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