Political Poetry?

Courtesy of Valentin Salja

The term ‘political poetry’ brings to mind impassioned verse denouncing dictatorships, demanding social change, or describing the struggle of oppressed groups. But this is only the surface of political poetry. Scratch a little deeper and you find that nearly all poetry is political when we take the broader view that politics is the struggle of taking groups of humans and attempting to make them co-exist with each other, with the environment, or with any other situation. A poem about flowers becomes an environmental love song. A love poem becomes more than just the human value of affection. The fact that poetry has allowed generations to wrap the voice of the oppressed in a non-political guise has led it to be one of the most political art forms in human history. These “quieter” poems, where the political message lies below the surface affect me most. My favorite poet, Chimako Tada, whose poetry—both subtle and introspective—demonstrates how a restrained voice can amplify the power of its hidden meanings, illustrates this.

Born in 1930 in the Fukuoka region of Japan, Tada’s adolescence was spent in the shadow of war. She went to college to study French literature, where she became a regular in the poetic and intellectual circles of the time, including the Japanese avant-garde movement. Her first collection—Hanabi—appeared in 1956. She continued to publish works and teach poetry for the rest of her life, though she almost always wrote in isolation. The recipient of numerous awards including the Modern Poetry Women’s Prize (for her book Hasu Kuibito), Tada has come to be acknowledged as one of the most important and powerful female poetic voices of the last century. Read More

Psychological Benefits of Creative Writing

Much of the research I am going to discuss is on writing and happiness. It deals with the therapeutic value of writing and its relation to improved well-being and reduced stress levels for those who do it regularly.

Research by Laura King, for instance, shows that writing about achieving future goals and dreams can make people happier and healthier. Another study by Adam Grant supports this claim. He found that when people did stressful fundraising jobs, and they kept a journal about how their work made a difference for a few days, their hourly effort had increased by 29% over the next two weeks.

This indicates that writing is not exclusively only for professional writers. In both emotional intelligence and hard sciences like mathematics, writing has been shown to help people communicate highly complex ideas more effectively. The reason is that writing helps eliminate the “it sounded well in my head” line of thinking by forcing your hand to put it out on a blank sheet and to give the thought a tangible form. Brains might forgive whimsical abstractions, but prose does not. Read More

Is It Possible to Still Publish Epic Novels?

Courtesy of Clem Onojeghuo

I’ve been pondering the title of this article. It’s a heavy one, with three monumental words on it: Publish, epic, novel. Which of the three represents the biggest challenge? Well, that’s a big question too. To create and develop an interesting, epic plot. To have the discipline to write the draft until it can be called a novel. To get it published. Wow. There’s persistence behind these tasks. Tons of work behind these words. And much love for the craft of writing.

What does it take to transform the sparkle of an idea into a novel? And how do we know it will grow until it becomes an epic novel? There’s no universal answer here, although, to the first one I would say “persistence”. The acute feeling that this path is the one you want to follow no matter what. And you stick to that gem, your nails sinking into that lonely trunk afloat in the river. To the second one, I would attempt a quiet “we just don’t know”. We write that’s what we do. We work hard and enjoy while we work. Then we follow our hearts wherever they want to get us to. Maybe one day we’ll find ourselves struggling with the possibility of publishing that magnificent story we’ve poured into the pages along the years. Read More

Paper vs. Digital

I was standing last week in front of my bookshelves, looking up at the dusty, colorful, but forgotten books I haven’t stared at in a long time. Searching for an empty spot where to place Irene Nemirovky’s Suite Francaise, I pondered the book’s heaviness. It’s quite a thick book, a precious book, and of course, I couldn’t find any place for it. I wandered around the house, then, and found myself seriously considering and struggling between my preference of reading in paper versus the physical impossibility of storing more books at home.

I actually read both digital (e-reader or tablet) and paper books, but I totally love the touch of the page and the old resin, foliage-sort smell of books. If I can choose, I choose to hold a printed book, caress it, breath its perfume. Then, have a close look at it, page by page, beginning from the end, slowly balancing the depths of the story before jumping into it. But there’s truth in my storage problem, and setting aside all romanticism, I think it’s fair to give a thought to the digital alternative to reading (and writing) as a storage solution. Read More

Thoughts on the Harlem Renaissance

We are drawn to the [Harlem] Renaissance because of the hope for black uplift and interracial empathy that is embodied and because there is a certain element of romanticism associated with the era’s creativity, its seemingly larger than life heroes and heroines, and its most brilliantly lit terrain; Harlem, USA.

– Clement Alexander Price

It’s the 1920s, and the Thirteenth Amendment that was signed to abolish slavery was signed in 1865.  Under slavery it was deemed illegal for African-Americans to read and write and go to school; but in the 1920s, and despite the short time between slavery’s end and this time period, African-Americans had already made important and impressive strides in the literary world, strides that would influence the American literary scene.

The Harlem Renaissance is often seen as a literary movement, but in actual fact it was an art movement that included theatre, dance and music, among others. I’m no expert on the movement as a whole, having focused my time mainly on the literature, where my passion lies. Nevertheless, I know that even in literature I have barely scratched the surface, and there is so much more for me to discover from that era; I’ve yet to read writers and poets like Jean Toomer, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen, Jessie Fauset, or Dorothy West; yet so many of my favorites, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen, Robert Hayden, James Weldon Johnson, come from the Harlem Renaissance, and the more I read their work, the more I realize just how important this era was. Read More

Opinion: Why Not All Creative Writing Courses Are Interesting

Photo by Alexis Brown

Creative writing is not new. It used to be a requirement of every student’s education for around 400 years, especially in the English-speaking world. In the nineteenth century, literary education was either weakened, or completely dropped from elementary and secondary education. Later on, colleges picked up all of literary education but creative writing. Creative writing was then missing for about a 100 years or so, but in the past 40 years, it has returned. Nowadays, there is a lot of controversy on the issue – some claim that creative writing courses are necessary and beneficial; while others claim that they are useless. I, myself, have participated in such a course, so I will share my experience and viewpoint. Keep in mind, however, that I might be biased because my judgment is based purely on one creative writing course.

As a devoted reader and not so devoted writer, I was curious about creative writing courses. When I heard from a friend, who is a poet, that he attends a creative writing course, I decided to join him. The course was held by one of the most prominent writers in my country. He had won many awards for literary fiction and poetry, and his books have been translated into English, German, French, and Hungarian. The course was for free and the only requirement was to be dedicated and hard working since it was an intense course. Read More

Publishing: The Weight of a Short Story

Courtesy of sachablack.co.uk

Before I go on about short stories, I should tell you I’m a proud product of the internet age. The truth is I’ve never done serious work as a writer without having one foot rooted in a digital space. You should know this at the outset, because context is crucial. I want you to understand where I come from, and understand the internet is as much a part of my life, and the literary work that stems from my life, as the language I speak or the life circumstances that shaped me.

Now I’m well aware there was a literary landscape that predates the internet, a big wide world I never had the chance to experience as a writer. If I’m being honest, it seems like it must’ve been a pretty difficult landscape to traverse. Maybe I’m just spoiled by search engines and social media, but when I imagine trying to network and get writing published without the internet to assist me, I nearly break into a panicked sweat. It’s simply an alien world to me, one that was perhaps a bit quieter, but also with far less open doors. It was also a space in which the short story was a more prominent feature of the landscape, and in my opinion the mode has declined as we shifted away from it, into a post-internet age. Read More