Perusing Poetics: Plato is Annoying, and Other Reasons I Want to Apologize to Poets

You may or may not know this, but this blog was originally a poetry blog. DO NOT GO BACK INTO THE TAGS AND FIND IT. It was bad and it’s all really old now, like pre-college, beginning of high school aged. But I just wanted to preface this discussion with that.

So this week’s readings for my Poetics class was Plato’s Republic, Book X and Aristotle’s Poetics. If you haven’t read them, don’t worry. Basically the point of them–especially Plato–is to crap on the life and the work of the poet.

Plato has this point where he says poetry corrupts people, emotion is bad, and poets should be confined to hymns and praises of the gods. Aristotle is a little better, because technically he’s confirming that tragic poetry is better than epic poetry, but basically it’s all about how poetry is only good if it conforms to this little proper box. (Yes, anyone who’s read these is probably spitting fire because of over-simplification. Bear with me.)

What’s important–and frustrating–is the effect that this kind of philosophy has had on poets since Plato decided to open his mouth. You can Google lists of pieces titled, in essence, “In Defense of Poetry” or “Apologies for Poetry.” It’s ridiculous, especially considering poetry’s past power.

Confused about what I mean? Well, what do you think of poetry right now? If one person says they’re a novelist and one person says they’re a poet, who do you rank on top? Poets have been characterized as goths at coffee houses (perfectly valid life choice for poets, but not the only one) or cryptics saying nothing in the media, and that certainly adds to the effect.

I know I’m not a poet. I’ve written more recent poetry for school and I’m basically the kind of poseur that Plato would like to kick out of his Republic. I’m aware of that. That’s why I’m not a poet. But, thanks to school, I have studied multiple forms inside and out in accordance with both my English and Writing degrees and I RESPECT POETS SO MUCH. I can barely rhyme let alone formulate a sestina (look it up – the form will make your head hurt).

I write short stories and novels. This is a kind of writing I understand the conventions of. You can master a basic plot pretty quickly. Poetry? Dear Lord. I’ve studied Shakespearan sonnets since grade school and when I was required to write one for class I STILL ripped the end-rhymes from a sonnet Shakespeare had already written because I couldn’t get the rhyming down.

My point is: I never thought I’d be disappointed in someone like Plato, who I’ve been told to laud as a philosopher since PBSKids morning TV shows. I understand that there is a certain time period that he’s writing from and all that, so maybe it’s more correct to say that no one has thought to update their opinion much since then. Poets remain a feature of the classroom: an annoying period of English class or a specialized class in college. They aren’t all that mainstream and they certainly don’t get the buzz of NYT bestselling novelists.

The one thing they do have going for them is their community. When I blogged poetry, as bad as it was, I was welcomed without a second thought into the poetry blogging community with open arms. I have yet to have an online experience since then that has felt as natural and warm as that. In the real world there are also magazines, retreats, etc, that might not (always) be big, but they are proud.

So you tell me. Am I crazy? What do you think of poetry? There’s a comment section for a reason! (Extra points go any comment-writer who responds in some form of verse.)

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A Tourist Gotta Do What a Tourist Gotta Do

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In Scotland, Madison perfected the tourist look.

Honestly, I think me and my friends have been pretty good about not being THAT American. You know, those people wearing American flag pants or backpacks talking loudly on the tube. Actually, we’ve done really well at not being THAT tourist, wandering around wearing I LOVE LONDON sweaters or something.

Sometimes, though, you just have to cave in. You have to do THAT TOURIST THING because at the end of the day, we are overseas for four months and we are tourists. That’s just it.

In my attempt to be all chill about living in London, it IMG_1055actually took me a month to see Big Ben. I KNOW, right? Silly me. But honestly it’s just a clock, guys. And not as big as I thought.

10444678_10204876772298356_4421531040499595570_nAnother touristy moment of mine was heading out to Kew Gardens. These Royal Botanical Gardens are one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen – and SO BIG. In just one greenhouse, they showcase every kind of environment from deserts to rain forests that plants can be found in. And then there are rolling lawns for days. I call this a touristy moment because the second I walked in there, I lost my mind. I didn’t realize I’d been missing green so much, because I just started dancing and running around and generally being laughed at by everyone I was there with. Absolutely no shame.

I think there’s no question about my touristy moment at the Royal Observatory in IMG_1082Greenwich. We climbed the hill and paid the money to go stand in two hemispheres at once and take the requisite picture. In a way, what was cooler was that the museum that they have there had been taken over by steampunk artists, so the history was littered with steampunk garb and art by a bunch of different people. Completely worth it!

IMG_1140I also feel compelled to add in here the trip I just came back from, which was an overnight ostensibly to Stratford-Upon-Avon. On our way there, we stopped at Warwick Castle, which is a gorgeous bit of architecture that entertains you all day long with activities presented by people who really seem to love their job. We saw a trebuchet launch, a bird’s of prey show and an archery demonstration. Total tourist trap, but totally worth it.

While in Stratford itself, we saw a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Love’s IMG_1156Labour’s Lost, which was simply fantastic. The set alone was a marvel to behold. I still don’t like reading Shakespeare, but watching it performed has grown on me a great deal. We also wandered our way out to Shakespeare’s grave, of course, and paid to stare at that. Again, total tourist thing you just HAVE to do if you’re out there. Why not, right?

IMG_1169On the way back, we stopped in Oxford and basically just wandered around. We were all a bit tired by that point. Still, we went and stared at the church where they filmed the Great Hall scenes in Harry Potter and wandered around the college streets.

I’m sure there will be many more moments when I have to suck it up and strap my camera to my belt, map in hand, and I’m not going to regret them. We’re abroad to do those things that you do in a foreign country. Tourist traps are one of them. You just absolutely have to do some of these things. Otherwise, it’s just an opportunity missed that might not ever come around again. No shame from me!

The UK: An Only Slightly Different Alternate Reality

I’m sure this is a typical thing, but when I was accepted into my study abroad program I got a lot of pamphlets about culture shock. You know, it’s going to be different, it’s going to be weird, what have you.

Honestly, I wish that was true.

See, I was expecting this massively different culture and was all prepped and ready, but instead … it’s worse. There are all these minor little details that are just twisted a tiny bit and it’s SO WEIRD.

Like potato chips. Those would be crisps here. And the ones I always get in my meal deal at Tesco? They look JUST LIKE LAYS, but with a different name. TJ Maxx becomes TK Maxx.

The real culture shock comes when you’re standing in the grocery store and it looks like the world is just a tad bit out of focus, instead of something completely new.

At least we speak the same language. Sort of. MUST. REMEMBER. TROUSERS.

10522454_10204950962118394_8835607800532274012_nOn a better note, I’ve been absorbing the culture at other places than the grocery store. Part of my school went to a football (soccer for those still in America) game, and that was one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever seen. The small boys (9-12 years old max) were just cheering right along with chants such as “YOU F***ED UP” and “YOU FAT C**T.” And it wasn’t even premier league.

We also went and saw Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe, which was an amazing experience. I’m not one of Shakespeare’s16713_10204950962038392_6756811290056636776_n biggest fans, but even my cold heart has to feel something standing in the pleb courtyard at the actor’s feet, watching Antony die beside me. I’m going back soon to see The Comedy of Errors and Julius Caesar later on for class, and I’m thoroughly excited.

I’d write more, but I have to run! More culture is calling; I’m seeing Medea tonight!

Author Interview + Giveaway: “Witchstruck” by Victoria Lamb

You guys may or may not remember that a couple of week’s ago, I chose Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb as my Waiting on Wednesday post. Right after that went live, Victoria Lamb herself emailed me about participating in a blog tour for Witchstruck when it was released. I readily said yes. One does not say no to a Tudor his-fic piece about a teenage witch! So, without further ado, give a warm welcome to Victoria Lamb!

While studying Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights at university, Victoria Lamb conceived a desire to write a series of novels about Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’. Now a busy mother of five, she has finally achieved that ambition after much research, and The Queen’s Secret is the result.
Daughter of the prolific novelist Charlotte Lamb, Victoria lives in Warwickshire – also known as Shakespeare Country – only twenty minutes from Kenilworth Castle where The Queen’s Secret is set. She is presently working on her new novel featuring Shakespeare’s ‘Dark Lady’, Lucy Morgan.

INTERVIEW

What inspired you to become a writer?

I was born into a family of writers, which helped set the scene for my future career. But it wasn’t until the day I was taken to see where the poet John Keats lived at Hampstead that I made a conscious decision to become a writer. I was fascinated by his tragic life story and by his poetry, and determined to write poetry myself – starting straight away at the age of about ten!

In one sentence, why should someone read your book?

It’s hard not to find a story about a teen witch intense and compelling when it’s set in a time when just being suspected of witchcraft could earn you an agonising death.

Briefly, can you talk about the path you took to getting your book published?

I had already discussed Witchstruck with my agent long before even beginning to write it, so he was fully behind the book by the time it was finished. I emailed him the manuscript, and about a week later the first three books of the series had been acquired by Random House Children’s Books.

When you’re writing, do you prefer silence or do some of your characters have soundtracks? Or do you do something completely different?

Normally I listen to music on my headphones while writing. Very loud pop music is my drug of choice. In general, I prefer mainstream pop to indie when working, as it tends to have a strong beat and the generic lyrics are unlikely to distract me. I do have playlists for some of my chapters. Sometimes I get entirely taken up in my writing and forget the music’s finished. That always feels odd when I finally notice. I’ve also developed a habit of clutching a pen in my hand while actually typing. I don’t know what that’s about. I gave up smoking about five years ago, so maybe it’s a substitute?

Can you see yourself in any of your characters?

Yes, I like to think I’m very like my hero in Witchstruck, Alejandro. I’m not Spanish, nor male, nor a priest, but I think he has my very dry sense of humour. And perhaps my tenacity too. He doesn’t give up easily.

Now, Witchstruck focuses on Tudor times when Mary is queen, but who’s your favorite wife of Henry VIII and why?

Definitely Katherine of Aragon, mainly because she stuck that man for twenty-four years and did her best to give him a son. She fell pregnant as many as six or seven times. Apart from Mary, she either miscarried or her children were stillborn or died soon after birth. And at the end of that, he divorced Katherine in her late forties and married a much younger woman in the hope of a male heir. The irony, of course, is that it was his daughters Mary and Elizabeth whose reigns stand out in history, while his son by Jane Seymour died after only a few years on the throne.

When you aren’t writing, what kind of stuff do you read? Any favorite titles you think everyone should read?

I read quite a lot of fantasy fiction, sci fi, and also non-fiction. I’m researching Steampunk at the moment. I don’t like recommending new books in general, as it feels a bit awkward. But everyone should read an Anne McCaffrey ‘Pern’ novel at some point. Futuristic other-world telepathic dragons and their riders. For YA readers I’d start with Dragonsong.

So, I know you can’t be writing all the time. What kind of adventures have you gotten up to while taking a break from writing?

I am actually writing nearly all the time, or researching/planning my next book. I’m a bit obsessive like that. For fun I like to translate Latin, mostly because it makes my brain work in a completely different way to writing. (Rather like people who enjoy doing crosswords.) I also enjoy walking beside the sea and daydreaming. Once I was abducted by webfooted aliens …

What’s the better YA trend: vampires, angels or mermaids? Or do you run screaming from all three?

I’d have to go with angels there. Vampires feels like it’s been done to death, and angels have a long and venerable history dating back to before the Bible was written, which gives them rather more gravitas than someone with over-sharp teeth and a blood fetish. Or it should. Mermaids though? Seriously?

What’s the last book you read? Any books out there that you’re dying to be released?

I recently finished ‘Witch Light’ by Susan Fletcher, which was quite a literary read. I’m looking forward to ‘Frostfire’ by Zoe Marriot, another new release this month.

Thank you!

I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you, Gretchen!

Witchstruck

Goodreads | Amazon

Meg Lytton has always known of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a student of the old magick by her Aunt Jane, casting the circle to see visions of the future and concocting spells from herbs and bones has always been as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the sentence for any woman branded a witch is hanging, or burning at the stake.
Sent to the ruined, isolated palace of Woodstock to serve the disgraced Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and half-sister of Queen Mary, Meg discovers her skills are of interest to the outcast princess, who is desperate to know if she will ever claim the throne. But Meg’s existence becomes more dangerous every day, with the constant threat of exposure by the ruthless witchfinder Marcus Dent, and the arrival of a young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo, to whom Meg is irresistibly drawn – despite their very different attitudes to her secret.

BUT WAIT, there’s more! There’s a GIVEAWAY! You’re excited, right? Because who wouldn’t want a copy of this? It goes til July 18th, 11:59 PM and is INTERNATIONAL! Click HERE to enter!

Review: “Under the Never Sky” by Veronica Rossi

Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky #1) by Veronica Rossi (Click for Goodreads)

Since she’d been on the outside, she’d survived an Aether storm, she’d had a knife held to her throat, and she’d seen men murdered. This was worse.
Exiled from her home, the enclosed city of Reverie, Aria knows her chances of surviving in the outer wasteland – known as The Death Shop – are slim. If the cannibals don’t get her, the violent, electrified energy storms will. She’s been taught that the very air she breathes can kill her. Then Aria meets an Outsider named Perry. He’s wild – a savage – and her only hope of staying alive.
A hunter for his tribe in a merciless landscape, Perry views Aria as sheltered and fragile – everything he would expect from a Dweller. But he needs Aria’s help too; she alone holds the key to his redemption. Opposites in nearly every way, Aria and Perry must accept each other to survive. Their unlikely alliance forges a bond that will determine the fate of all who live under the never sky.

3 1/2 stars

You guys have no idea how long this book was on my list. I mean, seriously. I wanted this SO MUCH when it first came out, and I was ecstatic to have finally gotten it after hearing such great things about it.

So you can imagine my frustration with the entire first half of this book.

The biggest issue for me was the amount of unexplained exposition. I kept having this feel of being THIS CLOSE to falling head over heels for this book, just as soon as a few more things made sense. However, it seemed like every time I approached that precipice, I was attacked with more words that I was supposed to figure out on my own. “Blood-Lord,” “Scire,” “Aether storms”–that’s only the beginning of the strange words. Actually, I felt like I was being taught to read Shakespeare all over again, hearing my teacher say “Now, if you don’t understand the word, read the words around it and see if you can infer its meaning.” I can usually forgive this in a book somewhat, if I’m enjoying the read, but this continued until almost exactly half way through.

The characters of Aria and Perry aren’t exactly stellar in the first part either. Aria seems to be devolving into your typical cliché female heroine and Perry is having a bipolar characterization where he isn’t sure if he should kill his brother and take over his tribe or leave his tribe altogether because he doesn’t want to hurt anyone.

But then you reach that almost exact middle point of the book. On one page, you have Perry thinking that menstruation smells like violets. On the opposite page (the book switches between Aria and Perry’s POVs), you have Aria freaking out because she can now “conceive at random.” I stared at these pages for a good long time wondering just what in the world was happening. Then I turned the page, warily.

And the book got exponentially better.

Aria and Perry become likeable characters. Aria shows you that she isn’t a whiny, helpless girl, but she isn’t obnoxious (too much, anyways) either. Perry gets more depth, and you begin to understand him (and his tribal structure, thank goodness) so much better. Add in Perry’s best friend Roar and the interesting and there-for-too-few-pages Cinder with his AWESOME power, and you’ve got a fantastic mix of characters and story that flows along so much better.

You then, of course, proceed to have some YA romance, but it honestly wasn’t so bad. Aria and Perry do take the chance to get to know and trust each other before deciding they love each other, which made me absolutely delighted. It was decidedly real. Until the last few pages of the book, which made me roll my eyes, but also made me want the next one NOW. So, you know.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. Perhaps someday I’ll reread it a few more times and see if I can get some more understanding out of the first half. The world, the characters and the story throughout were wonderful, it was just in the second half that they were fantastic. Fans of dystopian should be aware that Under the Never Sky would have possibly been more appropriate with a sci-fi label, because it’s very easy to forget this is supposed to be our Earth we’re reading about, but I really liked that. You can bet I’ll be reading the sequel!

What is NaNoWriMo? *gasp!*

It’s November. To any normal person, it is a dreary month, a boring month, that month before the month that brings holidays and the New Year. If you are me and a bunch of other writers worldwide, November is none of those things.

November is National Novel Writing Month.

If you are unfamiliar with the event (or as it is commonly called, NaNoWriMo), then you should know that it is basically a challenge in the month of November to write a 50,000 word novel. Beneath that, it is so much more.

As writers, we’re so caught up in making our writing perfect. Some of us are such perfectionists that we can’t even finish a piece because we get stuck trying to edit it before we write THE END. We work laboriously, trying to come up with something that maybe—just maybe—doesn’t suck. Nine times out of ten, we can’t help but disappoint ourselves. After all, the second you start thinking you’re the next Shakespeare is the second you need to find a new hobby.

NaNoWriMo is a time to throw all that out the window. If you work like a perfectionist, you’ll never be done in time. Nothing irks a perfectionist like not winning, right? Everybody can be a winner if they try hard enough. However, winning requires that you stop caring about quality writing. You stop caring about discrepancies, clichés and even spelling sometimes. You have to learn how to stare into the eyes of writer’s block, because you literally don’t have time for that. You need to be able to kill off a character just to get things moving, or yank the story in another direction because your plot just isn’t working. The challenge of NaNoWriMo goes far beyond just finishing.

Have I scared you? I hope not. Everything I just outlined above might just possibly be some of the best writing lessons you ever learn. Mostly because, above all other things, NaNoWriMo is fun. You push yourself, you push your characters and you have a blast. NaNoWriMo isn’t a thing you have to do, but I certainly recommend it. Don’t worry about if what you’re writing is sucking. It probably will be. Everybody’s will be. And it’s going to be amazing.