My reading brain is always scavenging sentences for new techniques, tricks that may one day prove useful in my own writing; strip mining each row of words for images, influence, and inspiration.  So characters become hard for me to care about, because my default mode is to regard them as illusion, a ghost an author built from a long sequence of decisions. Read More

Opinion: On Slovak Literature

flag_of_slovakia-svgWhen I first moved to the Netherlands I would be cross-examined by my new acquaintances regarding this mysterious, unheard-of and potentially lethal country called Slovakia.  On one of the occasions, after having established the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia and explaining that yes, we do have internet over there, and no, we don’t usually torture and/or slaughter tourists as seen in the movie Hostel, I got pinned by another inquiry from my friend Edmond: “Are there any famous Slovak writers?  Is it possible I have read some of them?”  Oh, my.  I don’t even know why I took a second to think about it, since the answers were obviously: “No;” and “hell no;” respectively.

I always feel uneasy when discussing my national literature with foreigners.  We don’t have a Tolstoy, Faulkner or Austen.  We don’t even have an E. L. James.  There are no writers, no artists among the big names of Slovak literature.  Mostly, they were just people of various professions who merely happened to write something from time to time about a cause they cared about; like national liberation, women rights, or how socialism might not be the greatest idea ever.  But aside from that, they were… peasants, I guess.  And I mean it in the best possible salt-of-the-earth, more-than-meets-the-eye way.  Didn’t care for art, fame or money.  Just said what they had to say, when they had something to say.  However, in the past twenty-five years or so, there’s been a shift on the Slovak literary scene. Read More

Review: Empty Streets by Michal Ajvaz

Courtesy of Dalkeyarchive.com

Michal Ajvaz’s Empty Streets is less a novel than it is a 500 page torrent of ideas, a wild outpouring of pure imagination.  This is a love letter to the strange and unexpected; part-detective story, part-excavation of a city’s long buried dream life.  Like the mysterious symbol that lies in the center of its multiple branching narratives, it seems to spill in all different directions at once.  This is an aggressively bizarre work of fiction, one that seems unconcerned with traditional modes of storytelling.  It runs the gamut in terms of narrative form and style, sending the reader spinning from one story to the next.

It’s a wild, often unwieldy book, and all the better for it.  I can think of few dreamscapes in which I’d rather spend my time.

The novel begins with what is effectively a frame narrative.  Our narrator is a nameless author struggling his way through an ungovernable case of writer’s block.  One day, in an attempt to avoid the writing that torments him so, he goes for a long walk that takes him through a local rubbish dump.  He accidentally steps on a wooden object half-buried beneath the mess, some kind of carving in the shape of a double trident.  Immediately the object stirs something in our narrator. He is beset with questions he can’t answer.  What’s this strange artifact?  Could it be a tool?  Some kind of abstract artwork?  Where did this double trident come from, and what, if anything, does it mean? Read More