Why I Read Poetry

Courtesy of John-Mark Smith

In Arabic, the word for poem شعر comes from the word “felt”. This simple fact encapsulates why I read poetry.

Back in time immemorial, the first poems were read aloud. Their regular patterns helped memorization of oral history, genealogy, and law. The performance aspect of poetry never disappeared; Robert Frost toured the country and earned a living mainly through poetry readings. In 2012, there were 7,427 poetry readings in April, National Poetry Month in the US. Some would even say poetry is meant to be read aloud only.

This poetic tradition can further be related to orators, who craft messages to be delivered aloud to an audience. Like the earliest poets, the best of political speeches live on in collective memories. It is of no coincidence that the speeches of JFK and Martin Luther King use common poetic techniques. Read More


How I Write Poetry

Courtesy of Mohammad Bahmanyar

Dawn has just broken in New Zealand—and here, the tui song is what greets you, though here is just one place out of the many we have lived in in the last twelve months. If life were normal at the moment, it would be dawn in New Hampshire that would have woken us.

I’m always the first to wake up. My wife, the prolific sleeper, dozes until eight (though she likes to think that seven thirty is more accurate). The morning routine is the same, really, no matter where in the world we are. Wash first and coffee second. Breakfast table conversation is non-existent until the hot coffee has done its job. Back home, I would be the breakfast chef, and have lunch packed and ready before watching my wife depart for work and settling myself into a day at home.

At some point in the last two years I became a full time writer. It was more by accident—a by-product of falling in love, you could say—rather than a purposeful fruition; a temporary luxury, perhaps, as the life of being a full time writer is a rare one, but one that has shaped the way in which I compose my art.

I’ve written poetry since I was young. Initially it was the not-so-good kind of poetry that hormonally charged teenagers scratch out between panging bouts of broken-heartedness or love. I would write about whatever I believed was important to me, scribbling in journals or on the back of books, or whatever came to hand. As I matured artistically, the number of times I wrote diminished. After finishing my education, I headed out into the world. But always, there was this longing to be a poet that travelled with me wherever I went. Read More

My Greatest Challenges Writing Creatively

I have been there many times – staring at the empty virtual page as I question my own existence and ability to write. It is usually referred to as a writer’s block – although some say it is a disease that only creative workers succumb to. Some say it is a curse. Others argue that it does not exist at all. But I have experienced sitting in front of a blank screen, fingers itching to create a masterpiece, yet nothing happens. It is as if my mind is overwhelmed with ideas, scenarios, characters, plot, but I fail to write anything down as the words are somehow eluding me.

At times like this, I usually take a break. Most often it occurs by re-reading some books on writing such as On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King or The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist by Orhan Pamuk. One cannot produce without consuming. Quite often, reading books inspires me and gives me the needed level of confidence to start writing again. Read More

Reaching for the Characters

by Josh Marshall

In all the years I’ve been writing – learning, honing, experimenting – the biggest challenge I’ve faced is to stick to writing a novel. There have been many failed attempts for sure. From it’s birth, the ‘aha’ moment where I believe I’ve got a brilliant idea, to the outline. And even to the revision of the first few chapters! But then… empty space.

These experiences have stifled me to the point that I’m apprehensive of attempting a novel, and I just stick to flash fiction, short stories and occasionally, poetry. The all-consuming task of the novel, the culmination and the proof of consistent hard work, sweat and sleepless nights lost in thought or flow eludes me. I want it bad. Yet I can’t go beyond a few pages before I tell myself: Who am I kidding? I won’t finish this and even if I do, who the hell will want to read it? Read More

My Most Anticipated Reads for 2018

by Drew Coffman

You don’t realize how difficult it is to frame a list of good books to read until you try to do so. Why this book instead of that other one? What makes these authors special and not the ones standing on the sidewalk in front? It’s been many days of thinking and re-thinking, but here you are. The list includes authors I admire, other ones I’m curious about, new prize winners, best reads suggested by the press, and recommendations from dear people.

Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne.

This citation opens Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri’s second collection of stories after her Pulitzer Prize winner Interpreter of Maladies. The book contains a marvellous collection of nine short stories that tell about the lives of Bengali-American characters and how they deal with their mixed cultural environment. Read More

Practical Tips to Keep Writing

Have you ever had a great idea about a novel or a short story collection and all of a sudden you find yourself in the black void of nothingness, unable to move on with your project? Writing is a common dream for people. Yet most people who dream about writing do not commit to it. Some of them hardly even read. Meanwhile, writers who do actually earn a living from their work still struggle to stay motivated and keep writing. Faced with all these oppositions, both external and internal, how can we motivate ourselves to write and to keep at it?

One of the biggest mistakes I often made when writing my first novel was spending too much time on polishing the language before I understood the story’s plot. I was obsessed with the sound and aesthetics of the sentences and tried to perfect them, yet, I had no idea where I was going because I did not work on developing the story. I finally decided to place an ending to the story so I could then focus on the sentence and chapter structures. You cannot know if the words and sentences you are massaging support the story if you have no idea how it ends. Read More

How Reading Plays Helps Creative Writing

When I think of plays I read when I was young, I only remember Romeo and Juliet and Julius Caesar – both by Shakespeare ­– and both assigned reading at school. It would be another twenty years before I would read plays again for my Literature degree, but also, for pleasure. Plays are meant to be performed, true enough, but they offer something remarkable that no other medium can do as concisely—a lot of dialogue.

The whole propagation of a play, its plot, theme, conflict – everything – is achieved mainly through dialogue (occasionally there can be a monologue or chorus) and some stage directions. How a playwright has the characters utter their lines, serves three modes of communication: the direct message (what we hear), the subtext (what is implied) and the meaning (what we perceive). Think about it! Every sentence of dialogue serves three functions – three layers that build on one another to impact the audience. Read More

Why I Read the Laureates

When I started studying creative writing ten years ago, the first teacher I met asked the class what we were reading at that moment and why? What was it inside those books that interested us? It was a good way of trying to get to know who we were, where we came from literarily speaking, and eventually, where we wanted to go. These questions led me to reckon that since childhood, I was mostly dedicated to reading every book available on my mother’s bookshelf; and later, as an adult, whatever newspapers recommended as good reads. No order, no compass, no signage. It was just the compulsive obsession of reading, like a traveller in the wild.

Since then, and because reading comes first and writing sparkles afterwards, I’ve been advised many times to read as much, and as broadly, as I can – as the best way known to learn the art of writing. Throughout my studies I learned techniques and I wrote a lot, of course, but what I’m most thankful for is the acute guidance to select authors and books I received during those years. So who and what to read among the millions of books and authors out there? That was, and still is, the question. I have now an endless list of preferences that thickens every year, but generally speaking, and beyond personal tastes and opinions, I will say one can find superb quality in any Literature Nobel Prize Laureate. Read More