Posts tagged essay
Posts tagged essay
WHAT A GORGEOUS MUSIC VIDEO (“100 YEARS”) REVEALS ABOUT MOVIE-MAKING
Back in some other lifetime I was employed as a professional film reviewer. I’ve searched for a way to share what I learned without giving a pedantic lecture or presenting a long series of film clips. As soon as I saw this lovely 2004 music video, I realized that I had everything I need. All the important elements of film are contained within.
This beautiful broad-brush piece of art is probably the best and most universal music video I have seen. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find it on any of the “Best Music Videos” compilations I checked. It should have received a lot more attention than it did.
The lyrics (below) form a sort internal dialog, describing the narrator’s thoughts and feelings at six different ages ranging from 15 to 99. But this is clearly a universal, not a personal, voyage.
The words describe a progression similar to Shakespeare’s seven stages of man: first love, marriage, parenting, a middle-age crisis, old age, and death (symbolized by the empty piano stool in the last shot).
The face, gender, and ethnicity of the characters change constantly. One person (narrator and singer-songwriter John Ondrasik) seems to be playing everyman, containing all the other characters within him.
You may notice that, although this film was shot in color, the palette is very muted and controlled. It’s composed mostly of soft blues and browns— “earth tones” or “natural” colors. When color is muted like this it takes a back seat, allowing other cinematic elements to assume center stage.
The setting here is pure earth, sun and sky. The video declares early on, by coloring everything similarly (including the characters) that it will have a universal message. All the world is a stage.
Even the sun plays its part in the background, appearing low in the sky (a morning sun) at the beginning, but nearly to its zenith at the film’s climax, which happens around 3:00 minutes in. It flashes obligingly over the narrator’s shoulder when he yearns for “just another moment.”
This video is packed full of triangular images, which form its main visual motif (theme). The setting includes mountains, the angles of the branches attached to the tree, and the framing of the players as seen through the piano. The triangle motif (along with the fact that one of the characters climbs the tree) make it clear that this is a song about progression and ascension.
The depiction of the middle-age crisis is sublime. As the narrator realizes he is no longer young, the character representing his younger self falls out of the tree with a silent crash, and the camera slowly trails over storm-broken branches littering the ground. According to the lyrics, wisdom and “moving on” follow soon after.
I find this video’s’s message particularly touching. We are not really separate, but share a collective human consciousness and life story. We inhabit this worldly stage together. And when we recall the highlights of our life or have a near-death experience, all of our lifetime is contracted to fit within a few moments. The time and space separating us is an illusion.
The earth-toned setting, progressive lighting, brief plot, dialog (song lyrics), images of climbing, and citizen-of-the world characters come together beautifully to deliver a universal message. Although our lifespans today are the longest humans have ever known, it still seems we have too little time to live and too much to experience and learn.
Footnote: Sometimes comparison is the best way to see the quality of a film. The story here is rendered largely in symbolic terms, giving it a universal message. Another professional video of this song has been produced, but the interpretation is literal rather than symbolic. You can see it here. Notice how a literal interpretation narrows the video to a particular place, time, and culture.
Copyright 2013 by Ann Marcaida
100 Years lyrics:
My friend and surreal digital artist A.W. Sprague created this unique piece to thank me for supporting his work. Although we’ve never met in person, he did an amazing job of crawling into my head! This is a lot more fun and just as revealing as occupying a psychiatrist’s couch. And Bill was kind enough to omit any negative aspects of my psyche.
It’s interesting to note that prior to the invention of the printing press, visual symbolism in art was widely understood. But these days, visual symbolism is a language most of us must re-learn.
To that end, A.W. and I have provided a detailed analysis of his symbolism. (My interpretations in regular font, A.W.’s comment in italics).
Please savor this delightful art. Two detailed close-ups are given so the viewer can “read” the fine print.
Unitarian minister Peter Tufts Richardson, in his book Four Spiritualities, contends that it is important to pay attention to the works of religious, spiritual, and philosophical teachers in traditions that are different from our native one (See Part I and Part II).
But how can we identify which teachers might be helpful to us? Richardson believes that our inherent personality type (see links at the bottom of the article) helps to determine which teachings are attractive, meaningful, and useful to us.
"In every sizeable community, one finds atheists who think there is not God, polytheists who acknowledge many gods, monotheists who believe there is a single God, and mystics who say there is only God." (Huston Smith)
The Unitarian minister we met in Part I, Peter Tufts Richardson, feels that it’s important to pay attention to the works of religious, spiritual, and philosophical teachers in traditions other than own. Among other things, this may enlarge our world view and make us more tolerant of differing faiths. But how can we identify which teachers in other faiths might be helpful to us?
Richardson believes that our inherent personality type (see links at bottom) helps to determine which parts of any faith or religion are attractive, meaningful, and/or helpful to us. (For more information, click here to read Part I).
Sensing Feelers (SF):
Sensing Feelers are sensitive, friendly, loyal, and caring. They live for social interaction, prefer structured settings, and enjoy sharing, appreciating, helping, and being helped. They are likely to marry and have children, and live responsibly as parents and citizens. They like to serve others in direct, tangible, personal ways. They focus on the task on hand and will see that every detail is accounted for. They prefer things to be intact, traditional, and harmonious. They work within traditional values in practical and cooperative ways. They base their decisions on subjective, people-centered values as well as practicality. Sensing Feelers are generally optimistic and aim for harmony, mutual appreciation, and trust.
Sensing Thinkers (ST):
Sensing thinkers are realists, always in touch with the facts, and are unbiased and accurate, paying attention to all of the details. They look for clear-cut results from their efforts. They are skilled administrators— responsible, objective, consistent, and detached. Once a concept, solution or procedure becomes clear, they will proceed with implementation. Since they are not swayed by subjective feelings, Sensing Thinkers make excellent negotiators. Balance, prudence, duty, and fairness are their hallmarks. Sensing Thinkers commit themselves to the building and maintenance of institutions. They are likely to question tradition only when the outcomes have impractical or unfair consequences.
Intuitive Feelers (NF):
Intuitive feelers are full of visions of possibilities for a humane world, where everyone can lead full, harmonious lives and grow as individuals. They are enthusiastic and insightful, recognizing the needs of others as well as the community and the world. With their strong charisma and are good language skills, Intuitive Feelers often help others achieve their goals, but they dislike conflict. Intuitive Feelers have an ability to draw people into discussion and facilitate consensus-building for social harmony. They live life on a global stage, feeling attuned to the big picture of life in communities, societies, or the world.
Intuitive Thinkers (NT):
Intuitive thinkers are visionaries who thrive on solving problems. They love to exchange ideas, engage other minds, and test their own skills. They focus on the task at hand and value competence. Intuitive thinkers easily see the relationships among the components of a system. Seeking intellectual clarity, they love models and analysis, especially theories that bring unity to disparate elements. Intuitive thinkers are the foremost change agents and strategic planners. They are comfortable with abstract ideas and are rarely satisfied with things the way they are. They are good critics, and can be compulsive in their quest for perfection. They are willing to make tough decisions and stand alone against the crowd.
If you can’t figure out your personality type based on these descriptions, click on one of these links to take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (also called the Jung Test):
http://www.humanmetrics.com/ (Take “Jung Typology Test”)
www.similarminds.com (Click on “16-Type Jung Personality Tests”, then take “Jung Tests IESNFTJP”.)
http://www.personalitypathways.com/ (Abbreviated version)
"On the right hand stand the lovers, on the left are those who seek. And we will dance in conversation until our tongues can no longer speak." (Bruce Roper)
Although I was born into a Catholic family, I never “got” Catholicism. The Catholic Mass is still surreal to me, with its mumbled incantations and dolorous organ music. As a child, I never understood why I couldn’t participate. Later, the budding scientist in me wondered whether the laws of physics were really different when Jesus was alive (a seeming prerequisite for miracles).
I joined an online writing site four years ago with almost no knowledge of literature, and I made some inane comments on creative writing during my first year.
However, with the coaching of online writers, my skills have slowly improved. I’m writing this article to share what I have learned with anyone interested in commenting on literature. It seems to me that Tumblr’s creative writers deserve more that just a few (or a few hundred) presses of the “like” button. I think it’s time we started giving them some real feedback as to what their words make us think and feel.
According to Wikipedia, An essay is “often written from an author’s personal point of view. Essays can consist of a number of elements, including… political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author.”
The key here is that the author is talking about real events and offering his or her opinions and reflections. When I think about essays, I think about the work of Mike Firesmith,* John Philipp, and Greg Schiller, among others. (I also consider myself an essay writer).
Essays are easy to comment on. Because the author has expressed his or her opinion on one or more topics, you can agree or disagree with their opinions and give your reasons for doing so.
Or, if you prefer, you can simply state that the author has argued their thesis well, and tell them why you find their statements convincing. For instance, although Mike Firesmith and I disagree on many issues, his essays are so compelling that I often find myself nearly persuaded to his point of view as I read. This is the sign of a good essay-writer.
In addition, humor is often a large part of essays, so picking up on a strand of humor and continuing the joking (check out John Philipp’s or Greg Schiller’s comment threads) is a great way to give feedback.
2. FICTIONAL PROSE
Fictional prose (short stories, novel chapters, or writing exercises) can be complex, made of elements such as plot, character development, settings, theme, and underlying message. This makes commenting difficult, so I find it best to remark on what strikes me most about the writing. For instance:
a. Does the piece have a strong sense of mood? How is this created? By a detailed description of the setting or the internal state of the characters? Any author that sets a strong opening mood is off to a good start, and this is worth commenting on. One online author who does this very well is A. F. Stewart.
b. Is the plot brisk and easy to follow, even in the case of an installment piece? Instead of spending a lot of time describing characters and settings, many authors rely on a compelling plot to keep their readers’ interest. If the plot drew you in and was, above all, unpredictable, this is a good thing to comment on. One of my favorite online plot writers is Magi, who is able to maintain a brisk and entertaining plot in long stories that include many installments and complex characters.
c. How real are the characters? Some authors focus mainly on the people. For them, the creation of “real” characters and depiction of their inner growth is paramount. This is accomplished by describing their mental states and/or actions in detail.
When I of someone who creates excellent characters, the writing of Sandy Knauer comes to mind. Any character Sandy writes is likely to be so realistic that they jump off the page.
Poetry is probably the hardest form of literature to comment on, but I find it to be the most fun. And there’s a secret to commenting on poetry: You need not understand the entire poem and all its nuances in order to write a good comment. (More on this in a minute).
Some accomplished poets write very straightforward, easy-to-understand poetry (John Beck and Stephen Berwaldt, for instance), while others pack their work with metaphor and point-of-view changes, making a puzzle to be deciphered (See the work of Atticus or Smaragdus) .
If the poet is writing about their personal life, with themself as the narrator, they are writing confessional poetry. However, you should never assume that poetry is confessional unless the author explicitly says so. Poets write in many different voices, and it is customary to refer simply to the “narrator” of a poem without assuming this to be identical to the author.
So— what’s the best way to comment on a challenging poem? Below are some options I find helpful:
1. Copy and paste your favorite lines into the comment box (be sure to put them in quotes or italics), and explain why you like them.
For instance, do you like with the message they present? Did the mood strike you in a certain way? Do you admire the wording, or did you learn a new word?
2. Many poets paint pictures with words. Comment on the “pictures.”
Any poet who works hard on the imagery in their poems will appreciate you describing in your own words the mental pictures they conjure up, or what they remind you of. They have no other way of knowing the exact effects of their words on the minds of their readers.
3. Did the poem resonate with you in an emotional way?
Many (perhaps most) poets seek to tug the heartstrings of their readers, and will be interested in hearing your emotional reaction to their work.
For instance, did something in the poem trigger an emotional memory for you? If so, the poet will probably be interested in hearing about this (briefly). Or do you sense a predominate emotion to the poem? If so, you may be close to understanding the entire poem, so write about your reaction!
4. Comment on the Pace of the Poem
There’s no need to understand rhyme and meter to discern when a poem slows down or speeds up. Reading it aloud should prove sufficient. Does the pacing of the poem fit with its content, its highs and lows? If so, comment on this.
As an example, consider Craig Lawson’s gorgeous poem Skiing Alone. If you read it aloud, you’ll hear that Craig has written in forced pauses at a few spots in an otherwise smoothly-flowing poem. (For instance, the beginnings of lines 6 and 11, if I am reading correctly). These may represent changes in the direction of the skier’s path.
5. If you read the poet’s work on a regular basis, compare it to their other work.
Poets appreciate it if you remember their work. For instance, if you are reading one of your favorite of their works, say so, and explain why. If it reminds you of another of their poems, point out the similarities, or compare and contrast the two.
For more information on the elements of poetry, click here.
SYMBOLS IN LITERATURE
Most literature includes symbolism, that is, word(s) which have a meaning beyond what they literally represent. It is not necessary to fully understand the symbolism to comment on a piece of literature.
However, the study of symbolism is fascinating, and the symbols in literature are more universal than you might think. If you are interested in literary symbolism, I have included some references below.
Try To Make Your Comments Unique
If you are going to comment on Tumblr, you should make your comments unique. The problem with standardized comments (such as “nice” or “I love this”) is not that the author doesn’t appreciate the fact that you have commented. The problem lies in the fact that they can’t tell whether you have read their work. And ask any serious author on the site— they are here to be heard!
What have I omitted?
PLEASE JOIN ME BY OFFERING YOUR COMMENTING TIPS IN THE DISQUS CONVERSATION STREAM BELOW!
* (Note that the authors I mention are members of the online site Gather.com)
Copyright 2012 by Ann Marcaida
Poor Mother Theresa. By rights she should be a saint by now, but sainthood requires the candidate to have performed two “miracles” (acts defying “the laws of nature”) that can be verified by The Catholic Church. The Church has confirmed only one such miracle for Mother Theresa, so she’s officially entered heaven but is not yet a saint.
This state of affairs inspired me to start my own sainthood program. My credibility must be at least as good as that of the Catholic Church. I’m not attracted to children, I support the distribution of condoms to prevent AIDS, and I think women are just as likely as men to be able to manage a congregation and talk to God.
This article marks the official beginning my sainthood program. Of course, like the Catholic Church, I’m open to objections to my nominees. Please feel free to play devil’s advocate.
For me, a saint is someone who discards self-preservation instincts and gives their resources freely and lovingly to others, often to the point of injuring themselves. My new nominee for sainthood is someone you’ve probably never heard of— the late writer and professor Deborah Digges.
It’s said that one of the most important events of this century will be the merging of Eastern and Western philosophy. Nowhere is the contrast between Eastern and Western thinking more obvious than in Burma. The tale of this Buddhist country’s quest for independence is a curious tale of yang and yin: war and revolution intermingled with religion and peaceful resistance that verges on passivity.
General Aung San, the revolutionary who engineered Burma’s independence from British rule, is considered the the father of modern Burma. Although he was a non-violent political protester during his college years, he took up arms at the age of 26 when his peaceful efforts failed. Although Aung San was assassinated in 1947, his country enjoyed a brief period of democracy due to his efforts (1947—1962) until takeover by a military junta.
Aung San’s daughter Aung San Suu Kyi (considered the “mother” of the true Burma) entered politics in 1988. Unlike her father (and perhaps due to the manner of his death), Aung San Suu Kyi is a strictly non-violent activist, influenced by Buddhist principles and Gandhi’s teachings.
Corinna Parr, Imagist
This young author’s work is akin to that of the Imagists, a 19th-century group of writers containing many women. Like the Imagist’s work, Corinna’s writing features clear visuals, precise language, and mythological themes.
As her charming essay Memory of Magic reveals, Corinna is a born poet. At the age of five, while playing with other kids in a sprinkler, she saw spontaneous circles of children shift into a variety of geometric shapes. Corinna was carried away by the beauty of the impromptu dance: ”I’ve remembered it, and in remembering have caught glimpses of the pattern of magic elsewhere.”
This childhood experience seems to inform the poetry Corinna writes today. You can see it in her magic-laden prose-poem Maiden Mother Crone in which a daughter of Epona (a horse-goddess) emerges from the earth and has only three days in which to live a full woman’s life. The story’s climax is a three-circled dance ceremony.
What this young poet celebrates most, however, is sex and the complementarity of men and women. She often writes of a frustrated yearning to merge with her lover, to feel and understand his maleness. From Ode to Happy Man:
…Oh, if I could
into myself and
drink the masculinity
of you, become one
with it and
truly know what it is
to be a happy man,
For me, it is only ever
the imperfect joining,
the spill of fluids
and your ragged breath
caught in the cup of my
Corinna walks the fine edge of erotica, writing sensual poems that stop just short of being explicit. But sometimes she delves deeper, exploring the ways in which submission flows naturally from her femininity. Corinna is not afraid to cross lines, and the short story Captivity (written in collaboration with James Ciriaco), set in colonial America, is both terrifyingly violent and psychologically astute. For BDSM fans, this is the most natural, least forced piece of that genre I have read.
Corinna’s muse embraces motherhood as enthusiastically as she embraces sex. The Butterfly Shirt speaks of a three year-old who’s precociously gallant, and Corinna beautifully unveils the tensions between mother and son. The short sentences of this poem hold the reader in a tight mother’s squeeze until gravity takes over at the end:
If you knew,
what you do
to my heart
when you tell
me to wear
the butterfly shirt
because it makes
you would then
why I cry
and hug you
until you complain,
"Mama, put me down!”
Corinna is not shy about pondering her own mortality. In The Universe is Bloodless she expands her poetic reach, reflecting on the fact that it’s not flesh and blood but star-stuff that composes the universe, and this is a form to which our bodies will one day return:
Stroke your arm and think:
The universe is bloodless,
Not I; this body
of flesh, veins, soft pulsing heart,
made to spill, to break;
Life, to the beat of mad drums,
or hands on my skin.
The universe is bloodless;
Not I, this body of flesh.
The narrator draws a sharp contrast between her youthful zeal and the cold indifference of inert matter. Though she makes life seem exceedingly fragile, faith shines through her words. In asserting that she is not her body, Corinna also asserts that some part of her will survive death. Her writing will stand the test of time because Corinna Parr’s passion for life is infectious. As her profile says:
"Breathe, cry out, sing, or don’t write at all."
Barbary Chaapel Weds Water and Land
Barbary Chaapel excels at capturing sensory impressions and weaving them into universal themes. Her beautiful Quartet of Seasons takes us through a symbolic year of life in her Appalachian home, seamlessly mixing rhythms of nature, people, and ghosts. Here is Spring:
Alive, the mountains,
The rills and runs,
Light spilling over new green.
Look beyond the tulip tree buds:
Wood smoke, elixir
From a chimney in the clearing,
Where every April, my flower bed
Gives up a marble, a shooter -
Imagine marble-clicking sounds -
Lost to the earth by long-ago farm children…
Although she was born in rural West Virginia and grew up in the Great Lakes region, Barbary spent seven years sailing the Caribbean with her husband. This voyage yielded her first two books, The Journey of The Snow Goose (prose)and No Name Harbor (poetry).
In he recent poetry collection Estuary, Barbary contemplates the opposing forces of her life, symbolically joining her earthly roots with her seafaring adventures:
"The estuary inside me, a confluence, words of earth and fire from mountain to sea."
But Barbary’s work isn’t predictable. She blew me away with her unconventional poem Simulation, in which she once again touches on a journey from water to land.
In it Barbary writes of an abnormal pregnancy (fetus in fetu) in which a smaller, partially-developed fetus grows on a normal one. The larger fetus, soon to give up her watery life for one on land, narrates the poem with loving acceptance of her little stow-away:
We turn in on each other
In those first months of sacred knowing.
I am sweet fruit. She swims naked in
The red-black juice of a pomegranate…
I signal baby kisses
To my little aril other,
Her tiny foot and leg tilt in my round pan
Of a brain. I become the boat,
She, the norish voyageur,
Fetus in fetu.
But I think this is more than a poem about a stowaway, a parasite, or a haunting. This is about the growing realization that one carries something that has been there all along and requires nurturing: a soul. For even the “monster-born” are children of God.
Like Corinna Parr, Barbary Chaapel has written a poem (Maiden, Mother, Crone) about the three stages of a woman’s life. Although Corinna looks at a woman’s life from a broad mythological perspective, Barbary ties her reflections to a specific place and time:
On tiptoe at lamplighted cottage window,
She peers into the corners of her kitchen life
Iron skillet, greenglass juicer, apron strings:
Her life as a woman,
New moon, full moon, nearly dark moon.
Notice how carefully Barbary has placed objects in the kitchen of her life— a skillet (masculine imagery), a juicer for extracting essence, and apron strings for children to cling to. What more could a woman want?
Barbary’s current project is a charming book of poems called A Child’s Calender of Verse. Here’s a sneak preview for you: When the 11th Month Comes:
The fishes sleep
their long winter sleep.
They doze under a skim of November ice.
A slow-motion video swims behind their round
fishy eyes…worms, wriggling provocatively.
Reading the work of these two gifted women makes me wish I were a poet. But not being one seems less important knowing that I have Corinna Parr and Barbary Chaapel to speak for me.
Copyright 2013 by Ann Marcaida.
All images are stocks from Google Image
In grade school, I fell in love with English Romantic poetry. Who wouldn’t swoon over a phrase like ”willows whiten, aspens quiver, little breezes dusk and shiver”? The gorgeous visual imagery and rhythm of the English Romantics defined my notion of good poetry for years.
A lot has changed since the days of the English Romantics. Modern poetry began as a rebellion against the precise forms and speech of Victorian poetry, much as modern painters rebelled against more traditional forms of painting.
Modern poetry is full of fractured phrases, unconventional words, free verse, and shifting points of view. Rhymes are few. Modern poetry isn’t designed to confuse readers (although it does that uncannily well), but rather to persuade readers to examine their own thoughts and mental constructs as they read a poem.
As a visual analogy, compare the 1888 John Williams Waterhouse painting The Lady of Shalott (top of article) to Picasso’s groundbreaking 1907 painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (above).
While Waterhouse’s painting looks fairly natural, Picasso’s painting is anything but natural. You can see the principles of modern art, including modern poetry, at work here. Forms are fractured, point of view is inconsistent, and there’s little structure. Although the Waterhouse painting is easier to look at, it’s the Picasso image that makes you think, because it challenges your ideas about painting.
The same is true of modern poetry. If you can get used to its unpredictable structure and shifting points of view, reading it can be an enlightening experience.
I have no academic background in literature, nor do I write poetry. This makes me uniquely qualified to tell you about my favorite poets. If I can read and appreciate them, so can you!
Susan Budig: Tugging Your Heartstrings
Susan Budig is a wonderfully versatile, mature poet who works in both traditional and modern styles. She writes free verse as well any poet, but she also loves traditional forms and tight rhyme schemes.
Susan’s poetry is unequivocally feminine, speaking clearly and wisely about emotional issues such as love, sensuality, nurturing, and loss. In The Bike Man, Susan transforms mundane bicycle repair into a sly, humorous poem full of sexual innuendo:
"Who knew a man named Wade
would know all about the intricate
details of my derailleur,
by only spinning my two wheels.
Who knew a man named Wade
would fix my purple vélo
with nothing more than
a thin gloss of lubricant
stretched between his two fingers
firmly pressed on my clotted chain,
easing deeply into my bearings
until the kink came out.”
Susan writes frequently about the loss of loved ones. In The Last Fugue, the narrator ponders the death of her sister, while a friend plays the violin. This poem is written in a difficult and intricate form (a “pantoum”), which requires that lines be repeated, but their meanings change within each stanza. Susan makes pantoum-writing seem as natural as breathing.
The tight structure and repetition of this poem gives the rhythmic feel of a violin being bowed. Susan’s visual imagery is full of grief and loss. Jet-streams (contrails) hang in the sky, suspended like the narrator’s heavy heart. Realizing that a part of her died along with her sibling, the narrator wants a two-headed coin buried in her sister’s grave:
“The contrails in the sky
Hang like my heart in stasis
When you say her name, I wonder why
I give you my last quarter with two faces
Hang like my heart in stasis
Until it bursts into a fistful of coins
I give you my last quarter with two faces
Throw it in her grave, I enjoin”
John Kimball II: Urban Alienation
While Susan Budig writes both traditional and modern poetry (see her award-winning modern poem Flying), John Kimball is a modern poet to the core. This young writer’s stark verse depicts human alienation in a technology-filled world that’s devoid of love and divine presence.
Kimball excels at depicting altered mental states. Listen to his dead-on evocation of depression from Deaf Dumb Done (Blessed are the Poor in Spirit):
“I know how to disappear completely
It’s not that hard-
all you have to do is look at the sidewalk
eyes trained down constantly
and it will absorb you
in its muted gray shade.”
Notice that there’s not a single word describing emotion in this excerpt. Instead, Kimball uses a ruthless metaphor to depict his narrator’s depression— the disappearance of color from the world.
Kimball’s protagonist, fearing eye contact with others, seems less than human and about to melt into his monochrome urban surroundings. When I read this poem, my heart sinks along with the narrator’s.
For a self-proclaimed atheist, Kimball talks about religion a lot. He has three poetry sets: The God Series (in which he personifies God and does all but spit in his face); The Beatitudes (based on the Biblical verses), and a new series about Lucifer’s duel with God.
In Kimball’s poem God Sweats, an arrogant, nihilistic God looks down on his human creations, considering whether to let them live. If you read this poem aloud, you’ll feel the driving rhythm characteristic of this poet’s work. (Or check out his creative multimedia presentation of his poem here).
Notice how Kimball forces us to examine our place in the universe by writing from a God’s-eye view:
"if I take away their music
they will lose their will to crawl
I will take way their music
they will spin
they will fall”
But Kimball’s poetry doesn’t always strike a somber note. In Confession, new love makes the narrator acutely aware of life’s sudden moments of grace and illumination in a decaying urban environment:
"But now, every so often there is a moment of clarity
when the sun jumps from the sky and splashes all over the streets
leaving some brilliant stain all over me
and if I stand still enough, long enough, I can almost see
that I’m made from the same fragile mechanical pulse
that makes everything and everyone dance.”
I hope you’ll read more of John Kimball’s and Susan Budig’s work. They are the yang and yin of poets— Kimball with his fierce confrontation of God the Father in all His manifestations, and Budig with her feminine emphasis on nurture and emotion. The work of these two literary artists runs deep.
Susan Budig’s Poetry Blog: http://susanbudigs-poetry.blogspot.com
Photos courtesy of Google Images. Portraits are courtesy of the poets.
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As a child, Azzam Alwash loved to visit Iraq’s Southern Marshes with his father, a hydraulic engineer under Saddam Hussein. This huge, diverse ecosystem, larger than the Florida Everglades, is believed by Biblical and Qu’ran scholars to be the site of The Garden of Eden. Alwash describes the marshes of his childhood as “a peaceful, peaceful place.”
As a young man, Alwash fled Saddam’s regime to study in America. He remained in the U.S. for nearly a quarter century, becoming a hydraulic engineer like his father. He applied for citizenship, married an American and had two daughters.
Although he was away from his native Iraq for almost 25 years, Alwash was haunted by his childhood memories of the marshes. He swore that one day he would show his wife and his daughters the Garden of Eden he had known.
We at The Surreal Circus are excited by the high quality of the entries to our surreal flash fiction contest. Thank you to all participants!
As one judge said: "I was impressed by the range of the stories, from parodic homage to the old style Surrealist tale to Kafkean parable to … near-future fiction to retelling of creation myth."
Judging this contest was both a treat and a learning experience. Reading surreal fiction should make you feel as if you’ve stepped into a parallel universe— a bit disoriented, a bit ”out of this world.” And a number of the entries did just that.
After much debate, here are our prizewinners: two wildly creative yet solidly-constructed parallel universes, as well as five runners-up that were strong contenders. We hope you enjoy these stories as much as we did!
Back in 2006 when I first wrote about her work, portrait artist Patrisha McLean was tired of her Flower Girls series, ready to abandon the project for a new one. At the time, I didn’t think her portraits could get any better, and she may have agreed. But she persevered with the series, proving us both wrong.
Instead, McLean explored new territory, and the results are breathtaking. Like the masterful artist she is, McLean has plumbed the depths of the Flower Girls concept, and in doing so explored the deepest parts of our collective psyche.
Hers is a remarkable photographic journey that begins in photo realism (the language of journalism) and ends in Symbolism, the language of dreams. Symbolist painters, such as Gustave Moreau, Gustav Klimt, Odilon Redon, and Edvard Munch used mythological and dream imagery. Often, like McLean, they created a timeless atmosphere of utter stillness and silence.
Though she began her career as a journalist, McLean’s editorial photography revolves around The Maiden’s Voyage, the mythical coming-of-age of young women. McLean’s portraits ask "Will the Flower Girl survive her passage to adulthood, with its impending ‘de-flowering?’” Parents have worried about this since the dawn of mankind, so The Maiden’s Voyage is a common story.
McLean’s 2008 portrait Lydia with Antique Mirror (above) sums up The Maiden’s Voyage (or perhaps The Heroine’s Journey) in one lovely stroke. Lydia explores an unknown forest, surrounded by vegetation that seems about to consume her. But unlike Clara with Rhododendrons (2006), Lydia doesn’t look to the viewer for help. Reaching the center of the forest, Lydia has stumbled upon herself. She’s traversed her own labyrinth, a one-way path to the center of her psyche.
In historical myths, a maiden was often seduced by a god in disguise (i.e. Leda and the Swan) at her coming-of-age. In modern versions, the seduction is watered-down, and the maiden simply loses consciousness at her transition, as in Sleeping Beauty or The Wizard of Oz. The growing importance of the unconscious dream-state in McLean’s work becomes clear when it’s viewed in serial fashion:
Above (Nora with Old Roses, 2006), an alert young girl is compared to roses. The message is simple. Nora is a rose. This is realism.
In Riley With Old Roses, Dreaming (2006), McLean tentatively approaches Symbolism. She depicts Riley’s dream, but we
aren’t in the dream. We must guess at the dream’s contents, represented by the multi-toned roses swirling around Riley’s head.
In Becca with Summer Flowers (2008), McLean has taken the plunge. She’s immersed in her subject’s dream, and so are we. Becca has taken control, raising her arms and summoning flying flowers to do her bidding, as one might summon the elements. This is Symbolism. McLean’s portrait seems to take place in aboriginal dream time, an atmosphere of timelessness, utter stillness and silence.
Although McLean’s work retains elements of her photo-journalism (who’d expect the gaunt Flower Girl above, with her world-weary stare and her choker of roses?), she now works largely in the realm of the Symbolic.
Never shy about exploring the dark side, McLean has created a stunning dualistic illustration of the Sleeping Beauty myth. A daytime Sleeping Beauty is paired with her haunting doppelganger, a vampirish nocturnal beauty. Together, these portraits make me wonder whether Sleeping Beauty will survive her journey to adulthood, awakening in the light as a woman. Or will she remain as adults would have her, forever a little girl, in stasis and in the dark?
McLean’s most surprising new portrait may be Harper with Old Roses (2008). There’s something unexpected in this image. With her sensuous face, claw-like nails, and explosion of roses, this is a rapturous Flower Girl who’s come of age, innocent no longer.
I think Eliza with Peonies and Pearls best sums up McLean’s new work. The Flower Girls are at the end of their dangerous journey, no longer lost in a forbidding forest. Some look directly and knowingly at the viewer.
While the leash of the world still tugs at them (every girl wears a choker or necklace) the young women are now masters of their universe. Individuation is complete. The Flower Girls have found themselves, become whole, and blossomed.
Patrisha McLean’s daughter entered college in 2008, and I think her maternal relief, as well as her pride in a job well done, are evident in the Flower Girls series. There’s a touch of Botticelli’s Venus in the latest Flower Girl images, a sense of joy in presenting the world with a lovely, newly-formed young woman. By chronicling The Maiden’s Voyage as her daughter grew, McLean has given voice to parents everywhere.
All photographs copyright 2011 by Patrisha McLean, reproduced with her permission. Image resolution has been lowered for online publication. To contact McLean or see more of her work, click here: PatrishaMcLean.com
Article copyright 2013 by Ann Marcaida.
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This is a story about suicide, but it’s not a sad story. It’s the tale of how a remarkable woman named Annie Chase, diagnosed with a terminal illness, determined to live her final days in mindfulness and die a considerate death, both for herself and those around her. Says Jerry Dincin:
"Though Annie was an atheist, her finding a positive beauty in the preparation for her death and genuine peace as she neared the end provides meaning and hope for all of us, believers and non-believers alike."