A Writer’s Greatest Fear

After weeks, months, maybe even years of work, you’ve finally completed a writing project that you feel deserves an award. It’s your baby—you brought an idea to life, nurtured it, and helped it grow into what it is today. Congratulations! You’re a proud parent! You want to show off your accomplishment to the world, but you can’t yet. There’s one crucial aspect of the creative process that every writer needs to go through: peer review.

Don’t panic! I know it can be scary, especially for new writers. Who really wants a group of strangers to read, edit, and criticize your baby? You may feel that your project is pure and perfect; but it’s not, trust me. When I first started my creative writing courses I was on my high horse, and so proud of the works that I’d be submitting. The day my first short story was discussed in class was one of the most embarrassing and emotionally painful moments of my college career. I questioned why I even became a creative writing major in the first place.

But why are critiques good for you as a writer? For one, you gain perspective on aspects of your writing that you might have altogether missed: character, grammar, plot progression, structure, symbolism, dialogue, and more. In my own writing, I tend to struggle with plot progression—it’s connecting those dots that can get messy, and my scenes can get stagnant or become altogether unnecessary. You also see your strong points, and for me I’ve learned that it’s grammar and dialogue. With the seemingly negative feedback, you take note not only of your weaknesses, but your strengths. As you recognize where you need to grow as a writer, and actively practice to improve your skills, you’ll develop an even greater love for your projects.

It wasn’t until I took the time to look at edits made, and I started asking my peers and professor questions, that I made the connection that these critiques were helpful, not hurtful. I took the advice of others, no matter how agonizing it was initially, and began to make changes to my draft.

So don’t be afraid of peer review—embrace it! Take notes and listen to your classmates, professors, friends, or whoever you choose to edit your works. Find where you need improvement, and take pride in your strengths! Continue to strive for a strong and confident voice.

Return to Simplicity

I often find myself craving the thought patterns and imagination of younger years—a reality unhinged, naïve, and above all else, limited. My appreciation for reading has really dulled over these past few years; I guess academic writing will do that to you, but I find myself coming to blows with it more and more often. What I can’t forgive is the same disregard from creative writing—just carelessly preparing extravagant dishes, only to try and force-feed them down my metaphorical gullet. What good is a cut of rib eye when you don’t get a chance to chew it?

 

Also, I ordered a hamburger.

 

Oops.

 

Sometimes I find myself going back to June 9th, 2018:

 

Looking for excuses to avoid doing my homework, I took the crumbly crooked stairs down to my garage and slouched into the prickly, unsupportive fabric of the lawn chairs my father refused to replace. It was night time, and night time meant that my dad had already made himself exceptionally drunk. He was watching Anthony Bourdain, and, uncharacteristically, he watched silently. My dad was crying. After a commercial break, Parts Unknown resumed and flashed an especially heartfelt Japanese quote and its English translation: “we must not forget our beginner’s spirit.” Reflecting briefly on the meaning of the expression, I realized—how beautiful language can be in its simplicity.

As if resonating with my thoughts, my dad pointed at the TV bird and softly murmured, “Look at that bird’s. . . makeup.” Look at that bird’s makeup. My dad is a native English speaker. But he was also absurdly drunk with a subsequently limited vocabulary.

As haphazardly as the expression was put together, I don’t know if he could have put it any more poetically.

It reminds that English, in all its lust for overwhelming detail, often sheds its own charm by not being as open ended anymore—it prides itself on precision and accuracy above all else. Our wealth of vocabulary and pronunciation schemes really shoots us in the foot sometimes—we have what feels like the biggest creative sandbox in the world but find ourselves often making massive oblong sand-mounds instead of narrowing in and adding stories to a smaller, more endearing castle.

Unlike however that one idiom goes, sometimes there is ambition in thinking smaller; the consistent use of bigger and more complex words and phrases can and often is an avoidance of better writing. Which is not to say that every word should be made in 4 letters or less, but to remember that our readers are human too—people who appreciate the language for what it is, and not a Scrabble™ board that’s going to reward you points for the use of “mellifluousness.”

My experience is not so much an endorsement of heavy drinking so much as it is a suggestion to other writers, to I don’t know, maybe just ease up once in a while. Make us feel like a kid again.

The Intimidation Game

Poetry intimidates me. I can see Charles Bukowski shaking his head, but then again, I’m intimidated by Charles Bukowski. Poetry should not be intimidating. Poets should not be intimidating. Yet surely, I cannot be the only one who finds themself shouldering the stifling mental weight of upholding the classical standards established by the canon, right? Despite popular opinion, I’m a fan of our canon. Give me Keats or give me (a painless and swift) death, but even John – considered somewhat of a failure in his lifetime – has a way of getting into my head. If I cannot write like “them,” then why write at all?

For five years, I wrote poetry in secret. Bad poetry, albeit, but poetry nonetheless. I typed in darkened bedrooms and hid drafts within inconspicuous folders on my desktop for fear of being found out. Found out as what? Well, a fraud. I was no Bukowski, and I was definitely no Keats; so, I made the cruel assumption that my way forward involved suppression by means of artistic burial. I would share my poetry with no one, therefore I could be rejected by no one. This worked well for me until my senior year, where so few creative writing courses were offered that I had no choice but to enroll in ‘Creating the Poem’ to stay on track with graduation in Spring. Before even stepping foot in the classroom, I convinced myself that what I wrote would be criticized and cast away. I had no formal training, I didn’t understand iambic pentameter, and I couldn’t tell you what distinguished poetry from fragmented prose. It mystified me, terrified me, yet attracted me with its odd set of shapes and ambiguous rules. I wanted to figure it out, I really did. But I had been telling myself for so long that I was incapable and it seemed I could do nothing but believe this until proven otherwise.  

I’m not exaggerating when I say that one week of ‘Creating the Poem’ altered my entire outlook, completely flipped my preconceived notions on their head. Just one week, and I realized how wrong I had been. Isn’t this the story for most of us? Fear has a funny way of, you know, completely lying to us. You’d think we’d be able to recognize its deception by now, but aren’t we fooled almost every day? We think to ourselves, “Maybe this time it’s telling the truth, maybe this time we should listen. Because fear keeps us safe, out of harm’s way, away from discomfort.” It’s hard to ignore something so well-versed in our vulnerabilities, and, to be honest, I listen to fear more often than I tune it out. But what I’m attempting to get at here is that we must try. Fear only thrives when we let it win, and it only wins if we allow it to. I’m not saying fear will dissipate entirely when we push past it, but I am saying that it will begin to lose its grip. Trying may produce success, trying may produce failure, but wouldn’t you rather know for certain which one?

Sometimes, I still struggle with poetry. Sometimes, I struggle with those classical standards, and the fact I will never be a Charles Bukowski or a John Keats. But sometimes, I don’t struggle; and the only way I am able to experience that period of progress is by taking a stab in the dark, in spite of the intimidation that threatens to deter me.

 

The Art of Disneyfication

I always loved Disney and their films growing up, and I still do; however, I’ve started to notice that a lot of their movies don’t seem to completely follow the various fairy tales, short stories, and other tales that they’re based on. Recently, I’ve done a little research and come across a phenomenon know as Disneyfication: this is a process of taking the original tale, story, or the likes, and telling their own “squeaky-clean” version.

When it comes to Disney, it is common knowledge that the majority of their films are based on classic fairy tales and books, such as Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and so on. Being a family-friendly company, there were plenty of changes from the original source materials. Below are a few examples:

In the original Pinocchio book, Pinocchio accidently kills Jiminy Cricket by smashing him with a mallet. Later, he burns his own legs by sleeping too close to a stove. These two scenes were not featured in the Disney film. Pinocchio was never meant to be a child-conscious story, considering that Pinocchio commits suicide by hanging himself by his marionette strings in the original ending.

In the Grimm’s Cinderella tale, the two evil stepsisters had their heels chopped off in order to try to fit their shoes in the glass slipper. Not very magical, huh? Also, the stepsisters had their eyes pecked out by Cinderella’s bird friends at the end of the story so that they can never see true beauty again. Of course, these scenes were omitted for being graphic.

In the original story of The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, the unnamed mermaid was given feet by a benevolent witch, but it actually felt like she was stepping on glass when walking on land. At the end of the story, the mermaid doesn’t marry the prince and actually dies, falling into the sea and turning into seafoam. Of course, Ariel doesn’t die at the end of The Little Mermaid film and Ursula was a villain.

It’s fair to say that the original Hunchback of Notre Dame isn’t without it’s darker edges. I’m not only surprised that Disney wanted to make an animated film adaptation of Hunchback, but that they chose to include a song, featuring Judge Frollo, about his lust for Esmeralda–if he cannot have her, then she shall burn in the flames of hell. Family-friendly?

Lastly, for Disney’s Hercules, it seems that their retelling of the Greek myth had the wrong idea about who truly hated Hercules. Hera is the one that despised Hercules (and any children Zeus had without her consent), not Hades. In fact, Hades was a benevolent ruler of the Underworld and Hera was the one that sent snakes to kill Hercules. Clearly, Disney wanted to turn the mighty Hercules into more of a “Superman” story.

I can understand why people are upset about these changes because not only are some of these changes stepping on what the original authors intended to write, but they’re also stepping on pieces of history and mythology. On the other hand, I usually go into a Disney movie that’s an adaptation knowing that there will be creative liberties taken, like any other film adaptation would. In the end, I don’t think Disney is trying to polish up stories so that children can enjoy them, but rather trying to ensure commercial longevity while compromising the authenticity and integrity of the stories themselves.

One of These Days

Twenty-two. Twenty-two. What about you? Probably around there, too, huh? In high school, I remember glorifying the image of the old man author. This can probably be blamed on reading mostly fantasy and science fiction, but the whole idea is a weird one. Quite simply, most of my favorite writers were old white men. As a young white man who could hardly focus and finish any of the rubbish I was writing at the time, the elder sage seemed to be an upper echelon of writing serenity that only comes with time and wisdom. If you’re reading this, you might like words, or art in general, just as I do. You might be in college, as well, or just young, busy, and in debt. Finding time to hone your craft into something you feel like could or should be shared with the world may seem out of reach—a dog on a treadmill forever chasing the dangling meat on the end of a fishing line.

Well. One of the many, many life lessons I’ve had to learn in the past few years is about goals and how to reach them. There is no echelon, no serene utopia that time and age delivers to you with gentle hands. It’s a process, writing, as are most things. The pyramids weren’t built in a day and Stephen King didn’t write The Stand in a single spectacular moment of genius. Well, maybe he did, to be honest. Guy was doing A LOT of drugs. But anyhow, don’t do drugs and don’t expect to be the writer of tomorrow today before noon. I can recall one of my favorite fantasy authors, Patrick Rothfuss, recounting the evolution of his hit series, The Kingkiller Chronicles. The idea, birthed early on, developed over a course of years, muddled with years of getting that bachelors and then masters. His writing went on a journey with him. That’s real life. The process doesn’t cut through a space-time rift and come out on the other side successful and rich. If only, huh?

So, yeah, we’re young and busy. Maybe you’re middle aged and busy! Or old and busy! Whether you’re still learning how to navigate blossoming and burdensome adulthood or have come a long way already, the process is right there for you. It hasn’t moved. Start somewhere. Months ago… no, goodness, it’s almost been a year now, I jotted down some ideas for a story on my phone while I waited for my car to come out of the shop. Gotta rotate those tires, people! Anywho, that story is maybe sitting at eight or so pages now. I want it to be a novella… so, yeah, still a ways to go. Sometimes I rip on that bad boy, sometimes I forget about it for months. But it’s a good idea that I won’t let die off. And I haven’t, as of yet. If you would have told me all those months ago that I’d only be about a third or so through the tale, I’d be frustrated. I’ve rewritten and revisited. But, you know what, I kept writing it and believing in it.

You make time for what you value. I shudder to think of where I could be now if I replaced all that time scrolling through my phone with writing, planning, and learning. Sure, I might verbally blame it on a busy work or school schedule, but I know the truth. I have to value that process and believe in it more. Get down and dirty with the process. Let it make a fool of me and call me mean names. Confront the process. Write and direct an anime battle scene with the process. Keep going until the process does a heel-turn and becomes a good pal. And so should you. Crack open that six month old Word document, I triple-dog dare you. I am getting older. Don’t quite like the idea of being the “one of these days I’ll…” guy at dinner parties. If it is inside you, don’t Tetris it around anymore. Start somewhere. Good luck.

Apfelbaum by Laura J. Braverman

LAURA J. BRAVERMAN is a writer and artist. Her poetry has appeared in Levure Litteraire, Live Encounters, The BeZINE, California Quarterly, and Mediterranean Poetry. Her first collection of poetry, In the Absence of Defense Against Loss, will be published in 2019 by Cosmographia Books. She lives in Lebanon and Austria with her family.


Apfelbaum

For a long time I believed Martin Luther said these words:
Even if I knew tomorrow the world would go to pieces,
I would still plant my apple tree.
We shared a birthday, though his was 500 years before mine.

He would have spoken the words in my mother tongue. I use
them as an incantation, as defense against helplessness—

I imagine
our globe as little as twenty years from now—septic seas,
garbage dunes, drought and flood. My husband soothes me,

says creation moves in cycles regardless of the reckless
doings of our tribe. He sides with Heraclitus: World ever was,
and is,
an ever-living fire,
kindling and extinguishing according to measure.

But surely our wild hunger has sped things up.

Does the earth care for us?
We scrub pots after dinner, pick up our children’s Lego bricks.
We better Narcissus—leap headlong into the reflections
our digital screens hold up. We save manatees stranded in mud,

compose cantatas, dry rose petals in the sun;
we beg at intersections with matted hair and little siblings, knock
on closed car windows.
We fear the swollen legs of our father,
scratch butterflies with our fingernails on stonewalls,
line up for death.

Does the universe care for us?
I’ve come across a theory: the cosmos expected life,
prepared for consciousness, for us, from its very cradle—

hoped for apple trees and their tart, pesky harvest.

Utter Your Words

During the spring semester of 2018, I enrolled in Creating the Poem with Dr. Iliana Rocha here at the University of Central Oklahoma.  Before entering the classroom, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew nothing of poetry besides the few guidelines to some forms covered in half of a week’s span while I was in high school.  I honestly walked in the classroom on the first day thinking, This should be simple.  Roses are red. Violets are blue.  I couldn’t have been any more mistaken.

Dr. Rocha explained that we students would be creating and compiling a chapbook of our own for the semester.  What the hell is a chapbook? I thought to myself.  Normally, I’m not one to freak out when it comes to a required page count either, but when she told us the final chapbook portfolio was to be 20-25 pages, my brain went into panic mode.  I’m screwed.  Why did I do this to myself?  I’m good for one world-changing poem, if that.

But then, she made each student pull out a piece of blank paper and number the paper 1 to 13.  She told us to list something similar to the following: the street you grew up on, your favorite beverage, a cartoon character you remember from your childhood, an item of clothing, a dream destination, etc.  On another blank sheet of paper we were instructed to write, on line number one, a line of poetry using one of our 13 facts. Next, the person to the right, on line two, would continue the poem with another one of their 13 facts.  Together, the class created (for the most part) a cohesive and sentimental poem about their lives. (One line about an exploding toilet lightened the mood though). I soon began to think the class wouldn’t be that bad.

Until I heard the first poems about dying animals, war in Afghanistan from the eyes of a soldier, and growing up in a neglectful home as a child slightly older than a toddler.  I can’t write about red roses and blue violets? One evening, while in class, Dr. Rocha explained and discussed with us a term called the unutterable. Some students nodded their heads in understanding while I sat imagining how I must look like an animated cartoon character with the three bouncing question marks floating above my head.  As the discussion progressed, I came to understand that the unutterable was any raw emotion or uncomfortable writing from any given writer. Also, it’s simply subjective. The readers’ catharsis is based upon individual and personal experience. Who wants to talk about poop (Chen Chen) or menstrual cycles (Rupi Kaur)?  Such subjects that can bring out a quick shiver or shudder is successful in creating the unutterable.

The very discussion and encouragement from Dr. Rocha and my peers opened up a new pathway for my writing.  Just after a few months in the class, I was able to write about an assault that occurred in my youth that I never thought I would be able to verbally express to anyone. Poetry, and its mechanics, allowed me to write to everyone and no one in particular. The fact that Dr. Rocha explained to us that poetry is purely subjective encouraged me to write to other victims solely for my extended support and encouragement.  Roses aren’t always red and the violets I see are broken—petals forever flowing in the Oklahoma breeze.

Advice for Saying Hello by Ace Boggess

ACE BOGGESS is an author of three books of poetry, most recently Ultra Deep Field (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017), and the novel A Song Without a Melody (Hyperborea Publishing, 2016). His fourth poetry collection, I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So, is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press. His writing has appeared in Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, RATTLE, River Styx, North Dakota Quarterly and many other journals. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.

 

Advice for Saying Hello

I’m the wrong person to ask—
heart in it, but not my voice.

If we haven’t met,
you’re the speck of a gnarled spider

dangling from a ceiling in the hall.
Legs atremble, I won’t approach,

might stare rudely or run away.
I’m paralyzed from the tongue up.

Should you encounter me,
please speak fast

before panic hides me in its cloak.
Tell me your name, your favorite film,

what songs play
on the soundtrack to your life.

Tell me how much you love
spaghetti & red wine,

the smell of frying eggs,
the color of anything

under a rain-gray sky.
I promise to listen, &

maybe then, I’ll have an answer
for the silence I wear

like a holiday sweater:
ugly, red, & pulled from a drawer

out of gratitude or duty
on yet another lonely, public eve.

Three Poems at 55 by Kelly King Walden

KELLY KING WALDEN blogs at kellylogos.net, which is also her Twitter handle (without the net:) She has raised children (4, one from Ethiopia) and mentors teens and college students. She created an ACT Prep business, which she runs, and writes on the side for various online magazines and a local magazine. She has only published one poem, at Plough Quarterly. She has a Master’s in English and has taught school and college in the past.

 

Padded Van
We were so packed into the van.
Every trip, just so many accouterments
needed, no matter where we were going.
My mother would bring a pillow and a full
size blanket because she was always cold
and wanted to be covered from head to toe.
Then there was a sweater or a big padded coat.
And her big computer with its fat padded case and
a big quilted bag to carry all the books and magazines
she thought she might read. And then there was the mini
back pillow for lumbar support. And she’d fill a little soft-sided
cooler with water and apples and nuts. And she insisted on an
extra blanket for anyone else who might get cold because it always
happened. We would complain about how crowded we all were, how
claustrophobic we felt with all this suffocating softness surrounding our
every move on every side. And on this trip, we were camping so my dad
had his pillow beside his seat, too, and I was sleeping on my pillow and my
sister had a big jacket hung up over her window because of the burning sun
darkening her already dark skin. And there wasn’t enough room in the back for
all the camping gear and food and bedding and suitcases so we had a couple of
rolled up sleeping bags on the floor between us in the back. And bulging out from
between the two middle seats were foam bed toppers and an extra, super-fat down comforter in case it got really cold one night AND two coats were stuck by our heads.
So when we had the wreck,
And went flying through the air and rolling over and over down the bank with the
blankets and coats and pillows and bags and comforters tumbling around us
like bedding in the heavy-duty dryer at the laundromat, it was a wild ride
and we were a little banged up, but we merely walked away
looking like pants and shirts that needed a little ironing.

 

When You Walked In
I was getting ready to leave
when you walked in the door.
I need to be somewhere soon,
but your unexpected arrival
halted my plans.
I rethink my agenda.
I can’t leave when I have the
unexpected gift of your presence
suddenly. I manufacture reasons
for hanging out in the same room
with you. Let’s see, what’s on my
list to do today? Oh, yes, clean
the kitchen windows, haha. I can
do a couple of them right now,
and just casually throw out some
conversation starters while I’m
hanging out. You are so focused
on what you are focused on. I try
to be focused on something else too.
But converse a little, too, at the
same time, you know, just casually.
About something maybe interesting.
Or just something.
Like tell you what I did this morning.
But that was nothing. Nothing
that you would find interesting.
But there was that one thing
I can mention. I can show you that one
thing.
But you’re so busy, so focused.
I don’t want to annoy you.
Can I at least
have a bridge sometimes? It can be
retractable. Or throw me a rope, maybe.
I just want to be one of the
islands in your archipelago.
I just want to be able
to cross over
sometimes
and see your eyes.

 

If Emily Had Children
The bustle in the house
the day the kids come home
Is the brightest tidying up,
the lightest of urgent work
in a stolid empty nest.
Irrational love precipitates
irrational effort
as tedious tasks stir energy.
I’m expecting life again –
the heart opens up
and the light comes in
illuminating soon filled rooms.
The stillness in the house
the day the kids leave
is a snaky place.
Trails of their presence creep
like vines through the house.
Mired in memories at every turn,
my heavy feet move from room to room.
The quicksand of sadness sucks me down.
The overgrowth of activity has left a fertility of memory
. . . A futility of memory.
If I strip their bed I strip their scent.
A grayness pervades the air and my soul
as I sweep up my Heart and put my Love away.

 

Being the Black Girl

Writing has been a part of my life since I learned cursive in the third grade, but I didn’t fall madly in love with it until well into my high school years, where I was often known as the “Black One” or “That Black Girl with the Weird Hair.” Writing became the channel that I never knew I needed. I struggled with my identity as a Black girl and what it means to be black. People often tried to quantify my blackness; my classmates or some of my family didn’t believe I was black enough because I went to a predominately white school. Through my writing I was able to find myself, and it illuminated the person I am today. I don’t know the kind of person I would be now had I not fallen for writing. Something as simple as writing my feelings on a blank page could extricate me from any bad mood or bad day.

Black.

Is the starless night

A hole in space that absorbs all that can fall within.

The colorless color fabricates as rubbish to the blind.

The sign of evil and frightening reminder of sin,

The magic of silver tongued casting witches twisting the mind,

Devils, liars, mystics, cheats, and criminals all absorbs in one,

Distorting the color, policing the image is man who places the bind.

 

Embrace your beauteous form whose curves thy dark caress on light ought,

Enthrall those who shun your essence in ignorance, for the future is fluid to sight.

A resilient experience has made the child in me wise,

Your pain knit in every fiber and strand within my heart and soul forever sown.

Black, is my pride, armor, culture mixed in a bowl, the essence that creates my mind,

A woman painted an image of a man, woman, child in thy color refined.

My identifier, the absorbing shroud over my mirror,

For one so illustriously dark and ebony, my opinion is ever clearer.

Thy inky hand caresses my hair and face sweeping down to my feet.

Acceptance, the windy cold mountain challenge, the greatest feat.

I am you, and you define me.

Black.

This poem created a vacuum for all the thoughts of what it means to me to be black, and how I should move forward, despite all the labels added to my race. Writing is a way to find one’s self-awareness, and I think that bleeds into my works often. To quote the well-known author Enid Bagnold, “Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything… It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”