Have You Read Speculative Poetry?


I met Shelly Bryant at the Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Conference, and one of the first things she told me was that she wrote speculative poetry and translated Chinese to English. I’d never really read speculative poetry unless you count Kubla Khan, and I have a huge amount of respect for any foreigner who can speak Chinese (it’s not the easiest thing to do, I can tell you that),  let alone write or translate it. When I looked at her work, I found that a lot of it is influenced by her interactions with the orient.

I was fascinated. I requested her to appear in my ongoing series of creative writing professionals, and she was kind enough to agree. In her guest post today, she speaks about speculative poetry, what it is, and why she writes it. Take it away, Shelly!

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When asked why I focus on speculative poetry, I often reply that my goal is to make sure to limit my readership as much as possible.

Of course, that’s not true. Not only do I prefer to have as wide an audience as possible for my work, but I’ve actually found a fairly good sized readership within one of poetry’s fastest growing fields, speculative poetry. There are numerous journals and websites dedicated mostly or exclusively to the genre, and the poets working in the field form an active, supportive community – a community which includes, but is not limited to, the Science Fiction Poetry Association. I have enjoyed being a part of this community since 2007, when my first piece of speculative poetry was published. Since then, I’ve had over 600 pieces of creative work accepted for publication, the large majority of which are speculative poems.

While some poets prefer to the term “sci-fi poetry” to describe the field, I usually go with the more inclusive “speculative,” because much of what circulates in genre publications is neither science nor fiction. For me, what sets speculative poetry apart from mainstream verse is its focus on and approach to a “what if.” The poem that grows out of the poet’s engagement with a “what if” question may end up being sci-fi, fantasy, horror, surreal, dystopian, mythic, slipstream, or perhaps a combination of several of these. Which term best describes a particular poem depends on both the question asked and the approach taken to exploring it.

Most readers of English literature have encountered speculative poetry at some point, even if they have not called it that. Some examples: Beowulf, Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight, Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry, samples from Edwin Morgan’s poetry, Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, 1974 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Harry Martinson (author of Aniara)

Some other notable authors who are more known for their fiction have also published speculative poetry, including: Ursula Le Guin, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Orson Scott Card, Janet Yolen

Other poets might be less recognizable to the wider reading public, but are very active within the field. Some important names are: Bruce Boston, Susan Slaviero, G. O. Clark, Kendall Evans, Marge Simon, Frederick Turner, David Kopaska-Merkel, Joshua Gage, Albert Goldbarth, Deborah Kolodji

(Of course, any list is bound to overlook many worthy names. I’ve only provided a sampler here.)

The inspiration for a speculative poem can be found anywhere. Several years ago, when I was browsing the materials in the Reading Room at the Chinese Academy of Science in Shanghai, I came across an article describing the recent findings of the Hubble Telescope, including several exoplanets. In its description of HD69830c, the article raised the question of what seasons would be like on a planet with the features observed on HD69830c. And with that “what if,” I knew I had the starting point for a new poem. The result was this sijo (first published in Dreams and Nightmares, September 2012):

alone with you
on HD69830c

watching the meteor shower
that nightly lights the skies

we await the change of seasons
for which we still have no names

All of that is well and good, but it still does not answer the question of why I personally choose to write speculative poetry. For me, it is no different from the question of why I read so much speculative poetry and fiction. In the speculative genres, I find space to explore topics that are often either too messy or too big to treat in situations that are recognizably my own. When the issues are distanced in a defamiliarized world, I might not come to answers, but there is more freedom to explore the problems.

The most prominent recurring theme in my body of work is the question of Otherness. In speculative fiction, I can consider not only questions of racism, gender politics, or all the other “real” world areas where Otherness creates such difficulties, but can really push the boundaries and ask myself how far I can go in trying to empathize with something that seems so completely alien to me. What happens in most speculative fiction and poetry is that the reading (or writing) experience draws me close to the Other, opening the way for sympathy and understanding, perhaps even allowing me to abandon the sort of thinking that creates Others in my mind in the first place, and moving me to recognize all creatures as not Other, but as one like me.

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Poems by Shelly Bryant

Shelly Bryant

Shelly Bryant divides her year between Shanghai and Singapore, working as a teacher, writer, researcher, and translator. She is the author of six volumes of poetry and a pair of travel guides for the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai. She has translated work from the Chinese for Penguin Books, Epigram Publishing, the National Library Board in Singapore, Giramondo Books, and Rinchen Books.

Shelly’s poetry has appeared in journals, magazines, and websites around the world, as well as in several art exhibitions, including dark ’til dawn, Things Disappear, and Studio White, Exhibition 2011.

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I’ve highlighted the last para of Shelly’s post above because I found it simply beautiful, and so relevant to our times, and didn’t want anyone to miss it.

I’ve really enjoyed reading Shelly’s poetry and have written about it. Have you ever read speculative poetry? Would you like to give it a try? (I’ll be giving out copies of Shelly’s The Lined Palm to two randomly chosen commenters.) Do you have questions for Shelly Bryant?

Are You Searching for Beauty in the NOW?


Beauty in the NOW

Beauty in the NOW

I’ve had a sad few days.

After this post, you know some of the reasons why. There are others, but they don’t matter.

We all get a little blue from time to time, so we all know what it is about, don’t we?

But over the past years of occasional bouts of feeling blue, I’ve realized one thing. It is never a loss or a problem that causes my sadness.

It is my attitude towards it.

If I look at my sadness, accept it, watch it, it reduces. I see that I can either do something about the problem, or accept that I can only do something about my attitude towards the problem.

As I watch the sad part of me, I also see that the happy part of me, the calm blue lake within, hasn’t gone anywhere.

It is up to me, to choose to be in the NOW, be mindful of what blessings I have at present, and focus on those.

I took the photographs of these orchids two weeks ago, and saw them on my phone just now– and they made me smile.

In this moment, now, watching the orchids as I type, the sad part of me has receded.

It is in this spirit that I also write about the Sunflowers for Tina Blogfest , which we at the A to Z Challenge have organized.

Sunflowers for Tina

Sunflowers for TinaSunflowers for Tina Blogfest we at the A to Z Challenge have organized.

This 8th of September we hope to cover as big a part of the internet as possible with Sunflowers, the favorite flower of our dear Tina who we lost all too soon.

As we mourn her loss, we also celebrate who she was: a bright, compassionate, large-hearted personality.

If you knew Tina through her blog, I encourage you to take part, by signing up here.

If you didn’t know Tina– celebrate this Blogfest as a day of choosing to be joyful– a choice Tina Downey made, despite all her suffering, every day of her life.

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Would you join us in celebrating Tina with the Sunflowers Blogfest? In your life, are you searching for beauty in the NOW?

 

 

To Tina, with LOVE.


For Tina, with Love

For Tina, with Love

As I type this, my fingers shake on the keyboard. Once in while, my stupid tears reach my lips and I taste the salt of them.

I’d never expected such heartbreak at the loss of someone I’d never met, but here it is.

I have also wondered about sharing personal stuff on my blog, but  this time, I can’t help it, so again, here it is.

The blogging community lost Tina Downey yesterday, but I lost my sister in spirit. SIS, we called each other, half-joking. On Skype calls, we giggled over small things, over random stuff of her American life, and trivia from Singapore.

And she could make you laugh, even when connected to machines and tubes. She made light of all her suffering, medical procedures without proper anesthesia (prolonged treatment had made her body very resistant to some drugs) and not being able to breathe well after a few minutes on the phone.

She joked through our April madness, and she organized and herded the A to Z Challenge team. She loved her blog, and blogging, and blog friends. She could be fierce in protecting those she considered her own. She adored her husband, doted on her sons, stood by her relatives and community.

She loved sunflowers. Always sent me a sunflower icon on whatsapp.

She stood by me when I suffered a bereavement, and we cried together when she suffered a loss. Wish we had talked more when she was healthier, wish I’d pushed on the US trip that’s been on the cards for a few years now. And now she’s gone, leaving me determined to hold my friends, both online and off, closer. To tell them they mean so much to me.

Having lost many friends and family to the grim reaper, I know that the first hours are gut-wrenching. But this year, while discussing death and dying, Tina and I had discussed this quote that comforted us as we cried, and I want to share it with you all today:

“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!”

Rest well, my friend. You’ll continue to inspire me, and one day we shall meet as we did not in this life, share a joke, and burst out laughing.

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Dear readers, has any of you interacted with Tina Downey?

I’ve always counted on and appreciated your advice, so: Have you suffered loss of friends or family? What is the best, most positive way to respond to such a difficult time?

 

What’s Your Story? #socialmedia


Fishy thoughts

My thoughts on Social Media

Today, I had a minor setback. My first instinct– to go and share it on Facebook.

I don’t share much of my private life on my blog, nor on my Facebook or Twitter. But recently, I’ve noticed a tendency– or maybe a temptation– because I don’t give in to it, of sharing about my life on social media.

I recently read this article in the New Yorker by author Dani Shapiro, about exactly how damaging giving in to this temptation can be for writers:

I worry that we’re confusing the small, sorry details—the ones that we post and read every day—for the work of memoir itself. I can’t tell you how many times people have thanked me for “sharing my story,” as if the books I’ve written are not chiseled and honed out of the hard and unforgiving material of a life but, rather, have been dashed off, as if a status update, a response to the question at the top of every Facebook feed: “What’s on your mind?” I haven’t shared my story, I want to tell them. I haven’t unburdened myself, or softly and earnestly confessed. Quite the opposite.

In order to write a memoir, I’ve sat still inside the swirling vortex of my own complicated history like a piece of old driftwood, battered by the sea. I’ve waited—sometimes patiently, sometimes in despair—for the story under pressure of concealment to reveal itself to me. I’ve been doing this work long enough to know that our feelings—that vast range of fear, joy, grief, sorrow, rage, you name it—are incoherent in the immediacy of the moment. It is only with distance that we are able to turn our powers of observation on ourselves, thus fashioning stories in which we are characters.

There is no immediate gratification in this. No great digital crowd is “liking” what we do. We don’t experience the Pavlovian, addictive click and response of posting something that momentarily relieves the pressure inside of us, then being showered with emoticons. The gratification we memoirists do experience is infinitely deeper and more bittersweet. It is the complicated, abiding pleasure, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, of finding the universal thread that connects us to the rest of humanity, and, by doing so, turns our small, personal sorrows and individual tragedies into art.

I am given to Facebook updates and blog posts about the small things in life. Now I’ve begun to wonder whether that’s affecting my storytelling. Maybe I’m not building up enough steam over the years, by letting it out through my social media updates. Maybe the fact that I talk about small, impersonal-sounding details on my blog is affecting my storytelling abilities.

What’s your take on this? How much of your inner life/ rants/ life news do you share on Facebook and other social media? If you’re a writer, do you think sharing life experiences on social media detracts from an author’s ability to tell a story?

Have you read the Indian Game of Thrones?


Writing fiction takes a lot of talent, of practicing the craft, of endless learning. As part of learning craft, I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing authors, teachers and agents– and sharing their wisdom with you on this blog. Today, as part of this series, I bring you one of India’s promising authors, Krishna Udayasankar, author of mytho-historical series, The Aryavarta Chronicles, an exciting part of an emerging trend of historical fiction set in India.

Govinda by Krishna Udayshankar

Govinda by Krishna Udayshankar

1. Your first book, Govinda is based on an Indian epic, the Mahabharata. To an audience that doesn’t know the background, how would you sum it up in a teaser?

I’m going to borrow a reader’s comment here and call it: The Indian ‘Game of Thrones’. My own teaser would probably be to call it a story of political intrigue, war, action and social transformation set in what is often called the ‘Epic Age’ of Indian history. Read it also particularly for the characters.

2. Mahabharata is full of magic and myth. You’ve stripped fantasy from it and given your readers a historical socio-economic novel. What was the impetus behind that?

Understanding the history, the kernels of fact behind what has subsequently been aggrandized and used to legitimize or justify social elements, is an essential way of understanding the cultural and moral fabric of the society we live in. Consequently, I wanted to explore the scriptures as the epics as tales of humanity, not divinity; as something that could have been history and not some improbable fantasy-tale that defied all logic and science. The more I tried to find these explanations, the more I caught on to the idea of the epic ages as a time of socio-political revolution, and my story as one of change in the status quo.

3. For you, what are the challenges of writing historical fiction, and what are the rewards?

The biggest reward is a sense of closure. The attempt to demystify these stories and their injunctions is almost like a quest for a more believable truth, an attempt to make these amazing characters and stories more ‘real.’ If I can take the liberty of being dramatic: it helps me make my peace with the world around us.

As for challenges, research is an enjoyable but tough part of the process. It can take many months, even years of painstaking work trying to reconcile legend with logic and scholarly evidence and variations in popular narratives across the world – depending especially on what region and eras you are writing about.

I think the other bittersweet dimension comes up when what I write questions deeply ingrained beliefs or contravenes popular versions of the stories that people know. It has, on occasion, led to pretty strong feedback (if I can call it that) from readers. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good debate any day and more than open to discussion on my books. But the comments do get personal sometimes and I’m still learning to laugh at them, rather than get upset.

4. Who are your favorite authors, and why?

Rudyard Kipling, Isaac Asimov, Kalki Krishnamurthy and J.R.R. Tolkien, to name some. As for the why – it’s the mythopoesy, the world-building, not to mention Kipling’s way with words and phrases. I’m also a fan of the Calvin and Hobbes comics by Bill Watterson. My favourite book, though, is Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. I also enjoy poetry a lot.

 5. What was the last book you read?

Kaurava by Krishna Udayshankar

Kaurava by Krishna Udayshankar5. What was the last book you read?

I finished both Julian Barnes’ ‘Levels of Life’ and Terry Pratchett’s ‘A Blink of the Screen’, recently. Am now reading John Williams’ ‘Augustus’ and have Vasari’s ‘Lives of the Artists’ lined up on my shelf.

6. What is the aspect of writing that interests you the most?

Daydreaming! Wordsmithy. Writing pithy dialogues, especially between characters that are good friends. Describing emotions usually not explored. Detailing sensations and feelings. Reading to write. Reading, wishing I could write that way. Writing crap and feeling miserable enough to go into existential angst.

Oh wait, you asked me for the aspect that interests me the most, right? That one is easy – I hang out with a really awesome bunch of imaginary friends almost all the time.

7. As an author of historical fiction, what is the one concrete piece of advice you would give to an aspiring fiction writer?

In general, I believe all writers should listen to, and then promptly ignore, all advice. Having said that, I’ll also add, more as a reminder to myself than for the benefit of aspiring writers: Treat your subject/story/material with respect. The story (and this is particularly true for historical fiction) has endured in memory and myth for a long time; it has a life of its own and is bigger than you are. Respect that and engage with the story. It was here before you and your writing, and will probably stick around long after you are gone.

8. Tell us something about your forthcoming publication. Where can readers find the Govinda?

Both Govinda and Kaurava are available in major bookstores as well as online. They are also available as e-books. Kurukshetra, the third volume in the series is expected to be out by this November.

Krishna Udayshankar

Krishna Udayshankar

Krishna Udayasankar is the author of Govinda and Kaurava: Books 1 and 2 of The Aryavarta Chronicles (Hachette, 2012; 2013) a bestselling series of mytho-historical novels that have received critical acclaim. She is also the author of Objects of Affection (Math Paper Press, 2013), a collection of prose poems. A co-editor of Body Boundaries: The Etiquette Anthology of Women’s Writing (The Literary Centre, 2014), Krishna holds a PhD from Nanyang Business School, where she works as Lecturer. Her current projects include a novel based on the mythohistory of Singapore’s founding by a Srivijayan prince. She lives in Singapore with her family, which includes two dogs with varied literary tastes.

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Do you read or write historical fiction?  Have you read any historical fiction set in India? Would you like to read the Aryavarta Chronicles? (Fire away in the comments and one of the commenters would win a copy of Govinda!)

Who do you #Follow ? Who follows You?


Fifteen years ago, the question “Who do you Follow?” would have seemed strange, slightly vague.

A crazy reader like me would have said, Toni Morrison, I try to read all her books, or Alice Munro, or Garcia Marquez. And the list would have gone on. A religious person would have said, I follow Jesus, or Allah or Buddha…who else is worth following?

And then came Social Media.

Following on Social media

Who do you Follow? Who follows You? Photograph by Anita Peppers

You can now follow people on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Blog, Youtube, and a gazillion other sites.

You may also have a Social media Strategy.

I don’t know if I have one. I began by muddling on Twitter and Blogging, and my Facebook mostly consists of people I have met, where I post random stuff, links, writing experiences. Nothing private, really. (But then, what is private these days?)

The continuous feed of the thousands of folks I follow on my Twitter and Blogs tire me out– I mostly pick what catches my eye and ignore the rest. I have a list of specific folks whose tweets and blog posts I enjoy, and I try interacting with them whenever I can. I enjoy chatting with folks online, just as much as offline. I’m thankful for those who follow me on my Blog and my Twitter, and I can only hope I don’t bore them out of their skulls or tire them out.

For now, I’m happy with where I am, though sometimes I do consider quitting all social media. Imagine how much I could get done in all that offline time!

(Rant Alert) I don’t know if I’ll take to hawking my books (if I ever publish any) on social media– because frankly, most author marketing pisses me off these days: I don’t want to know about yet another book reveal or giveaway or sale. I’m sure the books are all lovely, but that’s just too much information crowding my timeline. My fault, I guess, for following back every author who followed me. (Rant Over)

What about you? Do you participate in Social Media? Do you have a Social Media Strategy? Do you hawk stuff you’d like to sell on Social Media? Do you buy a book you read about on tweets? Who do you follow? Who follows you?

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Blogs you must read!

Blogs I Recommend

I’ve been neglecting my duties as a member of the Blogging community, so here’s spreading some love. Bloggers I recommend visiting today:

C. Lee McKenzie : Fab author, awesome blog-friend. If you make one online friend this August, it should be her.

J. Gi. Federizo : But. Consider, please do consider making two blog friends this August. Meet the equally lovely J. Gi. She’s been one of my kindest visitors, and you’ll love her blog voice.

Bruce Goodman : I actually suggest you make three blog friends this month! I love Bruce’s stories, and you would, too. Besides, he leaves you the most awesome comments! What’s not to like? His blog is recommended reading.

 

Been to a Writers’ #Conference ? #Writing


All APW conference photos published with permission from Tim and Deedle Tomlinson.

All AP writers conference photos published with permission from Tim and Deedle Tomlinson.

One of the things I love about writing is the ability to do my job all scruffy, hiding behind my desk, or some nondescript cafe table. A conference? No, thank you very much.

But last week I did attend a conference (the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators Conference), my very first. I admit I’d gone there just for the workshops– they sounded great. One of my first ever ‘writing’ books was Tim Tomlinson’s Portable MFA in Creative Writing, and he would teach a workshop. Dr Sally Breen from Griffith University would lead an editing workshop, and Francesca Rendle-Short would do a session on voice.

I attended all three, and let me tell you– if you ever hear of a workshop from any of them, queue up. My only wish for those sessions?  They should have gone on longer. (I’m sure the others were equally good, but they either didn’t relate to my fields of interest, or clashed with these three.)

A few things I learned from the workshops:

1. Fragments strung together can make a story/ novel, you just need the right connectors.

2. It is perfectly acceptable to write with your left hand, eyes closed, when working around a writer’s block. Or otherwise.

3. Look at each word you use while writing. Take away as many as you can when revising, leaving a spare, beautiful structure.

AWP Writers' conference

All AP Writers conference photos published with permission from Tim and Deedle Tomlinson

I had a short editorial consult with Literary agent Kelly Falconer, and her insights were helpful. Her comments would help me polish my work further.

I also went to book launches. I watched authors read, talk in panels, and chat with each other during breaks. Authors are some of the most interesting people you can meet– they talk about everything from speculative poetry to sunflower seeds and everything else in between. They are also kind, generous, and courageous souls with a sense of humor, who stand up against injustice. (There could have been bitchiness and negativity somewhere, the stuff writers’ events get a rap for, but I didn’t see any that I can report. Quite the opposite!) It all ended in a great open mic session with singing and poetry. Couldn’t have ended on a better note.

So if there’s another writer’s conference I can go to, I’ve decided I will.

Especially if it is organized by Jane Camens, because if not for her help, I wouldn’t have been able to register for the conference or the workshops during weeks of traveling madness. Besides, throughout the conference I saw her add that touch of compassion and good cheer to each event I saw her at– it brought home to me why at the heart of writers’ events we need writers. Not just a great organizer, or fundraiser, but someone who understands writing and writers. (For more details on the conference, read this excellent article.)

What writing conferences have you taken part in? What was your experience like? What advice would you give me and the Daily (w)rite audience on writer’s conferences?