Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Concentric Circles by Connye Griffin

Concentric Circles

Three surface in tandem,
Their backs barely visible below
Their rise and dive just enough to draw
Concentric Circles, a perfect Venn diagram
Illustrating … Well, that’s my mystery,
The day’s question every dawn and dusk.

I know their brothers by sound: Slap-Plop!
Depth and volume suggest size.
“A big one--that one,” says he. I agree.
How full of purpose they seem.
How elusive they are.
How random each glimpse.

Pondering waters dressed in shirred silk
The color of emeralds and spring
I glimpse its ambition to soar
But gone too soon, known to me only 
By the sound that follows and
Circles within circles expanding
Fading, returning to their source.

As do we all.
One day we soar.
The next we fall.

Reading Challenge:

Read the original poem posted above.

Writing Challenge:

Analyze the poem beginning with its overall meaning and selecting details from the poem to support the meaning inferred.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Arrival is a Love Story Wrapped in Science Fiction

Would you make a start if you knew with absolute certainty that you will fail?

Would you make a start if you knew with absolute certainty that love will break your heart?

Would you make a start if you knew with absolute certainty that nothing gold can stay?

Those are the questions asked in Arrival, a science fiction film delivering an exquisitely beautiful visual poem. Those are also the questions raised by authors and poets.

We humans know the answer to the third question. We are gold--or at least we have the promise of being burnished to gold, and we cannot stay. Yet, day after day, year after year, era after era, we make a start.

Literature, film, and poetry advise us about the first two questions. We readers learn that life rarely passes unblemished. Life unfolds in fits and starts; its joys ebb and flow. We stand and fall. We falter and fail. We love and lose. Yet, day after day, year after year, era after era, we make a start.

Arrival doesn’t provide different answers to those questions, but it wraps us in mythology, nightmare, and exquisite beauty as it leads us to the same truths.

I recommend the experience. 

Reading Challenge:

See Arrival. Read its archetypal patterns.

Writing Challenge:

Write answers to the three questions posed at the beginning of this post.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Concrete Poetry in Prose

Concrete poetry is fun to write and read. Consisting of words placed on a page in order to create an image that illuminates the meaning of words, a concrete poem is like an illustrated text.

Classic examples of concrete poetry are difficult to recreate (at least for me), but there is one available for viewing at this link. There is also a fine book that makes use of the principle behind concrete poetry, and that book is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

Photo Courtesy of Al Griffin Photography
Billy Lynn is in the company of Bravo Squad, temporarily reassigned to the U. S. for a heroes’ tour after their bravery was a feature on the nightly news. Impressed, the nation filters their actions through the lens of John Wayne and Audie Murphy and honors their sacrifice.

As Bravo marches into and out of fine dining rooms, on the stage for halftime shows at a football game, and ballrooms where rich and powerful people gather, they hear the same words floating above them, surrounding them, growing louder and fading. These words include courage, written as curraj; 9-11, overheard s nina leven; terror rendered as terrRr; service elongated as sssserrrRRRrvvviccce; and democracy as dih-mock-cruh-see. These words are usually placed on the page in the smallest of small fonts with blank space above, below, left, and right, suggesting they are part of the air, the atmosphere, and jargon of the day. More important, they represent the inexperience of men and women who’ve never crouched or dared bullets to find their hearts.

For Billy Lynn and the other men in Bravo Squad, their motives include the School of No Other Choice. Billy dodged jail by enlisting. He who has actually ducked and dodged bullets knows sacrifice and noble causes have little to do with coming home after his tour of duty ends. Coming home or being carried out in a body bag is random; it’s fickle fortune at work. Billy knows courage has even less to do with his deeds, heroic or cowardly. Necessity pushes and pulls men; duty requires them to act and do. Courage isn’t pulling any strings.

So the words for motives and actions are small and fragmented to Billy. They are parsed until they carry no weight. They mean nothing to the men who must endure handshakes and banquets given by men who only imagine it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country (Wilfred Owen).

Reading Challenge:

Read Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

Writing Challenge:

Write a concrete poem that illuminates Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain.

Connye Griffin is My Writing and Editing Coach.
She is a free lance writer and writes for Our Eyes Upon Missouri.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Collected Works of . . .

“We are not quite novels. … We are not quite short stories. … In the end, we are collected works.”--A. J. Fikry to Maya in The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Facebook and Buzzfeed often ask us about our favorite characters, comic book heroes, songs, lyrics, novels, and films. Those surveys are fun. They are also ways to hone marketing pitches for us.

All that data. All that information. Sifted. Sorted. Chaff set aside for another campaign; wheat ground into a tasty bread for our social media feed.

Still much truth lies in both baskets of wheat and chaff. In the end, we are collected works, an accumulation of not only our DNA, but our experience, in books and outside of them. Who then are you? Who am I?

I am rhyme, oft repeated from cradle and beyond: 

There was a little girl
With a curl in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good,
She was very very good,
But when she was bad,
She was horrid. (Longfellow)

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he?

I scream. You scream. We all scream for ice cream. (Waring Pennsylvanians, 1925)

Scoops Banana Split, Camdenton, MO

Starlight, star bright,
First star I see tonight
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have this wish I wish tonight. (Anonymous)

* * * * *

The sounds and music intriguing enough to inspire a desire for more and more complexity, more solemnity, more exquisite beauty. I found all I desired in Robert Frost, W. H. Auden, Rita Dove, Donald Hall, and Shakespeare.

* * * * *

I am also drama, oft read, less often performed:

The Spider and the Fly, one of the poems Mother performed for elocution contests. She loved the sly nature of the spider, the fun of building suspense, and the metaphor leading to a moral.

Hamlet, another of Mother’s favorites. There is method in my madness found its way into our common, everyday language at home, and when I discovered the origin of the phrase many years later, I began a life-long journey to read, re-read, and understand the poor afflicted fellow. Such complexity in a single character helped me appreciate ambiguity, nuance, conflict, and sorrow.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, experienced first as a member of a New York audience, then later as a reader, and again later on film. The wit, the scholarship, the fresh retelling of Hamlet’s plight, the existential angst--all these struck harmonious chords and spoke of truths.

Jesus Christ Superstar. Irreverent. Permission to be gobsmacked and irreverent simultaneously. Plus rock and roll.

The Serpent with The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” as the score. Story without words. Words in the service of story.

* * * * *

I am short stories--never my first, go-to reading choice, but always a pleasure:

In no particular order: J. D. Salinger, Eudora Welty, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, William Faulkner, William Styron, Jhumpa Lahiri, Roald Dahl, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Penn Warren, James Joyce, Saki--those authors are just the first to come to mind.

* * * * *

 I am novels--too many to list--so many from each decade of my life:

Wuthering Heights. Who knew the class divide could be so cruel, love so controlling and bitter? I didn’t until this book imprinted on my psyche.

Old School by Tobias Wolff. I read this one on the advice of a colleague. I read it reluctantly. I was wrong to hesitate. Wolff delivers compelling characters and felicitous prose.

Coming Up for Air by George Orwell, We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, and so many more move toward endings ripe in ambiguity and wisdom. They are as complex as Hamlet and as lyrical as fine poetry. With the exception of Orwell, these are but the more memorable titles from the last few years in the life of a reader.

Reading Challenge:

Read the titles included in this post.

Writing Challenge:

Explore who you are and what you know by listing the poetry, plays, short stories, and novels you love.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Gretel: A Poem by Connye Griffin

I don't consider myself poetic although I'd like to think I render words poetically now and then. The poem below is one example.

The fable Hansel and Gretel inspired me to think about why Hansel earns top billing in the title. In the full, raw tale, unlike the ones Disney softens, Hansel saves no one, not even himself. It's little Gretel who has the big ideas. She's the one called upon to be bold, brave, and even cruel. She finds the steel in her spine without crushing all hope for a safer, happier life. She summons forgiveness and rescues both Hansel and the father who abandoned her. 

Here is a modern tribute to Gretel, to Girl Power in a fairy tale retold poetically.


Gretel, stop.
Breathe again.

You are powerless against her.
She is Penury.
She is Envy.
Your tears won’t plump her shriveled heart.

Just breathe, honey.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.

Your breath’s the rhythm of this world,
Senseless to you now.
But trust its power.
Forget Hansel’s crumbs and pebbles.
Breathe deeply. Relax.

Trust your wit.
Be brave.
Be resolved.

Ahead there be Sugared Monsters,
Temptations, False Hope.
Trust the you of you.
You’ve been tasked with the hero’s role.
You look good in Spandex.

Breathe steady, Gretel.
Bury fear. Quash doubt.
You can. You must.

Behind you stands cold betrayal.
Ahead lies deceit.
In this life you live
They will wrap you in chains, oppress you, end you—
If you let them. Don’t.

Manifest guile. Don’t hesitate.
Look the witch in the eye.
Push her in the oven.
Rescue Hansel; no crumbs required.
Fear nothing.

You now know:
You are golden,
Love abundant.

Go home. Forgive all or hold fast.
The choice is yours.
You’ll find your way.
You’ve pocketed your fortune.
It’s you. Now breathe.

Reading Challenge:

Read Grimm's tale, Hansel and Gretel.

Writing Challenge:

Identify the literary devices used in this original poem, including personification, allusion, syllable count or rhythm, and spondee

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Narrative Choices: Untrustworthy Narrators

An untrustworthy narrator is a strong foundation for suspense in mysteries and thrillers. The Girl on a Train starring Emily Blunt is an excellent adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ novel with the same title.

In both, Rachel, Megan, and Anna narrate their intersecting stories. Rachel is the least reliable of the three. The man she believes to have been the love of her life leaves her for Anna. Rachel thinks it’s because she descended into alcohol after she couldn’t conceive. The truth is something else, we learn.

Megan, first seen through Rachel’s eyes, seems to live a charmed life in which her husband adores her. The truth is something else. In flashbacks and dialogue, especially with her therapist, we learn Megan is more chimera, an illusion invented from Rachel’s needs.

Anna should be seen as completely untrustworthy immediately. She was John and Rachel’s realtor; she is now the wife of Tom, Rachel’s ex-husband; she has given Tom a daughter, something Rachel longed to do. An adulterer is traditionally and classically suspect as adultery requires a level of dishonesty. Worse, Anna is complicit in malice perpetrated by Tom.

Unraveling the stories to find the truth is the delight in Hawkins’ thriller.

Reading Challenge:

Read Paula Hawkins’ novel and the film adaptation.

Writing Challenge:

Make a list of character traits that prove who is trustworthy and who is not.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Literary Inference and Negan’s Victim in The Walking Dead

by Guest Blogger, Megan McClendon

I'll start by assuring readers there will be no spoilers from either the comic series or from the upcoming Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead (TWD), but (Warning!) for those not yet caught up on previously aired episodes from Season 6 and before, you may not want to read on.

For avid fans of the TWD television series, the frustrations that accompany each mid-season and season finale may be anticipated, expected even, but that doesn’t mean they grow any less frustrating, accustomed as I may be to the inevitable cliffhanger. Who lives? Who dies? Who goes to a darker place than viewers ever imagined possible? Remember, “Look at the flowers, Lizzie…”

The desire (or the desperate need, in my case) to predict what’s to come leaves viewers meticulously sorting through the evidence presented through the season’s storyline and binge watching previous seasons in hopes of identifying patterns that may allow us to infer even the smallest detail or predict the next tragic outcome.

Inference as a literary device is about drawing conclusions from evidence in the text. Likewise, the same method should be  employed to draw conclusions in TV and film. As far as TWD is concerned, fans of the show know that in the spring, showrunners left us hanging from the highest cliff yet with the new Big Bad in town, Negan, promising to “Beat the holy hell…” out of a member of our dearly beloved band of survivors.

The finale episode left watchers inches from their televisions, agog, only to watch the screen go black in front of our very eyes with a six-month wait ahead of us until the show’s return. Now, here we are. With only days to go until the Season 7 premiere, let’s take a closer look at my prediction as to who Negan’s ill-fated victim will be based on literary inference.

While showrunners have promised a departure from the storyline in the comics, they’ve also been known to toy with our emotions in the past. Despite the sound bites, the clear inference is that our hearts will break right along with Maggie as Glenn falls victim to Lucille, Negan’s souped up baseball bat and weapon of choice in the Zombie Apocalypse. Here’s the evidence to support it.

In the second half of Season 6, we saw Glenn grappling with the morality of slaying another group of survivors in their beds. [Side note: The fact that this played as an internal morality war should be a fairly good indicator of how far our protagonists have fallen.]

Glenn’s internal struggle between adhering to the loyalty he feels for his comrades and for Rick and his fears about raising a child in a world where such actions are acceptable regrettably allows us to infer that Glenn can no longer survive in this post-apocalyptic world and must hereafter exist only in our hearts and memories as the most recent moral martyr.

Indeed the source material predicts Glenn’s death, but stepping outside the universe of the comic books, the show has provided patterns and evidence for us, foreshadowing Glenn’s death as well. Essentially it comes down to one major problem with the character: Glenn is the last remaining moral compass from the original members of our group of survivors.

Photo Credit:

1) Time and again, TWD has shown us that being good equates to being dead. Such deaths are more often than not conveniently timed to pull the other characters back, if only slightly, before they lose the last shred of their humanity. We saw this with Dale in Season 1, Andrea in Season 2, Hershel in Season 4 and Reg in Season 6. As soon as a character begins to question aloud what it means to be human and what it means to be ‘walking dead,’ it’s essentially time for them to be among the latter.

2) The show is exploring the question of whether Rick and team are the good guys or the bad guys, and Glenn was just too clearly good. Taking the Grimes squad down the rabbit hole to a point where even the most loyal viewer questions whether our protagonists are inherently good or bad at this point in their journey lays the groundwork for a fabulous juxtaposition between Negan’s clan (with the addition of Rick’s group) and The Kingdom (the group that rescued Morgan and Carol).

3) New sources for morality have been introduced. Last season we saw the reintroduction of Morgan and the introduction of Jesus. Both characters, while they can see the underlying good in the people and the ends espoused by Rick and his team, question the means the Grimes’ group uses to find the safety they seek. The end of last season also portrayed a desperate Carol who would rather meet her end than go on living and killing as she had. Developing these three characters as moral compasses and a part of the seemingly still moral Kingdom community sets up Season 7 nicely for a storied battle of good vs. evil and may leave us all wondering where our beloved antiheroes will ultimately end up.

The challenge with inferences from evidence in both literature and film is you just never know whether you, as a reader or viewer, have plucked out the right tidbits, especially if the end is not yet in sight--as it surely will be on October 23rd.  As a fan of Glenn myself, I can only hope I’m inferring all the wrong things from all the wrong evidence and that the most beloved of our band of flawed protagonists lives to see yet another day. Literature, including film and television, is, after all, ambiguous, subject to multiple interpretations, but reasonable conclusions can be drawn from evidence within text, and I’ve just provided some. Let’s see what Season 7 brings, shall we?