Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

[Author’s Note]: This article was written a while ago and has been edited for the purposes of keeping up-to-date on the current political climate.

 

I’ve been watching a lot of The West Wing lately. You can probably guess the reason. It’s a comforting show to me, a balm for my anxiety and the ever present empty pit of rage in my stomach. Sadly, the show angers me as well upon rewatch, just not for the reasons you’d think. I miss the fast-paced environment of a White House that never existed. I miss the friendly camaraderie of men and women brought to life beautifully by talented actors. I miss the lofty ideals and passion of a staff dedicated to a United States with a relatively informed populace. If you haven’t guessed, the agitation comes from the fact that The West Wing isn’t real. It’s the product of one man’s imagination that tapped into a need for a governing body to display equal amounts of dedication, determination, and selflessness. It’s an alternate reality that’s painful to watch at times, but I continue to watch because it’s that idealized vision of politics that prevents me from completely succumbing to absolute depression. The kernels of hope and emulation are there as the next generation discovers the show and ponders whether President Bartlet’s America could actually exist.Sorkin on set of West Wing

While there are many and varied critiques of Aaron Sorkin’s work, regardless of how you feel about him, it’s very easy to spot an Aaron Sorkin-created television show. The man has so many ticks and quirks associated with his various projects that there are a multitude of parodies easily found on YouTube. Hell, the man’s even parodied himself on his own shows and on others. Your most basic sign that it’s a Sorkin-joint is that the “action” all takes place behind the scenes. Sports Night, The West Wing, The American President, Moneyball, The Social Network, Studio 60, and The Newsroom are all about the moments leading up to or following an event. Usually it’s something important. One of the easier quirks to spot in this behind-the-scenes world is the “walk-and-talk,” which is fairly self-explanatory. Though walk-and-talks are not an exclusive quirk of Sorkin’s (it’s movie-making 101 to have your character exposit dialogue while moving), he’s definitely become the writer most associated with the trope since every movie or television show since Sports Night has included it.

Coupled with the walk-and-talk is a rhythmic banter between characters often dubbed “Sorkinese” since actors who’ve worked on a Sorkin project have stated that the dialogue is so precise that any changes practically have to be run by him so he can hear how it sounds. And within the banter, whilst doing the walk-and-talk, is an encyclopedic knowledge – by virtually every character – of literature, politics, pop culture (to a degree), and history. If a stanza from Emily Dickinson can hammer a point home, you bet your ass there’s going to be a character who either has an English Lit degree or reads Dickinson for fun so they can throw a line in there and create a profound moment. Pretty much all of The Newsroom’s first season was about quoting or referencing Don Quixote.

West Wing CastWhat this all adds up to, and tends to be the reason people don’t particularly care for Sorkin, is a pretentiously idealized world where every profession is a noble one and all those involved have more passion in their little finger than you’ve ever displayed over the most important event in your life! Unless they’re the “villain” and then they’re just the worst type of person. The easiest example of this is The West Wing. During Sorkin’s four years writing the show, it wasn’t uncommon for a character – any character – to make a passionate speech or a profound statement about the importance of their work in government, the necessity of doing right by the American people, or the almost divine calling that is the office of the President and serving under him.

There was also the occasional history lesson or the quoting of scripture that cemented the show as one of the smartest hours of television during its early seasons. The later seasons were okay after Sorkin left, Season 7 was definitely good television, but Season 5 and half of 6 are hard to get through if you’re a fan of Sorkin’s style and the characters, which I am. The point, though, is that the world of The West Wing was populated by people with passion for their job, who saw what they did as a call to serve their country. Even their “enemies,” both Republican and Democrat, where never entirely vilified, but shown to have just as much passion and a need to do what they thought was best for their constituents. Sorkin essentially elevated government and its employees to a degree that’s nearly laughable when we compare it to how our perception of government has changed within the last decade. Most especially within the last two months.studio60cast

The same attempt was made, less successfully, with Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip where Sorkin attempted to elevate comedy and it’s purpose in American culture. There’s a scene where Tom Jeter (Nate Corddry) is showing his blue collar parents around the theater where Studio 60 is filmed while giving them the history of the theater and its entertainment pedigree. All of this is done in service to highlighting the “culture wars” through Tom’s conservative parents, specifically his father who doesn’t care much for his son’s cushy, “elitist” job of playing in front of a camera while his other son is fighting in Afghanistan. Because…comedy!

As much as I do adore this show, it got really heavy-handed with it’s agenda, more so than most Sorkin shows, which alienated a lot of its audience. It also didn’t help that 30 Rock came out at the same time, on the same network, and was genuinely funny. Sorkin’s writing can be funny, but his humor often comes out of dramatic situations. He’s not exactly a joke writer. But what Sorkin was getting at, I think, is that there is a need for smart television, that the audience doesn’t have to have things dumbed down for them in order for a program to succeed. And comedy, even a variety show, can facilitate ideas or effectively satirize the world we live in. The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Key & Peele, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver prove that comedy can steer the political and social conversation through the medium of comedy.

The Newsroom, like Studio 60, like The West Wing, is what Sorkin envisions journalism should be; that journalists and news anchors should strive for something more than puff pieces and partisan politics. The opening theme of The Newsroom is a montage of photographs showcasing the history of broadcast journalism from Edward R. Morrow to Walter Cronkite to Dan Rather. Respected and trusted anchors that people turned to for their nightly news. The entire crux of the first episode is MacKenzie Hale’s (played by Emily Mortimer) plea that they can do better, that they are better.

The-NewsroomAnd while some critics may decry Sorkin’s idealistic portrayal of politics, comedy, or journalism, I think what’s important about these worlds he creates is that the characters are imperfect. You’d be hard-pressed to find a character in any of these shows or movies who isn’t fundamentally flawed in some way. Granted, many of these flaws are gendered since a lot of the women seem to have relationship issues and the men are cursed with arrogance and an overabundance or lack of machismo, but they’re still flawed. And yet they yearn for something more. The characters are the ones who create their idealized worlds because they want it to be that way, but it remains unattainable. The West Wing showed it time and time again. No matter how good their intentions, no matter how noble the cause, someone always gets left out, someone always feels betrayed. The Newsroom follows the same model. You can want to be better, you can want to change the world because of some call to destiny, but the world around you won’t shift overnight because you deem it so. You have to change it little by little and fight because you know you have to and it’s the right thing to do.

The Don Quixote metaphor is appropriate because many of Sorkin’s characters could be described as quixotic. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I’d argue that Sorkin’s idealism is necessary for viewing audiences. If we see ourselves in the characters on television and in movies, if we find common ground, why can’t we also find what we’re missing? It’s not hard toHouse Bartlett identify with a character who desires an idyllic President because, deep down, we probably want the same thing. The same is true of our news anchors. We gravitate towards like-minded reporters, but don’t we wish for someone capable of delivering the news without the nagging suspicion that they’re leading us towards their politics? Shouldn’t we instead want someone with the desire to make us a more informed population?

The downside, and there’s always a downside, is disappointment when something or someone doesn’t live up to your standards. We definitely see that happening a lot these days, but Sorkin still leaves us with the tools capable of weathering such disappointments. Yes, you’re going to get kicked down a lot and you may not get exactly what you want, but hoping and striving for something better, even if it seems unobtainable, is just as noble. We may bend, we may even break, but we eventually shake it off, put ourselves together and start over. Maybe we’re a little wiser, a bit more cynical, but even an iota of idealism is enough to keep us moving forward and asking, “What’s next?”

By the end of this week the United States will have sworn in a fascist, narcissist demagogue as the next President. Despite overwhelming evidence that our political system was compromised, my country and its elected representatives will allow this farce of a human being to take the highest seat of power where his ego will likely swell and consume the swamp he’s so eager to flood.

So unless there’s some master plan to begin the impeachment process the second after he’s taken the oath of office, I’d just assume the rest of us prepare for the fight ahead because the next four years are gonna be a doozy.

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If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the current state of national and international politics, know that you’re not alone. In fact, you’re part of the exclusive group known as Everybody. We’re scared and we’re angry, but we’re also unapologetic in our desires for equality, representation, and compassion. If human decency must be the battleground, then we’ll make sure the fight is hard-won. We will not turn the other cheek. We will not “give him a chance.” We will not “get over it.” If Putin’s pumpkin puppet expects capitulation, then he’s in for a rude awakening.

We will not comply.

Easy to write, I know. It’s equally as easy to say. It’s the execution, the action, that requires the will and the energy necessary. Some have been fighting their whole lives while the rest of us have only now caught up. Weariness coupled with vigorous outrage ebb and flow depending on the day, the hour, the tweet. We question our place among the multitude. We stutter trying to find the right words. We stumble in our attempts to walk in the shadows of icons. But we keep walking. We pick each other up and offer comfort and understanding. There will never be an equity to our pain and suffering, but in this moment, at this point in history, we know one truth to be extremely self-evident:

We will not comply.

There’s a long and time-honored tradition of civil disobedience that is characteristic to more than just the United States. Revolutions have been built on the backs of people willing to stand up when everyone says, “sit down.” And if anything can be spun as positive coming out of the tangerine troll’s inauguration it’s that we are renewed in our intentions, reinvigorated in spirit, and determined as all hell to rock the fucking boat.

In five days the world will watch a racist, misogynist, homophobic, Islamophobic, narcissist, bully swear on a Bible that he will protect and defend the United States and its Constitution. He will do neither. Those watching, however, will also notice that the thin crowd of paid participants will be dwarfed the following day by the Women’s March on DC and its sister protests within the United States and around the world. And in the days to follow there will be swells of people marching again and again while others call on their representatives to do their job and serve. We will push. We will pull. We will question. We will cry and shout and scream. We will create.

But we will not comply.

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msjcover2400Friends and readers, it is with great excitement and pride that I share with you my latest publishing feat! Some time ago I wrote a little short story entitled “Her Majesty’s Untapped Fury” and submitted it to the Seattle-based Mad Scientist Journal for their Summer, 2016 anthology. And now, here it is, Summer and the anthology has been published both in print and digital!

I suppose you’ll want to know what it’s about before you buy, correct? So be it!

“Her Majesty’s Untapped Fury” is about the discovery of the world’s first weather machine and the hotly debated “mad” scientist who created it. To reveal anything more would give too much away, but suffice it to say that the Archive and primary sources are heavily featured!

What’s that? You’d like an excerpt as an additional form of incentive? Oh, well, all right! Twist my arm!

While conducting research on the correlation between science and megalomania, I found
myself arriving at, of all places, the Royal Society. London has a long and storied history of men
in suits with egos the size of planets, so logic dictated that my time would be well spent rifling
through papers craftily collected as glorified tributes to the scientifically-minded God Complex.
My hope was that the rarest of rare instances might occur: stumbling upon the papers of a
genius lost to the ages. The odds were against me. Most of the interesting subjects had already
been discovered. But I felt confident that my wayward mastermind had to exist amid the myriad
stacks and collections tucked safely within the pristine walls of the Archives.

It goes without saying that my days were spent combing through the long-winded essays
and profoundly worded declarations preserved for the sake of posterity and little else. The
tedium, however, finally bore fruit when I began to notice a common phrase appearing in the
minutes, correspondence, and journals of prominent Society members during the late
nineteenth century. Plainly written, or as plain as elaborate script can be, it said “the Mad
Rodney wm.” There was very little context to the statement, and the more it appeared, the more
it began to take on an air of warning. Between the years 1859-1867, “Mad Rodney” was a
popular topic of conversation within the Society, despite their attempts to keep appearances to
the contrary. So who was he, and why did he inspire such hushed tones in an otherwise
garrulous group of intellectual gossips?

As always, the first one’s free. To find out more, you’ll have to make a slight contribution. Luckily, I have websites for you to visit where said contributions will not only finish my tale, but provide you with many more amazing tales of mad science to keep you good and entertained!

You can either go directly to Mad Scientist Journal to find all of the links!

Or, you can visit these fine retailers:scientist-approved-futurama

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

iBooks

Scribd

And don’t forget to leave a review on Goodreads!

Lastly, thank you to Mad Scientist Journal for the opportunity to submit as well as publishing this story that was tremendously fun to write. Thank you to my beta readers who offered their support. And thank you to those who will eventually read my story and all of the stories therein.

I’ve been told by various social media outlets that I haven’t posted anything in a while (9 days), so being the panicky person that I am, I figured I’d let y’all in on what’s been going on in La Casa de Maniacal Geek and what the future looks like for the time being.

First of all, I’ve been in a state of sickness for the majority of those nine days wherein I wasn’t furiously posting. Pretty much within a few hours of seeing Deadpool (which is awesome and fun and you should all go see it) I’ve been in and out of all the symptoms you can read off a NyQuil bottle. Normally, being sick only puts me out for a couple days, but this also happened to be the week my boss was on vacation the whole time, so I was acting as the sole Archivist for a company that has nearly one thousand employees. Suffice it to say, I haven’t really had the time to convalesce like I normally would. Hence, very little posting because putting more than a few sentences together exceeded the amount of energy available to me at the time. 1630448-martianmanhunter_oreo_final

Not to worry, I shall recover, but there will probably be more That Girl with the Curls podcast postings in the next couple weeks than articles. Writing takes a lot more of my time and energy, but the podcasts are far more immediate and quicker to turn around for your listening pleasure.

Also hindering the article writing process is my desire to write more prose – preferably the kind I can get paid for – as well as focus on some more creative projects I’ve only been half-heartedly tinkering with. In case you missed the announcement, I will have a story coming out in June, entitled “Her Majesty’s Untapped Fury,” digitally published by Mad Scientist Journal for their Summer 2016 Anthology. It was a fun story to write and it reinvigorated my love of writing fiction. Plus, Emerald City Comicon will be descending upon Seattle in less than two months, so I’ll have plenty to report back on as well as a few guests lined up for podcasts.

Lastly, I’ll be doing some website cleanup, making things a little more presentable as well as adding older articles I’ve had waiting in the wings for a while. The Backlog will be mighty and full of the fun ramblings you’ve come to expect from me.

So, that’s all I got. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a pillow to rest on and some trashy tv to watch.

It’s the start of a new year, so I thought I’d move forward by going backward. Yeah, I know what I said.

When I get self-reflective, especially about my decision to pursue writing, my mind wanders back to what really solidified my love for writing in the first place. And as much as I purport to be passionate about History and my profession as an Archivist, my passion for writing was a result of being a fan of the sci-fi television program Andromeda.A_77544

For those of you who somehow missed this gem of a show, Andromeda is about the adventures of High Guard Captain Dylan Hunt (Kevin Sorbo), a man displaced in time, as he tries to rebuild the fallen Commonwealth that once united the galaxies. Along for the adventure are the ragtag crew of the junk ship Eureka Maru – Capt. Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder), mechanical genius Seamus Harper (Gordon Michael Woolvett), enigmatic alien Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram), and Magog spiritualist Rev Bem (Brent Stait) – as well as Nietzschean warrior Tyr Anasazi (Keith Hamilton Cobb) and the Andromeda’s sentient android, Rommie (Lexa Doig).

The series was created by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, based on unused material by Gene Roddenberry, and ran from 2000-2005, though admittedly only the first two seasons are consistently good. Might have something to do with Wolfe’s unfortunate departure from the show during the middle of the second season over creative differences with the studio; the bone of contention being Wolfe’s desire to steer away from primarily standalone episodes in favor of long-form storytelling. Why do I know his approach would have been better? Because when Robert Engels was brought in as Wolfe’s replacement, and the episodes became more standalone, it started going downhill fast. Not that there weren’t good episodes during Engels’s run, but the overall quality of the show took a huge dive in the third season primarily where the main characters were concerned. It’s like when Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing at the end of the fourth season and as season five rolled out under new management it was obvious they didn’t understand the characters or how they interacted with each other. The same goes for Andromeda – I’d invested a lot of time in the friendship of Beka Valentine and Seamus Harper only to watch the two characters, who essentially acted like brother and sister, drift further and further apart. Then there was that whole “Hercules in Space” debacle that was the fifth season, but that’s really not worth your time.

HarperOkay, backstory out of the way, it was around Wolfe’s departure and Engels’s arrival that I started mulling around a lot of ideas in my head; ideas that focused on how I imagined the characters interacting and how they’d react to events within the episodes. Again, I kept focusing on Beka and Harper because they had the most history within the timeline of the show and yet it went largely unexplored. So, this being the early days of internet fan forums and interactions, I found one that seemed to have the most activity and started writing what were essentially tags to each episode focusing on Beka and Harper. Entitled “Coda”, though not to be confused with Wolfe’s own “Coda” script posted after the series ended, it was my way of getting ideas out of my head and exploring what I thought was a fairly rich science fiction universe. Eventually, the forum shut down (I still can’t remember the name of it), but a new one sprung up, the still-operating ExIsle. If you dare, I’m pretty sure a few of my stories are still posted and awaiting someone’s critique of pieces written when I was in high school. I cringe at the thought of all those grammatical errors and oddly worded sentences.

The point is, when I started writing these stories another avenue of creativity opened up to me. I’d written poetry before and a couple of pieces where I experimented with prose, but it was just something I dabbled in, not something I took all that seriously. As I continued to post to ExIsle, I began to focus more on the stories I produced and it was through the process of writing fanfiction that I developed the skills I utilize in my writing even now.

The inner perfectionist in me really started to emerge where dialogue is concerned. For those of you who haven’t seen the show, Harper is a hyperactive, fast-talking, socially-inept genius responsible for a lot of exposition and technical jargon. So, naturally, I became attached to the character but it made for a difficult learning curve when it came to writing him. As a fan of the show, I had the benefit of seeing the finished product, the hard work of the show’s writers and the actor bringing the character to life. I felt then that it was only right to try and at least capture Harper’s voice whenever possible. Harper also had a darker past as a slave on Earth that produced a few prejudices and nightmare fuel when dealing with Nietzschean overlords or fearsome Magog, but it was important, at least to me, to keep his sense of humor intact. It was a tension reliever as much as a defense mechanism and it seemed only Beka, Trance, and to some degree, Rev Bem, who could see through him. I think there was also an unspoken challenge in getting Harper’s voice as close to the television show as possible. His voice stood out, which made him both the easiest to differentiate and yet the hardest to pin down. Being on the forum meant I read as much as I wrote and whenever an author managed to capture what made Harper Harper it made the story that much better. In sins-bekaharp-smmy mind, it meant the author figured something out. They listened to the cadence, the rhythm, and the sound of Seamus Harper and managed to channel it into their writing. It’s a skill I continue to hone as I move towards more prose writing, but it’s just as helpful for writing academic papers as it is reviews. Voice is important; it’s distinctive and if you can figure out a character’s voice, then you can figure out your own.

The science fiction environment of Andromeda was a huge factor in the type of fiction I read and tried to write early on. The worlds and people created for the show were fairly simplistic, but also grounded in particular traits that gave me a good baseline: Nietzscheans were genetically minded brutes, Nightsiders were greedy opportunists, Perseids were peaceful scientists, and the Magog were straight up nightmare fuel. Easy enough. Then you factor in the collapse of civilization (on some planets) after the fall of the Commonwealth and the efforts of some, not just Dylan Hunt, to rebuild albeit in less than ideal circumstances. The show definitely covered all of the typical tropes used in every science fiction show at some point, but there’s nothing wrong with tropes so long as you at least try to bring something new to the table. The most fun, however, was creating the technology. I’m not a super-techy person but writing fanfiction for Andromeda let me stretch my imagination to make up tools, vehicles, weapons, and ephemera that could “logically” fit into the universe. The worst, though, was explaining how tech worked, especially the inner workings of the Andromeda herself. Again, it went back to keeping in sync with the show. How did they describe slipstream (their method of faster-than-light travel)? How was Rommie the android separate from the main A.I. of the Andromeda? What the hell was that string of words Harper just put together that sounded vaguely important to keeping everyone alive? I felt it necessary to have a base understanding and maintain some authenticity to the show as a means of laying the foundation for my own creations. I applied the same tactics when I wrote fanfiction about Stargate: Atlantis and Lord of the Rings. But that’s just me. Not everyone feels that way. Besides, when push comes to shove, who’s going to argue about the improbable things in a fictional setting? Oh, wait…

andromeda-1d1Thankfully, I was never on the receiving end of angry diatribes about how true I remained to the world of Andromeda or whether or not I depicted a character poorly. I was lucky at that moment in time because no one was policing me and my creativity and fan forums were mostly civil. Above all, the people on ExIsle were encouraging and supportive. At one point I had two ongoing stories that I wrote while in college and I tended to publish both on the same day to the point where the frequent readers dubbed that day “Sam Update Day.” It was sweet and it came along at a point in my life where I didn’t have a lot of friends so getting that kind of support and encouragement from people who had the same love for the show as I did meant a lot. Having that connection and the ability to critique without attacking meant I could experiment with the stories and not feel like someone was going to immediately dismiss the premise or a new character. I returned that kindness as well; commenting on stories, giving my opinion, but also being encouraging of new writers and new ideas. We were bound by our shared love of Andromeda and that was all of the credibility required. I really wish it was the same now, but I know that’s not entirely true.

So, yeah, that’s pretty much where it started. Every person finds their spark of creativity somewhere, mine just happened to be with wonderfully flawed sci-fi show. I’m certain all of you have one as well!

Why eight questions? Because I had more than five and less than ten! Actually, there are more than eight because of grouping the questions by subject but – and you probably don’t care about any explanation I provide.

Moving on!

I was fortunate to be part of a little indexing project for the Performance Poetry Preservation Project (P4) over the summer and because I had so much fun listening to a wide variety of slam poetry, I reached out to the project coordinator, Wess Mongo Jolley, to dig a little deeper into this amazing world of lyrical gymnastics and hard-hitting social commentary.MongoPic

 

Maniacal Geek (MG): If someone wasn’t familiar with slam poetry, how would you describe it to them?
Wess Mongo Jolley (WMJ): I guess I’d be tempted to start with the way you so often hear it described:  It’s a poetry competition in which performers are rated by random members of the audience on their three-minute poems, usually for a token prize, but mostly for the love of poetry and language and community.  But from my point of view, the poetry slam is so much more than that.  I believe that the poetry slam is one of the most powerful and enduring expressions of the popular culture, and of the important social issues of the day.  The slam uniquely manifests the critical issues that are being faced by the community that produces it.  For that reason, the slam of 2015 is very different from the slam of 2005.  And the slam of Austin, Texas is very different from the slam of Berkeley, California or New York City.  What we have in the slam is nothing less than a preserved, and passionately expressed distillation of what being human means, across an incredible array of the cultural landscape.
The other point I’d want to make is that I think the slam is as much about community as it is about poetry, and it’s definitely about both of those things to a much greater degree than it is about competition, which is really just window dressing.  I think Marc Smith, who invented the slam, really came up with the whole competition aspect just to create some drama and excitement and get people’s butts in seats and get them to listen to poetry.  But what came out of it, after more than 25 years, is as much a social movement as an artistic one.
MG: What’s your origin story? How did Wess Mongo Jolley become a poet and a preservationist of slam poetry?

WMJ: My background is actually in theater.  I began my interest in poetry in high school, and was even in a poetry performance troupe that predates the slam, but really shared a lot of its sensibility.  From high school I went on to study theater in college, but needed to pay my tuition, so I took a job in the library, working for the Records Management department.  That was in 1979.  Over the years my work eclipsed my studies, and I ended up dropping out to work for the Records Management department full-time.  Now, here I am 35 years later, getting ready to retire from a long career in Records and Information Management in Higher Education, but still desperately in love with poetry and performance!  I hope my background in academia and libraries will serve me well as I move into a more focused phase of my life where preserving the history of the poetry slam movement can take center stage.

Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz performs

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz performs

MG: Based on the rhythm and the sound of slam poetry, I feel like it’s a direct descendant of the Beats. Agree? Disagree? Reasons for the yay or nay?
WMJ: Oh, absolutely!  I don’t think the Beats were the only parents of the slam, by any means, but they were definitely one of the most influential.  Certainly there were a lot of modernist and post-modernist movements that focused on the sound of the spoken word.  But I am an unabashed lover of the Beats, and especially [Allen] Ginsberg, and I think you can easily trace a performance aesthetic from Ginsberg directly to the Slam movement.  All the elements are there:  The passionate social justice voice, the focus on personal experience, and in Ginsberg himself, the rhythms, the repetition, the breath, and the long line.  Some of those early recordings of Howl really feel like what you hear on a modern slam stage.  Howl really had such a huge impact, culturally, that it simply had to seep into the early poetry slam culture.
MG: The Performance Poetry Preservation Project (P4) is mostly audio, do you think a visual experience is also necessary to enjoy slam poetry or should the poet be able to create the visual regardless?
WMJ: Actually, we expect to have just as much video as audio in the long-term, but we’re building out the audio archive first, since it is a bit easier to process, index, store, and deliver.  We are still very committed to video as well.  We’re kind of proving our concept and refining our processes on the audio, before we move to the more challenging task of preserving the video.
I don’t think that the visual element is absolutely necessary to enjoying slam poetry (or any poetry, for that matter).  But there is certainly a richness in the representation of the poet’s full intent that you can only get with video; especially if your goal is to capture the actual live performance event.  We know, however, that as a cultural phenomenon, slam extends beyond the three hours you spend once a week in a performance venue.  The poets that perform at slams also create audio and video recordings in studios, and on home equipment.  They also write books and chapbooks, and we’re committed to capturing and preserving the full spectrum of creative output this community produces.

As an aside, I’d note that the selected delivery mechanism is an important part of the creative process for poets.  It’s not just incidental.  If a poet expects to be delivery their work to their audience in print, in audio, in video, or on stage (or any combination of those), it will likely influence how they write and create.  So you can’t really separate the poem from the way it is presented.  It’s part of a gestalt that has to be experienced in a unified way.

Genevieve Van Cleve performs

Genevieve Van Cleve performs

MG: How much do you feel a live audience adds to the performance vs pre-recorded or edited recordings?
WMJ: This is where I think the community aspect of slam shines, and shows why it is so much more than just a literary movement.  Slams are events, and the energy and sensibilities of the community experiencing the poetry becomes as much a part of that event as the poet and their performance.  Anybody that’s been on the scene for a while can tell you they’ve seen the same poem performed in a setting where it rocked, and a setting where it flopped.  The slam is always an ongoing conversation between those behind the mic and those in front of it.  And that conversation is what has built this community into such a rocking movement.
In my podcast, I always preferred the live venue recordings to the studio pieces, simply because I love that element of “conversation”, which you can’t get in any other way.  But it is also always interesting to hear how a poet presents the same work in a more controlled environment.  It teaches you something about their intent with the work that is somehow a bit less colored by the vagaries of the individual performance space and event.
MG: Is there a particular poem you feel is essential for people to read or listen to in order to understand the necessity of poetry as an art form?
WMJ: Oh, no, I wouldn’t dream of being that presumptuous!  Poetry is such an individual journey, and such a potentially varied one, that to suggest a single poem, or even a single poet, as a preferred entry point would be a bit of a disservice.  People don’t usually get interested in poetry in the abstract, and then go looking for an entry point.  They usually find a poem or a poet that excites them, and that becomes an entry point.  Their interest and their passion spiders out from there.  For me, those entry points were Carl Sandburg and Allen Ginsberg, and of course, Walt Whitman.  But that journey truly can begin almost anywhere, and lead almost anywhere.  There is so much beautiful work out there, waiting to be discovered.  It’s kind of like standing on a beach and deciding where to jump in.  Pretty much anywhere is fine!
MG: How important is poetry as a creative process? What skills do we develop from writing poetry?
WMJ: I had to think about this question for a bit, and I think I guess I don’t view poetry as a means to any end other than itself.  Certainly, if I was answering this question about the value of exposing youth to poetry, I’d want to point out how important facility with language is for any student.  But to me, the creative process, and the enjoyment of creative works, is less utilitarian, and more spiritual and joyful.  We (or at least I) don’t come to poetry for any other reason than pure beauty, and because it  connects us to what is brilliant and meaningful and celebratory about being human.

And since that is a completely airy-fairy answer, let me add this:  Slam in particular serves another vitally important function.  Poets are on the forefront of social change.  They always have been, and always will be, because poets are “the great articulators”.  Poets give voice to the full range of human experience.  One of my favorite roles of the poet is the speaker on behalf of the voiceless.  And slam poets have a rich tradition of both envisioning and demanding a better world.  That makes poetry one of the oldest, and most valued, of professions.

Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg

MG: Who’s your favorite poet (living or dead)? What work did they do that spoke to you personally?
WMJ: Allen Ginsberg is now, and I suspect will always be, my favorite poet.  I feel like his work opened a door for me, both poetically, and in what it means to be a human being.  I really don’t know what my life would have been like if I hadn’t discovered his work, and it still rocks me to this day.  Howl, of course, was the gateway drug to his work, but for pure poetic nourishment, I periodically go back to Kaddish, and immerse myself in it.  I’ve been known to go find a quiet spot out in the woods and read it aloud to myself, just to be reminded how good poetry can be.
But I don’t want to leave this question without shouting out some of my favorite slammers.  There are so many, that I don’t want to start naming names, because I couldn’t stop.  But check out my podcast Performance Poetry, and scroll the poets index.  Look for the ones that I’ve released a lot, and you can be sure you’re seeing the poets I think have been most influential in the scene, and whose work speaks to me personally in the strongest way.  I’ll be bringing the show to a close in January, but the entire catalog of 600 poets, and 1600 poems, will be eventually migrated into P4.
Please check out Mongo’s podcast as well as P4 and, as always, come back to the Maniacal Geek for more!

checkmate_coverIt’s here, it’s here, it’s finally here. You may recall some time back that I announced my authoring of a story, “Checkmate”, for the KILLER QUEEN Anthology from Red Stylo Media based on the discography of Queen. The song I chose to base my story on was “White Queen (As it Began)” off of the Queen II album from 1974. Orignally, I’d planned for a Sergio Leone style western, but after a few email exchanges with my editor, Enrica Jang, I made the decision to transfer this tale of revenge to the noir genre and I am so pleased with the result!

Here’s the description for “Checkmate”:

Taylor is a hardened detective with blood on his hands. He tries to be a good cop, but he’s forever haunted by the one case he failed to protect those in most need of his help. When a beautiful killer resurfaces, ready to settle old scores, Taylor is reminded that right and wrong can’t always be black and white!

 

Intrigued? Maybe a preview of the art by Bobby Breed with lettering done by Mark Mullaney is in order as well?

 

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There we go. That should seal the deal! Well, if you feel so inclined, you can purchase the individual story here or you can pre-order the full KILLER QUEEN Anthology when it goes to print in October. Do yourself a favor and bring a little Queen into your life. It’ll do ya good! And if you’re so kind as to purchase my story, any feedback is most appreciated.

 

I told you I’d have an announcement to make soon and here it is. I will be contributing my first professional comic book story to the Killer Queen Comic Anthology for Red Stylo Media!KillerQueenstrokes-and-stuff-300x100

Here’s the official synopsis:

KILLER QUEEN is a collection of comic art and stories inspired by the discography of one of the greatest bands in the pantheon of Rock-n-royalty, QUEEN! This year, the artists and writers were challenged to turn their stereos up and take inspiration from Queen’s prodigious, diverse catalog of music. All the art and stories are original works inspired by a theme or premise in a Queen song, sometimes by the band itself.

Killer Queen is the latest anthology series from Red Stylo Media, following previous anthologies like Poe Twisted, Shakespeare Shaken, and Unfashioned Creatures (an anthology inspired by Frankenstein). In addition, Red Stylo also publishes a number of other graphic novels and comics like ORPHANS, City of Walls, TORCHBEARER, and Azteca.

I’m thrilled to be participating in such an awesome premise that got me to dive headfirst into the deep cuts of Queen’s discography. The first draft has already been written and sent off, so I’ll be editing soon enough, I suspect. As for what the story is about? Well…how about I give you the song it was inspired by for now?

I’ll be providing updates when I can, but I really wanted to let everyone know because this will be fulfilling one of those bucket list things by getting a foot in the door of the comic book industry as a writer.

Killer Queen will begin to roll out stories digitally in September with the book edition following in October. You can also keep up-to-date on the project by following @red_stylo, checking out their Facebook page, or the Killer Queen Facebook page as well. You can also follow me on twitter, where you’re more likely to get more frequent updates.

Once again, I’m over the moon about contributing to this anthology and I can say from now on that Queen is what made me a comic book writer. How is that not awesome?

Edgar Allan Poe

While we may know him as the father of the Detective Story, one of the pioneers of Science Fiction, and the master of Psychological Horror, the macabre, and the weird in his own works, Edgar Allan Poe was also a well-renowned literary critic for The Southern Literary Messenger whose editor, Thomas Willis White, hired Poe in 1835 as a writer and critic. He’d also go on to edit the paper for two years before White took over again. During his brief stint, he left in 1837, at the Messenger, Poe wrote 37 reviews covering various books, foreign and domestic, as well as periodicals. He also published several of his own works, including “Bernice”, “Morella”, and early installments of his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.

As a critic, Poe garnered plenty of attention for his acerbic wit and bluntness when it came to examining the art of prose. He was unrelenting in his ability to dress a piece of work down and was nicknamed the “tomahawk man” for his efforts. He reviewed some of history’s literary elite, though he was less than kind to many of them. From the Library of America, here’s what Poe had to say about some of his contemporaries:

Charles Dickens: “The author possesses nearly every desirably quality in a writer of fiction, and has withal a thousand negative virtues.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “The accident of having been long secluded by ill health from the world has effected in her behalf…a happy audacity of thought and expression never before known in one of her sex.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne: “The style of Mr. Hawthorne is purity itself. His tone is singularly effective – wild, plaintive, thoughtful, and in full accordance with his themes. We have only to object that there is insufficient diversity in these themes.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “When I consider the true talent – the real force of Mr. Emerson, I am lost in amazement at finding in him little more than a respectful imitation of [Thomas] Carlyle .”

William Cullen Bryant: “As a versifier, we know of no writer, living or dead, who can be said greatly to surpass him.”

18PoePoe was also highly critical of American novelists and writers simply because their popularity stemmed from them writing only on the subject of America. Poe believed that writers should go outside of their immediate surroundings, taking in foreign philosophies and styles in order to better inform their work. Of James Fenimore Cooper, known to most as the author of Last of the Mohicans, and one such author Poe had little respect for, he had this to say of the novel Wyandotte:

“…the interest, as usual, has no reference to plot, of which, indeed, our novelist seems altogether regardless, or incapable, but depends, first, on the nature of the theme…It will be seen that there is nothing original in this story.”

He also found occasion to accuse his contemporaries of plagiarism, notably starting a war of words with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, beginning with his criticism of Longfellow’s collection of poems, The Waif:

Having fairly transcribed the two poems (about the respective dates of which we knew nothing) we have only to remark, as quietly as we can, that somebody is a thief. It is well said, however, by Leigh Hunt, that really beautiful thoughts are always sure to be spoiled in the stealing: — and if there is any spoiling in this case, it most assuredly is not upon the part of Mr. Hood.

We conclude our notes on the “Waif,” with the observation that, although full of beauties, it is infected with a moral taint — or is this a mere freak of our own fancy? We shall be pleased if it be so; — but there does appear, in this exquisite little volume, a very careful avoidance of all American poets who may be supposed especially to interfere with the claims of Mr. Longfellow. These men Mr. Longfellow can continuously imitate ( is that the word?) and yet never even incidentally commend.

Edgar Allan Poe was a man driven by his love and sanctity for the written word. He believed in ideas and stretching the boundaries of storytelling. Through his criticisms of others, he expounded on his own ideas about writing and purpose of fiction. It was not enough to write in order to please the eager masses at home. Writers had to find inspiration and ideas outside of their authorial realms so they could reshape and re-imagine. Poe was trying to elevate the art of prose in the same way that the best critics of film and television, books, the stage, art, and even comic books approach their respective mediums. We should critique not to complain, but to encourage those within the art form to aim higher and strive for better. To do any less is a waste of potential, not just for the creator but the art itself. Cooper may have written about the American frontier, but Poe altered the very fabric of reality.

Poe Quote